On the first play from scrimmage Friday night, Gregori High quarterback Baker Melendez broke free on a 40-yard run.
In the stands, Blue Devil faithful turned to each other with quizzical looks. Was Davis High overreaching in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section football playoffs? After all, DHS hadn’t won a postseason game since 1994.
But these are the Delta League champions, and as head coach Steve Smyte so aptly puts it from time to time, “You mess with the Devils, you get the horns!”
For the rest of the night, all was well for local fans as DHS rolled up 445 yards in total offense, using big plays and turnovers — as usual — to send the Jaguars packing, 41-7.
Gregori (6-5) is the third-place school in the Central California Athletic League and, despite that flashy first play, didn’t have much of a chance the rest of the way.
“We came out with the idea that we wanted to win all three phases of the game, and I think we did that,” Smyte said after his guys ran their record to 10-1 and now hunker down for a Friday road game at No. 3-seed Inderkum, the unbeaten Capital Valley champ. “And what was nice is we had a little more balance in the offense. We wanted to throw some more.”
And throw they did. Quarterback Luke Carrell hit 10-of-11 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. He should have had two additional scores (more about that later).
After Melendez’s first carry, Gregori was set up at the Davis 25. But Melendez fumbled for a 6-yard loss on the next play, then was sacked by Lucas Griffiths, Marquist Allen and Aidan Minamiji. With tackle Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan providing pressure, Melendez’s fourth-down attempt was unsuccessful.
It took only 3:40 for Davis then to drive 70 yards in seven plays, with wildcat/receiver Payne Barksdale scoring from 13 yards out.
A couple of snaps later, linebacker Zach Brooks said “thank you, I’ll take that” in completing a football superfecta …
Melendez was rolling left, but the Devils’ leading tackler had a bead on his foe. Brooks wrapped the 6-foot-4 senior up around the Gregori 30, snatched the ball away and scurried into the end zone. Brooks got credit for a tackle for loss, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Oh, and the touchdown.
Davis played strong defense all night, especially against the pass. Melendez completed only 4 of 12 for 73 yards. Gregori managed 218 yards rushing, including a 2-yard Titus Rhiney TD in the second period. But the Jaguars couldn’t convert when they most needed to.
“The defense was great, but I thought Luke threw some beautiful balls today,” Smyte told The Enterprise. “I liked the balance. I thought we caught ’em. … When they were bringing guys up we were able to hit seams in behind them. Luke did a great job finding that and putting it on them.”
Carrell, who now has 18 touchdowns thrown against only three interceptions, hit Barksdale with a 16-yard strike to make things 20-0 just into the second period.
Shortly thereafter, the Jaguars got their only look at the game — going 69 yards on a four-play, 7:40 march and pushing Rhiney in for Gregori’s only tally.
The Devils were determined to score once more before intermission, but officials saw something no one else on the planet saw …
With the clock heading to zeroes, Carrell found a post-running Joey Asta for an apparent 19-yard score. But the zebras yelled “au contraire” and said Asta’s knee was down on the 1. Tick, tick, tick, halftime.
A replay from high above showed Asta 3 yards into pay dirt before touching down.
It wasn’t like Davis was going to need the TD. In the third quarter, Taylor Vaughn scored from 3 yards out, Ben Busano streaked home with a 42-yard grab on another Carrell dime and junior Aaron Turner, Vaughn’s heir apparent, scooted 34 yards in the final stanza to complete the rout.
Vaughn would finish with 131 yards on 12 carries. He now has 989 yards on the year. Barksdale rushed for 101 yards on just 11 lugs, and Turner gained 57 on 10 carries. Davis averaged 8.5 yards a try.
Back to unlucky Asta …
The solid senior, who plays shutdown safety and tight end, was two officials’ decisions from a huge night. Earlier in the contest, Asta collected a slant pass from Carrell and rambled 78 yards for another “score.” However, yellow laundry at the Davis 35 accused the Devils of an ineligible lineman downfield.
Smyte wondered how one of his road graders could maneuver ahead of the fleet Asta on a quick-hitting slant. Not to worry, coach, the drive continued with Barksdale’s 26-yard scoring haul.
“We’re just a bunch of best friends playing football and we’re having fun,” explains sophomore center Kieffer Jones, who points to a rare chemistry among this Blue Devil brethren. “We’re always hard, too. The coaches are (setting the direction) and every week we’re having goals.”
Barksdale, the team’s 2018 MVP who missed the first five games this fall (shoulder), continues to make an unsolvable difference in the Devil offense.
In addition to his 101 yards rushing, the senior scooter caught seven passes for 77 yards and a score.
Now it’s off to Inderkum for the No. 6 Blue Devils.
Notes: The only time Davis High won a Sac-Joaquin Section football crown was in 1988. After finishing third in league that year, coach Dave Whitmire’s crew put on their big-boy pants and eventually took home the trophy by beating Merced, 33-25. Mark Speckman, the associate head coach at UC Davis, was the boss of the Bears in those days. The years after Davis won, Speckman and Merced went back-to-back for section titles. One of the patron saints of DHS athletics, Whitmire was in attendance Friday. He’s helped the Devils with their place-kicking game this fall. … Davis was a gang-tackling bunch against Gregori. Brooks, Donovan Garvin and Griffiths each had eight stops and cornerback Tendai Gundumura kept busy with five tackles and three pass break-ups. … A crowd estimated at 1,500 watched at Ron & Mary Brown Stadium.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or call 530-320-4456.