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It was fitting that unusually strong winds swept through Sacramento as Pittsburg arrived for its state championship game.
If anybody symbolized the wackiness of the 2017 high school football season, this East Bay power with a storied history was it.
A heatwave wiped out one Pittsburg game.
Smoke from wildfires scrapped another.
Saturday, winds that one player in an earlier game described as “crazy” made for unconventional coaching decisions as Pittsburg watched a three-touchdown lead dissolve in a 28-21 loss to Narbonne, an outcome that soured the Pirates’ first trip to a state final.
“This has been the most interesting season,” longtime Pittsburg coach Victor Galli said after the crushing loss. “Crazy.”
In late summer, the season began across the Bay Area with hope, promise and unknown.
De La Salle hoped that experience and off-season motivation from last season’s bitter finish would lead to an eighth state championship.
They did not.
Serra, with numerous players back from its near-miss in a state championship game last December, had a lot of promise that this fall would be historic.
Half Moon Bay, an accomplished program that entered the unknown with its elevation to a stronger league, won league, section and regional championships before playing for a perfect season and state championship Saturday night.
It fell just short.
The four-month season will be remembered for gut punches from Mother Nature, anthem protests, state championships won by Serra, St. Francis, Milpitas and McClymonds and enough talented and special players and teams to fill all the space in this recap.
Late Saturday night, the season ended as De La Salle trudged off the field with another one-sided loss in the state’s premier championship game.
The Spartans gave up four fewer points Saturday against Mater Dei than they had against St. John Bosco in last year’s Open Division title game. But they lost by eight more points.
The two-year tally: Mater Dei/Bosco 108, DLS 54.
Mater Dei, filled with major college prospects, was a team for the ages. It looked terrific against De La Salle and apparently could have been even more terrific.
“To be honest, I say this with all due respect to De La Salle, we made the execution mistakes on offense,” longtime Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson said after his team’s 52-21 win. “We should have pulled away way before we finally did. I commend them.”
De La Salle will spend a second consecutive off-season trying to figure out its Southern California problem, which at this point looks comparable to a mathematical equation out of MIT.
Mater Dei and Bosco have moved to another stratosphere since DLS beat the third Southern California power, Centennial-Corona, for the state’s Open championship just two years ago.
“We have to get back to work in a couple of weeks,” De La Salle coach Justin Alumbaugh said on the field Saturday night. “We have a lot of young guys. I was proud of how some of the younger guys played at the end. There wasn’t a lot of quit. We had a freshman quarterback a good portion of the game. He showed a lot of scrap.”
It wasn’t the ending De La Salle sought, but it will still enter next season with an unbeaten streak over California teams north of Fresno that started after its loss to Pittsburg in a section final in 1991.
Getting it done
Across the Bay, Serra and St. Francis are the first West Catholic Athletic League teams to win state championships, snapping a six-game losing streak for the league in these games.
With Milpitas also winning, the Central Coast Section pushed its state championship win total from one (Palo Alto, 2010) to four.
The section was 1-10 in state games entering the weekend.
McClymonds carried the banner for the Oakland Section, winning its second consecutive state title while completing an undefeated season.
The outcomes helped the North win eight of the weekend’s 13 title games.
Mark it down
The 2018 season will have changes in the calendar and state playoffs.
The season will start and end a week earlier than this one, which means the state finals will be held Dec. 7-8.
The location for the upper-division games will be Cerritos College in Norwalk after being played the past three seasons at Sacramento State.
The lower-division games are expected to move to home sites in the North after being held at home sites in the South the past three years.
By the numbers
The state went to a competitive equity model when it expanded its playoffs from five to 13 divisions in 2015. In other words, football ability — not enrollment — is what mattered when the matchups were determined.
How’s it working out?
Here is what we found after crunching the numbers.
Since 2015, 20 of the 39 state championship games have been decided by single digits, with an average margin of victory of 14.3 points.
In the three seasons before 2015, when enrollment was a factor, five of the 15 state championship games were decided by single digits, with an average margin of victory of 20.2 points.
Small sample size, yes, but it’s pretty clear that competitive equity is here to stay.
Enjoy the off-season.