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Eagles zone in on Rams’ spread shotgun

Prep Football Playoffs
By: Eric J. Gourley, Journal Sports Writer
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LOOMIS — “You can’t stop them, you can only hope to contain them.” Opponents have repeatedly uttered variations of the phrase about both juggernauts in tonight’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division II quarterfinal in Stockton. This week, No. 8 Del Oro High and top seed St. Mary’s applied the sentiment to each other. The Golden Eagles will travel to take on the Rams in a battle that features a pair of potent offenses and two of the stingiest defenses in the bracket. Del Oro (9-2) scores more than 40 points per game while holding opponents to fewer than 13. “They’re just a few plays away from being an undefeated team against some very good competition, and we recognize that,” said St. Mary’s head coach Tony Franks, who, like the Eagles’ Casey Taylor, is in his eighth year at the helm. “To have them as a No. 8 seed in this bracket, they might be the best No. 8 seed in the history of football. We have a tremendous amount of respect for the tradition they’ve established there at Del Oro.” The Eagles’ defense allowed their first big-play touchdown through the air last week, a 40-yard scoring pass in the second half of a 42-13 rout of Christian Brothers. It was only the third passing touchdown against Del Oro this year. The Rams (11-0), who average more than 53 points per game on offense out of their spread shotgun, threaten to give Del Oro’s defense fits tonight. “We like to view ourselves as a balanced offense,” Franks said. “We like to be able to throw the ball but we also value a good, strong power run game. We have to be able to find that balance. We don’t view ourselves as just this or just that.” St. Mary’s lined up with a tight end, a single back and three receivers for Franks’ first few years as head coach before adopting a wide-open, four-receiver formation that has proven particularly powerful the last three seasons. Del Oro excelled against spread pass offenses in preseason scrimmages with Casa Roble and Oak Ridge and in their second game of the season, a 49-14 win at Cardinal Newman. Defensive coordinator Steve Birch expects a stiffer challenge in Stockton. “These guys are just a little bit different because they have so many weapons,” Birch said. “Their quarterback just has a hose. They have four receivers who are really good. You’re not going to stop them, just hope to slow them down.” Quarterback Marcus McDade has completed 60 percent of his passes for nearly 2,200 yards and 28 touchdowns. Wide receiver Josh Harper, who will attend Cal on a full-ride scholarship, has 33 catches for a team-high 655 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s also second in rushing with 24 carries for 347 yards. Birch called Harper the best receiver he’s seen since 2004 Oak Ridge graduate Austin Collie, the Indianapolis Colts’ fourth-round pick in this year’s NFL draft. McDade also has reliable targets in Louie Lechich (31 catches, 545 yards, 11 TDs), Alex Michaels (29 catches, 494 yards) and Justin Cox (28 catches, 399 yards). The Rams have also scored 46 touchdowns on the ground. Maurice Howze has rushed 153 times for 1,150 yards and 15 touchdowns. Jordan Davis is the short-yardage specialist with a team-high 16 scores and Chad West (44 carries, 314 yards) is also a threat. Del Oro middle linebacker Blake Landry is looking forward to facing another spread, particularly with a trip to the section semifinals against the winner of No. 5 Granite Bay-No. 4 Folsom on the line. “It’s a lot of fun for a linebacker,” Landry said. “We always prepare pretty well. We have a good zone coverage scheme. The idea is to go down there and just hit them in the mouth. We want to surprise them with the physicality of our play. From the film we’ve watched, they have a lot of speed in their athletes, but they’re not used to getting hit hard and that’s what we’re all about.” St. Mary’s is as dangerous as the Eagles on the other side of the ball, too. The Rams have surrendered a meager average of 12.6 points per game, intercepted 11 passes and recovered 12 fumbles. They may need a few turnovers tonight to avenge a 36-15 loss to Del Oro in Stockton in 2005, the last meeting between the teams. “We remember the nature and the style of that game, the style of winning Del Oro has, particularly in the playoffs,” Franks said. “We know what we’re up against and hopefully we’re well-prepared.”