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Sutter's Fort: Huskies host West Valley in section title game
Door stays open for state bowl bid
Even in July, the Sutter and West Valley High football teams knew they would be seeing each other again.
Per recent tradition, the coaching staffs of both programs took their teams up to McKinleyville High School in Humboldt County for football camp this past summer where they banged helmets and shoulder pads for three days.
When camp concluded, and players and coaches from the schools were shaking hands, they all said the same thing to each other — "We'll see you in November."
Four months later that statement became reality as Sutter and West Valley will face off in tonight's Northern Section Division II championship game at Wayne Gadberry Field.
The Sutter football program has become the benchmark of excellence in the Northern Section.
Tonight's matchup with West Valley marks the ninth time in 12 seasons that the Huskies have played in the section championship.
Sutter has won four of those matchups and seeks its fifth banner in that time span when the Eagles visit west Sutter County tonight for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
As successful as the Sutter program has been, the Huskies haven't hoisted a section banner since 2008 when, coincidentally, they bested this same West Valley program.
Sutter won back-to-back section titles in 2007 and 2008 with both victories coming over the Eagles. The Huskies are riding a five-game winning streak against West Valley with their last loss coming in the 2005 regular season.
After last year's setback to Orland in the section title game, Sutter coach Ryan Reynolds said his team has been waiting a year to get back to this moment.
"It means the world to these young men," Reynolds said. "We've been knocking on the door the last four years. Our motto this year has been 'finish,' and we want to finish strong."
Reynolds noted that West Valley has its own esteemed football tradition up in Cottonwood.
The Eagles and Huskies faced off in the 2011 season opener in Shasta County where Sutter came away with a 7-0 victory. The average margin of victory for Sutter in its last six wins over the Eagles is four points.
Reynolds expects more of the same tonight.
"Some of our most storied games have been against these guys," Reynolds said. "We've seen each other on and off again in the regular season and postseason. It's definitely turned into a rivalry."
West Valley has bounced back and forth between Division I and II over the years, but has found plenty of success at both levels.
The Eagles run the fly offense out of a split backfield, mixing in single back and shotgun formations.
Their junior tandem of Brady Casselman and Austin Clark is outstanding. Casselman has 1,380 rushing yards with 18 touchdowns, while Clark provides his own firepower with 1,272 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Add in junior Marcus Simmons with 618 yards and six scores and WV has weapons all over the field.
Like Sutter, West Valley has several impressive wins on its résumé this season with victories over D-I programs Enterprise and Shasta, along with a 20-18 win over Oakland Section champion McClymonds.
"They've got a great program, they've got great tradition and we're good friends," Reynolds said. "Both schools felt like we were going to play when everything's on the line."
West Valley beat Central Valley 13-10 in last week's semifinal to earn a spot in tonight's game. That win avenged the Eagles' only loss of the season when CV beat them 31-7 on Oct. 5.
The conditions at Wayne Gadberry Field tonight should be much-improved from last week's deluge when Sutter edged Orland 14-6 in its own section semifinal. Game time temperature is projected to be 56 degrees with no rain in the forecast, according to the National Weather Service.
That's good news for Sutter's wing-T offense which stalled under the poor weather conditions last week, amassing just 150 yards on the ground, easily a season-low. The Huskies will likely see a 5-2 front from West Valley and also some 4-4.
Reynolds hopes his offense can find its rhythm with better conditions tonight.
"I think it bodes well for us and throwing the ball," Reynolds said. "We wanted to air it out more than we did, but the weather and game situation dictated that we didn't. We want to be more balanced."
There's more than a section title on the line tonight.
Sutter is ranked No. 3 in Cal-Hi Sports' newest Northern California Division III state bowl rankings behind No. 1 Marin Catholic and No. 2 El Cerrito.
If Sutter wins the section, it will be in good shape for a spot in the Northern California Regional Championship, the play-in game for a CIF State Bowl berth.
El Cerrito beat Analy on Friday night to advance to the North Coast Section D-III championship game where it will play the winner of today's matchup between Marin Catholic and Cardinal Newman — only section champions are eligible for the regional game.
No. 5 Seaside is out of the running with its loss to Menlo-Atherton Friday. In the Sac-Joaquin Section, Sutter's biggest threat is Escalon after its thrilling quadruple-overtime win over Los Banos.
Escalon, the 2010 state champion, will face Central Catholic, which will compete for a spot in the Division IV state bowl, for the section crown next week.
Reynolds said none of the state bowl talk means anything if his team doesn't take care of business tonight.
Last Friday, he was getting text messages until 2 a.m. with people laying out bowl scenarios and giving him results from across the North State.
Tonight, he said the Huskies are playing like it's their last game.
"The only thing we can control is us," Reynolds said. "The chips are going to fall where they fall. This is our last game. If we're fortunate to have another in a couple of weeks, that's great.
"Right now, this is it."