In any other year, the East Nicolaus High football team would have been ecstatic with taking home a section title.
After all, since 1973, that was the pinnacle of success in the Northern Section and the goal every team hoped to attain at the end of each season.
This year is different, and the 2015 Spartans have their sights set on something even bigger — a state championship.
East Nicolaus cleared one last hurdle on that quest at Wahl Field in Trowbridge on Friday night, storming out to a 22-0 halftime lead and coasting to an historic 34-14 victory over Stone Ridge Christian in the CIF Northern California Division VI-AA Regional Bowl Game.
With the win, the Spartans locked up the NorCal title, joining the 2013 Enterprise and 2008 Hamilton teams as the only Northern Section programs to do so. It also set up a date against Coronado next week in Southern California in a showdown for the state championship.
"This is where they wanted to be. They had that goal in mind and we wanted to get to this game — the state championship game," said a jubilant East Nicolaus coach Travis Barker. "These kids have earned it. A lot of kids work hard, but these kids work harder than any other group of kids I've been around. They deserve to be in it and deserve everything they get for putting in the time and effort all year."
The Spartans (12-2) wasted no time getting started on Friday night, receiving the opening kickoff and marching right in for a touchdown on the first drive of the game.
Going solely to the ground, East Nicolaus used 13 plays to go 60 yards before Nolan Goyet punctuated the march with a 5-yard scoring run to stake the Spartans to a 6-0 lead.
East Nic added to its advantage early in the second quarter, once again utilizing a punishing ground game to chew up 58 yards and more than 6 minutes off the clock. This time, Donavan Switalski did the honors, scoring on a short 1-yard plunge into the end zone to up the lead to 12-0.
The Spartans made it 14-0 minutes later when Stone Ridge fumbled the ball out of the back of the end zone for a safety before Eddie Herrera sent the home crowd into a frenzy by returning the ensuing free kick 65 yards for a touchdown.
Wyatt McCollum added the 2-point conversion as East Nicolaus went into halftime with a comfortable 22-0 lead after a dominant showing on both sides of the ball.
Stone Ridge (12-2) entered the night scoring an average of 55 points per game, but were completely shut down by the Spartans in the first half, recording only 27 yards of total offense and not a single first down.
East Nicolaus kept it up in the second half when Goyet rumbled in for an 8-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter to make the score 28-0 before the Knights finally got on the scoreboard on a 21-yard TD pass from Russell Postmus to Travis Hooker.
East Nic answered back on its next possession, and S.J Brown sprinted in for a 20-yard touchdown run on a quarterback keeper to make the score 34-7 early in the fourth quarter
Austin Rees broke loose for a 59-yard touchdown for Stone Ridge, but by that point it was too little, too late for the Knights.
"We knew they were a big, physical football team and we were hoping to go toe-to-toe with them, but we were outclassed by a better football team," Stone Ridge coach Art De Jager said. "For a little, tiny school like us to go this far, we're just really honored to be here. They're just bigger, stronger, faster. Very well coached."
East Nicolaus racked up 395 yards of total offense in the game, 314 of which came on the ground. The Spartans' longest run of the night was a 27-yarder by Switalski that set up Goyet's third-quarter touchdown.
"Offensively, we came out and did what we wanted to do. We wanted to ground-and-pound it and control the clock and I couldn't ask for anything more," Barker said. "You get a little concerned when you're this deep in the playoffs, but it was just like a normal week of practice for us. It almost felt like we were in the middle of the season. They were getting after it and having fun doing what we do out here."
Switalski finished the game with 107 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, adding to his single-season Northern Section record. Brown added 98 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, and Goyet had 75 yards on his 13 carries and a pair of scores.
"I did not imagine we would be here, but looking back on it now, the work we put in weight training and at practice all led up to where we are now," Goyet said.
"It's unbelievable just to be a part of this team. I'm very thankful and grateful to all our coaches, the sport, everything."
"It was a physical ground-and-pound game, and defensively, I felt like we shut them down for the most part," said Brown, who threw for 81 yards while also coming up with a big game at outside linebacker. "We had the expectation to be here and now it's coming true. I'm just so happy to be here and I'm proud of my team today."
East Nicolaus will now turn its attention to Coronado (10-4), which beat Belmont-Los Angeles 14-0 in the Southern California regional game on Friday night.
Coronado is located just west of San Diego and the Spartans are already making plans to bus down for the game, which will be held at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 19.
Barker said his team will get back in the swing of things next week to prepare for the championship, but for at least one night, he's going sit back and enjoy what this season has brought to the school and the community.
"Right now, I can't even fathom it. I'll probably wake up tomorrow morning and reality will set back in," Barker said with a laugh. "All week I've kind of been in a dream-like state and just to be able to do this is amazing."
CONTACT Sports Reporter Andy Arrenquin at 749-4790