Local Action Heats Up With TCAL Openers
This time, it counts.
That slogan may belong to the MLB All-Star game, but I’m talking about TCAL football.
This Friday, Live Oak travels to North Salinas, cross-town rivals Palma and Salinas rumble at The Pit and Gilroy and San Benito clash in Hollister for the Prune Bowl.
Not bad for an opening week, huh?
As it stands, it looks like Palma is poised to be the team to beat once again. The Chieftains have one loss, which came at the hands of high school football powerhouse De La Salle. Palma’s latest victory was against a formidable Seaside squad.
Surprisingly, Salinas enters Friday’s game against the Chieftains with a 3-1-1 record. Then again, this is the team that Gilroy head coach Darren Yafai predicted at the start of the season to be the league’s dark horse.
Gilroy is the only other team entering league play with an above-.500 record. But the Mustangs’ two losses have both come in the past two weeks to San Lorenzo Valley and Oakland Tech.
Live Oak, North Salinas and San Benito enter TCAL play at 2-3. Such a start was perhaps unexpected of San Benito, who shared the TCAL title with Palma last year. But you also have to consider the ‘Balers almost sadistic non-league schedule of Bellarmine, San Lorenzo, Wilcox and Valley Christian. It’s Live Oak’s last TCAL season, so they’ll likely want to make it a good one. However, the Acorns have struggled in non-league play.
All that said, the slate is wiped clean when league play starts. It’s like a whole new season. But this time, playoff berths are at stake.
Upside: Tailback Justin Sweeney continues to befuddle opposing defenses. But he’s not the only option in Gilroy’s potent running game. The Mustangs can also go to backs Paul Gonzales and JoJo Gutierrez – both of whom have tremendous speed – and fullback Stefon McCrimon. The team is also getting some key players back from injury for the Prune Bowl.
Downside: The ‘Stangs have looked unmotivated as of late, specifically in their meltdown against Oakland Tech. Sweeney left that game with an injury. If that continues to affect him, it could damage Gilroy’s offense – both mentally and physically.
Live Oak (2-3)
Upside: Running backs Kevin Abbott and Dustin Muhn have been working together to make Live Oak’s running game work. Muhn’s speed is deadly. He’s picked up 752 yards so far this season as the second leading rusher in TCAL behind Gilroy’s Sweeney. But the senior will only be effective against the good defensive teams if the O-line creates holes for him.
Downside: In order for Abbott and Muhn’s productivity to matter, the Live Oak defense needs to limit scoring opportunities. The team allowed a combined 85 points against Seaside and Truckee.
North Salinas (2-3)
Upside: Quarterback Tramaine Lamb is TCAL’s second in passing yards to San Benito’s Karson Klauer with 472. Receiver Josh Proctor is apparently catching some of those long passes. He’s got 12 receptions for an average of 25 yards per catch. And the team already has one more win than it finished with last season.
Downside: History doesn’t bode well for this many-time TCAL bottom-dweller. The Vikings were shutout by Gilroy, Palma and San Benito last year.
Upside: Though star quarterback Chad Bozzo has graduated, the team has a lot of weapons. No one player carries the team, but several can do serious damage. Quarterback Jordan Casas is a tremendous athlete who also returns kickoffs. TCAL foes are going to have to play flawless football to beat the defending champs.
Downside: When you’re the best, you wear a big target on your back. Every TCAL team is going to try to really bring it to Palma. This might eventually wear down and crack the Chieftains.
Upside: The Cowboys seem to be clicking right now. Fullback Anthony Russo has been one notable force, rushing for 480 yards this season.
Downside: An opener with Palma is no easy task. Also, two Cowboy players were tossed from last week’s game with Benicia and will have to sit out this week, making things a little more interesting for the Cowboys.
San Benito (2-3)
Upside: No other TCAL team has been as well-primed in non-league games as San Benito. Whatever the ‘Balers face in league can’t be as bad as facing Valley Christian in the season opener. The Haybaler defense is also strong, as usual, and has only allowed an area-leading 401 rushing yards.
Downside: Quarterback Karson Klauer needs more receivers.