I’ve been covering high school football for more than half a century, dating back to the time when I was sports editor (because no one else wanted the job) of the Santa Rosa High School student newspaper, covering Bob Bagley’s Panthers. I’ve seen prep teams play from Florence, Oregon (the Siuslaw Vikings) to Mill Valley (Tamalpais when they were still the Indians), but I’ve never seen a season like the one we finally put into the history books with the North Coast Section championships last week.
I have both admiration and sympathy for the seniors who heroically played out their high school careers under what were, to put it mildly, unique conditions.
I’ve already talked about what a strange season it was for Petaluma, playing all its home games at Casa Grande and having its homecoming disrupted. This, in addition to the problems with the smoke it shared with all schools in the area.
The important thing to note about the Trojan season was how successful it was. Petaluma dominated all but the one game it lost in the Sonoma County League and, in truth, played league champion Analy even after the first four minutes of the only regular-season game it lost.
I hope the success of the Trojan year is not lost in the turmoil that was its season. This was a very good Petaluma football team that was caught up in the whirlwind of circumstance and the environment of an awesomely talented North Coast Section Division 3. Petaluma was 8-1 on the season and was still seeded No. 12 in a 16-team bracket.
Casa Grande had perhaps the strangest season of all. The Gauchos began the year with the chaos of suddenly losing their popular head coach, Trent Herzog, and having him replaced by Denis Brunk, an experienced head coach, but one unknown to almost all the Casa Grande players.
Just as the Gauchos began to figure things out, they abruptly switched from being players to being volunteers as their school transitioned from being an academic institution to being a shelter for the victims of the devastating wildfires.
Back on the football field, they completely turned their season around, winning four of their last five games, including one in the North Coast Section Division 2 playoffs.
In the midst of all this, the players found out that it was official — next year both Petaluma and Casa Grande will be leaving familiar Sonoma County foes behind and going to a new league with primarily Napa County Schools.
Gary Galloway managed to hold the St. Vincent High School program together despite playing with anywhere from 13 to 19 players on any given week.
It was a gutsy effort by the Mustangs, who managed to win a game and give a good accounting for themselves in several others.
Elsewhere in the area, Cardinal Newman, Rancho Cotate and Marin Catholic were far and above better than any other teams in the area, but everything was clouded by the smoke that cast a pall over the whole season, left games canceled, and led to Cardinal Newman and Rancho Cotate playing each other three times.
For my money, Rancho Cotate was the best team in the area, but Cardinal Newman, with five of its players losing homes to the fire and their school being partially burnt, still won the North Bay League championship, and Marin Catholic took the North Coast Section championship.