Foothill hopes for Rudy-like effort

The one in charge tonight on the Foothill sideline will be Matt Sweeney, who faces a daunting challenge in De La Salle, ranked first in the nation.

Matt Sweeney, at only 5-foot-7, claims he "was Rudy, before there was a Rudy."


The Pleasanton Foothill coach is referring to the movie about former University of Notre Dame football walk-on Dan "Rudy" Ruettiger, who played a handful of snaps for the Fighting Irish in the mid-1970s and had his experience splashed across the silver screen in the 1983 movie "Rudy."


"I think I had a total of four defensive plays at St. Mary's, back when it still had football," Sweeney said. "I did better in rugby, where my size was an advantage for the position I played."


On Saturday, Sweeney will continue to play the underdog role as his Foothill team (12-0) takes on mighty Concord De La Salle (12-0) at 7:15 p.m. at the McAfee Coliseum for the North Coast Section 4A championship.


De La Salle is 163-0-2 against Northern California competition since 1992.

It has also won 41 consecutive playoff games.


But Sweeney, 46, is a scrapper, who grew up in an Irish-American  family of 10 in Pleasanton. He and his Falcons aren't likely to back down.


He starred at Pleasanton Amador despite weighing only 150 pounds, then went on to make the St. Mary's College team.


Sweeney's father Neil also played at St. Mary's when the Gaels were a national power. One of Neil's teammates was (Squirmin') Herman Wedemeyer, the All-American running back finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1945. Wedemeyer became famous for the role he played as Duke Lukela on the crime drama Hawaii Five-O, which ran from 1972 through 1980.


Neil Sweeney, 80, coached Amador briefly, but then went on to a long career in administration. Now his son is fulfilling the coaching promise at cross-town Foothill, where he has been the coach for 21 years. The Falcons have made the playoffs during 17 of those years.


Sweeney thinks his experience of growing up in that large East Bay family molded him into what he is today.


"We had eight kids and my parents somehow raised us as if we were all the oldest child," he said. "We were taught to be unselfish, accountable and responsible."


One of Sweeney's brothers, Dan, has assisted him at Foothill for 17 years.


Also among his roster of overachiever siblings, Sweeney lists his University of Notre Dame graduate brother Joe who has his own law practice, his brother Pat who is the superintendent in the Patterson school district and his sister Frances, who is No. 3 in charge at St. Mary's College.


The one in charge tonight on the Foothill sideline will be Matt Sweeney, who faces a daunting challenge in De La Salle, ranked first in the nation.


The Spartans seem to be a run-away locomotive, bound for a state Division I bowl playoff game. That's where Foothill could be headed if it can pull off the unexpected and knock of De La Salle.


"Our guys are going to show up and play their tails off," Sweeney said.


"That's what we've been doing for 21 years. But I have the utmost respect for what Bob Ladouceur has done at De La Salle. The excellence they've shown for the past 25 years has been amazing. It's so much easier to get to the top then to stay there."


The Falcons are led by quarterback Josh Mendonca, as well as seven standouts who start on both offense and defense. They are offensive guard/nose guard Stash McGuinness, offensive guard/defensive tackle Mitch Dal Porto, fullback/linebacker Rob Andrews, running back/linebacker Steven Yoshida, wideout/defensive back Ryan Theige, running back/free safety Austin Day and wideout/defensive back Jordan Johnson.


"We've always played a lot of guys both ways, although we have 56 men on our roster," Sweeney said. "We like to have our best guys on the field."


De La Salle is machine-like. The Spartans' option offense is led by running backs Tim Maupin (1,309 yards, 22 touchdowns) and Tillman Pugh (1,000 yards, 13 touchdowns).


Quarterback Mike MacGillivray is versatile with 1,111 passing yards and 429 rushing yards. He has accounted for 21 touchdowns either passing or running. Three of those scoring tosses have been to wideout John Hendershott (36 catches for 663 yards).


The Spartans allow only 14.9 points per game on defense, led by leading tacklers Albert Rosette and Brady Amack. Hendershott also plays defensive back and has four interceptions.


Foothill can play a little defense as well. The Falcons defeated Novato 21-3 in their season opener. The Hornets haven't lost since.

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