Due to the earlier onset of winter than in the rest of the state, the Northern Section has been the first section in the state to stage its football championships for many years.
Wednesday's Division I final at Enterprise Communit Stadium in Redding had been anticipated for some time as Lassen and Enterprise were rolling over foes while keeping a wary eye on each other. The two 11-0 teams also came into the game at No. 6 and No. 7 in the Division III state rankings, a top 10 that has been landlocked for most of the season.
As the defending champ, Lassen started the season ranked ahead of Enterprise in both the state and local rankings. In the state rankings, that never changed as it was figured the two would eventually play anyway. Locally, though, a section poll mostly of media members in the Redding-Red Bluff area recently switched Enterprise to No. 1. The Hornets also were the top seed in the playoffs over Lassen.
And did Grizzly coach Tom St. Jacques use those moves to his advantage?
"Absolutely, I used it all the time (to get the team motivated)," St. Jacques said. "Up where we are the TV stations don't like us because they can only shoot a little bit of the game before they have to get back to Redding. And we don't sell any newspapers in Redding, either."
The real advantage for Lassen against Enterprise, though, wasn't psychological. It was physical. Both the Grizzly offensive and defensive lines simply had their way with their Hornet counterparts. Among those doing the job up front were tackles Jesse Abshire (6-2, 245) and Isaiah Jimenez (6-2, 310), tight end Ben Baker (6-2, 200) and center Nathan Mihoch(5-11, 220). Mike Frohib (6-2, 225) along with Baker were noticeable on defense.
Mixing up misdirection, counters and straight-ahead handoffs, Lassen's ground game chewed up Enterprise. Matt Falcowski ran for 129 yards on 11 carries and one TD. Cody Frailey piled up 128 yards on 11 carries and one TD and also had two long punt returns of 27 and 32 yards. Ross Sobierajski added 82 yards and one TD on 21 carries.
Falcowski's 76-yard scoring run with 10:23 left the biggest play of the game. It came on Lassen's first play from scrimmage after Enterprise had seemingly got itself back in the game on a 51-yard touchdown jaunt by junior phenom Brody Angley. Angley's play was almost ruled a pass from quarterback C.J. Blanc, but referees said it was a backward pass and therefore a lateral. Falcowski scored on a simple off-tackle play.
"These kids have done that all year in those kinds of situations," St. Jacques said. "They don't get their heads down at any time. It's been just a terrific group of seniors. They'll be leaving with a 43-1 record."
Angley, who kicked three field goals in last week's semifinal win over Pleasant Valley and is on his way to becoming the section's all-time career scoring leader, finished with 17 carries for 136 yards and one TD. He was tackled behind the line of scrimmage three times and the Enterprise passing game never got untracked as Blanc was only eight of 24 for 112 yards.
"Defensively they came out ready to play and their defensive backs really played us tough," said Angley, who will now quickly switch into basketball mode. "Our seniors gave it their all but we just ended up a little bit short."
At the end of the first half, Enterprise missed on a scoring opportunity when Blanc's pass into the end zone was tipped by receiver Ryan Witherspoon and was intercepted by Lassen's Mitch Lively.
Lively also was a key figure in the second half as he kicked two field goals, including one from 51 yards out. Lively also sent three of his kickoffs out of the end zone for touchbacks.
In other Northern Section finals played on Wednesday, Corning whipped Winters, 42-0, for the Division II title; Live Oak downed Durham, 28-15, for the Division III title; Biggs edged Weed, 21-13, for the Division IV title; Bishop Quinn of Redding crushed Maxwell, 48-0, for the Division V crown; and Big Valley of Bieber blew out Happy Camp, 44-12, for the Division VI title.