San Ramon Valley High football coach Mark Kessler refused to accept the notion that this was a "down year" for his program, even after an 0-3 start.
Kessler knew better days would come, and the turnaround would center on players having "confidence and trusting each other to get the job done," he said.
Well, the Wolves have answered the call. With a victory over rival Monte Vista on Friday, San Ramon Valley can share the East Bay Athletic League title with California.
The week after a 41-38 loss to California, the Wolves' spirits were lifted with a 31-21 win over host Foothill on Oct. 21 -- their first victory over a highly ranked team this season.
They also played respectably in a 34-9 loss to De La Salle last week as Wolves linebacker Ryan Dunn -- an Arizona commit -- had 20 tackles.
San Ramon Valley (4-5, 4-1 EBAL) opened league play with three straight wins, at a critical time when it needed something to feel good about after closing nonleague play with a 35-0 loss to powerful James Logan.
"It helped our confidence," Kessler said of the run. "We realized that (the skeptics) weren't right. This is not a 'bad team' and we are not in a 'down year.' We just came up a little short (in nonleague). We still haven't played to the best of our abilities."
Even a big personnel loss two weeks ago had its positive side. After two-way standout lineman Alex Kim blew out his knee in practice, he has continued to show up and
The storied San Ramon Valley-Monte Vista rivalry produced another EBAL thriller last season. The Mustangs prevailed 34-33 on a Makay Redd 27-yard field goal with nine seconds left. The Wolves avenged the loss with a 37-21 win in the North Coast Section Division I semifinals.
Both teams' offenses are explosive again. The teams have made relatively smooth transitions after the departures of All-Everything quarterbacks, San Ramon Valley's Zach Kline (now at Cal) and Monte Vista's Jeff Lockie (Oregon).
Current signal-callers Cameron Birse (San Ramon Valley) and Nikita Zamora (Monte Vista) have shown strong arms, good leadership and durability.
"I definitely think (Birse) is proven to be right there with the all-time great quarterbacks to play at our school. He is tough kid," Kessler said, adding that he expects Birse to blossom in the right collegiate system, such as a West Coast offense.
The Mustangs (6-3, 3-2), of course, will look to rebound from a 24-21 loss to Amador Valley. Monte Vista's Jalen Avery had a huge first half, with 12 of his 14 receptions, and an interception on defense.
No Coliseum for NCS finals: The NCS hasn't finalized sites for its football championships slated for Nov. 30-Dec. 1, but commissioner Gil Lemmon said O.co Coliseum will not be used this year because of increased costs.
Instead, potential championship sites include Dublin High, Diablo Valley College, Marin Catholic-Kentfield, Rancho Cotate-Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa High and Humboldt State.
The NCS will try to keep the higher seeded team in each finals matchup closer to home. So if an East Bay team is the higher seed, it's likely that the game will be held at Dublin or DVC.
SEASON TO REMEMBER: It's been quite a season for California School for the Deaf, which improved to 9-1 overall and 6-1 in the North Central II League after St. Elizabeth forfeited Thursday's scheduled game against the Eagles because of a lack of healthy players. The forfeit win gives CSD a share of the league title, the program's first since 2002, and the league's automatic berth to the NCS playoffs.
Eagles senior Brian Freeman has rushed for a school-high 2,844 career yards and has tied the school record for career touchdowns (37). Fellow senior Carlos Lopez has school career records of 55 passing touchdowns and 5,132 passing yards. Freshman Tristan Boren also broke a school record with 12 sacks this season.
The Eagles also have gained national recognition, as sportsillustrated.com focused on the squad for an episode of its Underdogs series, and viewers can vote on their favorite episode through Nov. 15. The winning school will receive a $25,000 grant and a trip to New York to attend the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award event.
Staff writers Phil Jensen and Stephanie Hammon contributed to this notebook.