The California High football team not only has a chance at redemption Saturday when it faces No. 1 seed De La Salle for the North Coast Section Division I championship at Dublin High. The Grizzlies, according to coach Eric Billeci, also have a chance to rebuild their reputation.
Not much went right for California in its first shot at De La Salle on Nov. 8. The Grizzlies, who have played the Spartans as tough as any East Bay team in recent years, suffered injuries, had missed opportunities and were generally pushed around in a 55-0 loss in the regular season finale for both teams.
"It just wasn't a tough enough effort by us, and that's usually what we're known for is being a little more blue collar and tougher," Billeci said of his team's first meeting with De La Salle. "We're going to make sure that we get some respect back and accountability back for having that reputation."
That kind of hard-nosed, physical Cal team is exactly what De La Salle coach Justin Alumbaugh expects to encounter in Saturday's 7:30 p.m. game, which will be televised live by Comcast SportsNet California and Comcast Hometown Network.
The Spartans' recent history with the Grizzlies (11-2) helps to keep the Spartans focused, despite their blowout win less than a month ago.
"Cal High has always played us really well, and everything went our way in that last game," Alumbaugh said. "Things snowballed and got out of hand for them, and everything went about as well as it could have for us. It was a perfect storm for us."
Alumbaugh will be trying for his first NCS title as De La Salle's coach while his team goes for its 22nd straight section championship.
Meanwhile, a confident and improved Matt Lorenz will try to direct a Cal upset.
The last time Lorenz faced the Spartans (12-0), the senior was making his first varsity start at quarterback, filling in for injured Cameron Owen.
Since then, Lorenz has guided third-seeded Cal to three playoff wins, gaining experience and getting more comfortable along the way. Last week in a 31-17 win over No. 2 Pittsburg, Lorenz completed 9 of 12 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a fourth-quarter touchdown.
"I definitely think we're playing better football now than we were back then," Lorenz said. "Our defense has improved tremendously. We really have more of an identity right now than we did a month ago. I definitely think we're in a better spot and have a better chance to give them a fight."
A better passer than runner, Lorenz's arm could be key for the Grizzlies.
Cal prefers to pound the ball, but De La Salle's defensive line of Sumner Houston, Kahlil McKenzie, Larry Ross and Boss Tagaloa helped limit the Grizzlies to just 53 rushing yards in their first meeting. The 6-foot-3, 316-pound McKenzie is expected back this week after missing the semifinals with an injury.
The Grizzlies will also have the usual points of emphasis for teams looking to knock off De La Salle -- eliminate mistakes and capitalize on opportunities.
"They're always so tough and so disciplined," Cal's C.J. Cornwell said of De La Salle. "They don't need our help with penalties. We just have to play a perfect game."
SATURDAY: No. 3 California (11-2) vs. No. 1 De La Salle (12-0) at Dublin HS, 7:30 p.m.
TV: CSNCA, CHN
LIVE BLOG: Visit contracostatimes.com/high-school-sports or insidebayarea.com/high-school-sports for a live blog off Saturday's NCS championship games.