Prep football playoffs: Monterey Trail loses fifth section final, keeps perspective

·4 min read

T.J. Ewing talked about it earlier in the week and then again before and after Friday’s game.

We are in a society in which fans too often focus on the winners; to heck with everyone else. The longtime Monterey Trail High School football coach doesn’t embrace that line of thinking.

Five times, Ewing has led the Mustangs of the Elk Grove Unified School District to the final game of the Sac-Joaquin Section tournament, including the last three games. He and the Mustangs program still seek that breakthrough, the only thing missing for a program that has won league championships, toppled heavily favored powers in the playoffs and sent scores of kids to the college ranks via athletic scholarships.

Ewing and the Mustangs never waver. They keep coming back for another crack at it, but the losses sting and they linger. And really, there are no real losers for anyone getting this far into a season that started in the heat of July.

Top-seeded and red-hot Central Catholic of Modesto on Saturday night outscored Monterey Trail 30-0 in the second half and delivered a 43-22 knockout to win the Division II championship at Sacramento City College with a dose of old-fashioned power running and stout defense designed to stop the run.

That ended Monterey Trail’s eight-game winning streak, which halted an 0-5 start to the season amid a brutal schedule with a young team. In 2019, Monterey Trail stunned Folsom in the Division I semifinals and then lost by a touchdown in the wind and rain at Hughes Stadium in the finals.

“It’s hard to get here,” Ewing said of reaching a final. “We’re proud to get here. We respect the process. It’s not easy. You win, you lose, it happens. You have to have so many things go right, at all levels of football in the playoffs: have to be healthy, have to play well, have to have luck.”

Ewing has won a section championship, in 2003 while coaching San Mateo High in the Central Coast Section. He wants one for the school where he started the football program from scratch in 2004.

“If anyone told me then that it’d be this hard to win another one, I’d say they were crazy,” Ewing said with a laugh.

As for the slow start to the season that included games against powerhouse Folsom, De La Salle, Los Gatos and Clayton Valley Charter, Ewing said, “We washed our hands of it. We changed things in practice, made it fun. We still had our goals. We still believed.”

Ewing believed the Mustangs would compete with their vaunted veer offense, especially after Daelin Ellis took off for an 80-yard touchdown sprint on the game’s first play. Monterey Trail took a 15-7 lead on a Frank Arcuri 7-yard run, and Ali Collier gave the Mustangs a 22-13 lead with 15 seconds left in the half on a 3-yard score.

Monterey Trail’s Daelin Ellis (26) makes his way to the end zone with an 80-yard sprint during the first quarter against Central Catholic of Modesto on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021 during the CIF Sac-Joaquin Division II championship game at Hughes Stadium in Sacramento. Ellis will return next year.
Monterey Trail’s Daelin Ellis (26) makes his way to the end zone with an 80-yard sprint during the first quarter against Central Catholic of Modesto on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021 during the CIF Sac-Joaquin Division II championship game at Hughes Stadium in Sacramento. Ellis will return next year.

It was all Central Catholic from there.

Aiden Taylor rushed for 89 yards on 21 carries and had second-half scoring runs of 7, 4 and 6 yards. Julian Lopez rushed for 151 yards on 18 carries and had scores of 5 and 21 yards, the second of which gave the Raiders the lead for good at 22-20 with 7:40 left in the third. Impressive sophomore quarterback Tyler Wentworth completed 13 of 15 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.

Central Catholic celebrated its 20th section crown and first in D-II. The Raiders won successive smaller-school crowns in 2012, ‘13, ‘14 and ‘15 before moving up to D-II, all under coach Roger Canepa, whose team moved to 12-1 with a nine-game winning streak.

All section champions advance to a CIF Northern California Regional championship. Brackets will be released on Sunday.

Monterey Trail (8-6) had its best team in 2020, but there was no season due to the pandemic. The team went 6-0 in the spring and then graduated a ton of seniors. To get this far with such a young team pleased the old coach.

“Great group of kids,” Ewing said.

Arcuri, the cool quarterback who runs the veer offense, will graduate, but Collier and Ellis return for another run at a section title.

Central Catholic High School coach Roger Canepa celebrates his team’s 43-22 victory against Monterey Trail to win the CIF Sac-Joaquin Division II football championship at Hughes Stadium in Sacramento on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.
Central Catholic High School coach Roger Canepa celebrates his team’s 43-22 victory against Monterey Trail to win the CIF Sac-Joaquin Division II football championship at Hughes Stadium in Sacramento on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.
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