Late in Woodland Christian’s section championship game against Le Grand on Friday, Woodland Christian coach Michael Paschke just smiled and shook his head as Le Grand took a turnover from the Cardinals.
What was Woodland Christian supposed to do against these guys?
The Cardinals never found that answer in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII title game, a 35-12 Le Grand win.
Losing a section title game hurts, but Woodland Christian players kept their chins up. There were a few tears, but the Cardinals have lots to be proud of. They played in a section title game for the first time in school history. They went 11-1, the most wins in school history.
But it became obvious early on that Le Grand was the better team, with big linemen who fire off the ball and a quick quarterback with a strong arm. Le Grand raced to a 21-0 halftime lead, scoring on all three first-half possessions. Paschke just shrugged. What can you do?
“We didn’t lose a game that we should have won,” he said. “And that’s a little bit easier. But it’s tough. It’s tough to see the seniors lose, that’s the toughest part. You know, that’s it for them.”
Seniors like running back Daniel Naschke and receiver Jonathan Jaime built this Woodland Christian program as much as anybody. Paschke is in his first year as a coach, but he was quick to applaud Jaime’s work ethic and Naschke’s vocal leadership as being keys to this season.
“To get this far, it’s not a mistake,” Jaime said. “I gave it 100% every single day. It’s my senior year, I don’t get I don’t get another shot at this.”
Jaime caught eight passes for 156 yards in his last high school game. On defense, he batted down passes and ran guys out of bounds.
Naschke, another senior, fought for yardage as a running back and knocked Le Grand players to the ground on defense. It’s never fun losing, but Naschke just shook his head Friday. No shame in losing to Le Grand.
“That’s a championship-caliber team,” he said. “You’re gonna run into those obstacles. It’d be great to overcome them. But I did think it might be a little intimidating, them having that size. And I think having it be a championship game got into our minds a little bit, especially the young guys.”
That’s the thing with Woodland Christian: There’s plenty of young guys. And while the Cardinals have never played for a section title, they also haven’t lost a Sacramento Metro Athletic League game since 2015. Billy Hinkle, an all-around athlete who runs, passes and catches the ball, will be back for his senior year next year. The Cardinals’ youth program should start producing varsity talent next year in earnest.
But chances at section titles are rare, and this year’s seniors are not to be overlooked.
“That’s what everyone says,” Paschke said. “ That’s what scares me the most. Everyone (at the section’s playoff breakfast) was like, it’s not easy to get here. It’s not easy to get here. It’s not easy to get here.
“Sometimes, you just don’t know, like these freshmen, they got here first year. They’re thinking this is the norm. But it’s going to be hard to get to that level.”
The smile returned to Paschke’s face as he thought back to the start of this season. Did he think the Cardinals were going to make it this far?
“I would have said no way. So what do I know, you know?”