It was only the third game of the season, but when the Foothill varsity football team was beaten by Vanden 34-20, it served as a key moment for the Falcons.
Well, here we are in late November and the Falcons are still playing, getting ready for Saturday night where Foothill will take on Campolindo for the North Coast Section Division II championship.
Game time is set for 7 p.m. at Foothill.
Foothill, the No. 3 seed, advanced to the finals by thumping No. 2 seed Rancho Cotate 35-7 this past Saturday. And much of the success this season can be traced back to that Vanden game.
"How much we have improved from that Vanden game to now is exciting," Foothill coach Greg Haubner said. "We learned a lot about ourselves that night."
Looking back, Foothill fell behind Vanden 27-6 at the half and was completely overwhelmed. At halftime Haubner talked with the team about how they would react after getting punched in the face. The team rallied and it looked like a different team in the second half, controlling the game and holding a 14-7 margin in that span.
"We found out we could compete with anyone that second half," Haubner said.
Two weeks later, a 21-17 win over Amador Valley cemented the confidence level for the Falcons. Long drives on offense combined with some big defensive plays made the difference.
"The Amador win -- it's difficult to scale it," Haubner said. "Clearly, it was a huge win for us and how it played out -- the value of it cannot be overstated. By being committed to the run, it gave us the ability to beat teams in a variety of ways."
The next week an injury-depleted Foothill team got boat-raced by San Ramon Valley 42-0. But that turned out to be just a minor bump, as the Falcons have not lost since.
Four straight wins gave Foothill the East Bay Athletic League Valley Division title. That was followed by NCS wins over San Leandro (39-13), then Rancho Cotate, a team that beat Vanden 38-31 earlier in the season.
And it was the "next-man up" mentality that gave Foothill the edge. With running back/linebacker Tony Schillaci out for the Rancho game, sophomore running backs Jackson Chandler and Sameer Lattier stepped up with each running for over 100 yards.
That's the final piece to the season puzzle -- the maturation of the younger players. For most of the season, the Falcons started four sophomores and one true freshman.
"Some of those guys start in multiple positions, so it's like 6-8 starting spots out of 22 that are sophomores or a freshman," Haubner said. "They really helped contribute to the team -- I mean we have 10 wins this season. Not a lot of teams get to 10 wins."
While youth has certainly been served this season, the core group of senior leaders must be really enjoying the ride.
Players like EBAL Valley MVP Nick Walsh, two-way All-EBAL First Team selections Brandon Sousa and Kenny Olson and other seniors have held the team together through the growing pains.
When they were freshmen, the team went 1-9, but now they have a chance to end their high school careers with a section title and a possible berth into the California Interscholastic Federation state playoffs.
"I am so happy for the seniors," Haubner said. "They have put in the time and the work."
By virtue of being the top seeded in the NCS playoffs, the Falcons were granted an at-large spot in the CIF Northern California playoffs and came within a couple of points of reaching the semifinals.
In the first round, Foothill had to travel to the Sacramento area to take on Cosumnes Oaks and came away with a 25-20, 25-23, 25-20 win.
Highlights in the win came from Grayce Olson (17 kills, 9 digs), Katie Salonga (31 assists, 9 digs, 4 kills), Paige Bennett (11 kills, 8 service points, 6 digs), and Jo Modica (8 service points, 4 kills, 4 digs).
The win brought a second-round match with top-seeded Oak Ridge, and the Falcons had one-set leads twice before falling in a 25-17, 21-25, 25-22, 23-25, 13-15 thriller.
Olson (29 kills, 10 digs), Salonga (45 assists, 13 digs), Bennett (19 kills, 14 digs, 9 service points), and Sruti Jonnalagadda (7 kills, 7 service points, 2 blocks) led the way.
Foothill finished the with an overall record of 29-5 and the EBAL championship. EBAL honors were claimed by Olson (MVP), Salonga (First Team), Bennett and Jonnalagadda (Second Team) and Modica (Honorable Mention).
Editor's note: Dennis Miller is a contributing sports writer for the Pleasanton Weekly. To contact him about his Pleasanton Preps column, email [email protected]