De La Salle (Concord, Calif.)
High School's football team hasn't lost to a Northern California opponent in 19 years, a span of more than 200 games.
The Spartans have won 25 North Coast Section titles and 18 straight.
California (San Ramon, Calif.)
has no such history – no section titles, no outright league crowns, and only a smattering of winning seasons.
So, even with a sparkling 9-0 record and a No. 10 state ranking (No. 69 nationally) heading into tonight's highly-anticipated matchup with 10th-ranked De La Salle
, the Grizzlies, by all indications, are a long shot at best.
Fitting then, a kid giving no shot coming into the season, leads the troops in a game tabbed one of the top 10 nationally this week
California High School starting quarterback Drew Reil
sat the bench as a freshman and sophomore and last season played largely scout-team tackling dummy.
"He'd get drilled and he'd get right back up," California coach Eric Billeci said. "He'd get drilled again and want some more. He certainly didn't lack confidence.
"That's about when he finally caught my eye. I thought that's the type of demeanor I want from my starting quarterback."
The 6-foot, 195-pound senior is blinded and deaf to all the history, all the hyperbole heading into the game.
He never listened to the razzing over the last three years. Paid no attention to what messages he was given by playing such a humble, reserve role.
Billeci, a former De La Salle tight end who was part of the program's renowned national-record 151-game win streak, has found something great in the confident senior.
"He's a blue collar Rocky Balboa," Billeci said. Almost perfect
And we all know how Rocky
handled invincible Apollo Creed
. Like Rocky, all Reil has ever wanted was a chance. Has he ever made the most of his first opportunity.
In a run-first, pass-second scheme, Reil has completed 69 percent of his passes (82 of 119) for 1,584 yards, 25 interceptions and only six interceptions.
Last week in a 49-7 win at Foothill-Pleasanton, Reil was almost perfect, connecting on 14 of 15 for 321 yards and five touchdowns.
All numbers are well beyond anyone's expectations for a team that features more impressive athletes, like speedy back Kyle Alvarez
(808 yards rushing, nine touchdowns), big-play receiver John Sarmenta
(28 catches, 10 TDs) and two-way Division I prospect Trevor Taft
, a 6-3, 195-pound safety and tight end (25-469-7).
"We don't ask Drew to do too much and as long as he plays within his ability, we're in good shape," Billeci said.
Billeci purposely ignites Reil's competitive spirit with a heated exchange or by challenging him to obscure competitions, like juggling or placekicking. "I like to push his buttons," Billeci said. "I want to get under his skin and keep that moxie of his going."
Approaching with a swagger is important to combat De La Salle's long-time Bay Area stranglehold and mystique.
"Our guys won't be intimidated," Billeci said. "Against the same opponents we've won by comparable scores. They're undefeated, we're undefeated. We have weapons and mystique too and over the season have been able to develop a little swagger ourselves."
They've earned it, outscoring foes 391-87.
The Grizzlies, behind solid line play and a new-hero-every-game mentality, have improved steadily throughout the year, beating Bay Area ranked teams out of the rugged East Bay Athletic League convincingly.
The most alarming was a 45-3 win over Monte Vista, a team now 6-3 and ranked among the most 10 in the San Francisco region.
Monte Vista has had a long history of thumping the Grizzlies, who had recorded just two wins over the Mustangs in 34 years.
Clearly, the victory over Monte Vista was a sign things have turned. The Grizzlies have also defeated ranked teams Granada-Livermore (35-14), San Ramon Valley-Danville (38-19) and last week Foothill.
"We're going to prepare this week like we've done the last 10," Billeci said. "We see this as a rare opportunity not only to beat De La Salle, but to win an outright championship and to accomplish one of our team goals." Instilling green
Knowing the De La Salle program so well doesn't give California any advantage, according to Billeci.
De La Salle, the six-time mythical national champ that won the CIF State Open Division bowl last year, has one of its best teams in years by most accounts.
The Spartans have outscored foes 409-63, feature two Division I defenders in linebacker Blake Renaud
(Boise State) and defensive end Dylan Wynn
(Oregon State), elusive scatback Lucas Dunne
(1,197 yards, 22 touchdowns) and one of the top junior quarterbacks in the state, Bart Houston
(1,271 yards, 12 touchdowns, three interceptions).
De La Salle is averaging 432 yards per game (California is at 441) and allows 212.
"What separates them perhaps over other (De La Salle) teams lately are (Renaud and Wynn)," Billeci said. "We haven't faced any teams with two Division I guys on defense. But there's not an aspect of their team that won't exploit your weaknesses.
"I don't think I have any more advantage than any other coach has. I think everyone has a pretty good idea of what De La Salle does. They haven't deviated much of the years. The only insight I have is that I know what's made them so successful over the years and that's exactly what I'm trying to instill in our team."
Obviously, it's rubbing off.