There is a line of thought that it's a good high school football season when you practice on Thanksgiving week. It means you made it to the playoffs and can add to that good cheer with turkey, ham and all the fixings.
So, what about those who practice the week after Thanksgiving? That's really good living, and it means you're in a CIF Northern California Regional bowl game.
The Sac-Joaquin Section has six teams left, each of them section champions as all section champions in the state advance to regional games.
Here's a closer peek at what to expect in these games. The winners advance to CIF State title games against Southern California winners.
De La Salle-Concord (9-3) at Folsom (12-1)
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Why watch? These two programs have been top-tier for years in the NorCal heap, with Serra-San Mateo inching past both of them of late, including beating both this season. Serra is 13-0 and will, as the NorCal top-ranked team, advance straight to the prestigious, big-boy CIF State Open finals against national powerhouse Bosco-Bellflower. De La Salle owns a 5-2 record against Folsom since the programs first met in 2012 and 2013 with DLS winning those NorCal title games to snuff out Folsom's 14-0 seasons. But Folsom has won the last two games - 28-27 at De La Salle for the 2021 NorCal D1-AA title and 24-20 in Concord on Sept. 23 - and is no longer in awe of the most famed program in NorCal history. DLS may not be as monstrous as it once was, but it is still DLS, winners of 30 consecutive North Coast Section championships.
What to expect from Folsom: Folsom will be without its top two players in TE Walker Lyons, who broke his leg in a season opener, and Notre Dame-bound WR Rico Flores, Jr., who is out with a broken foot. But Folsom has depth, and that includes rising-fast WR Brian Ray, who has had the best games of his life in his last two games. QB Austin Mack beat DLS earlier this season on a last-second, 4th-down goalline play, leaping up and breaking the plane of the goal. He's even better as a pocket passer, having passed for 3,370 yards and 40 touchdowns. Folsom can also run the ball with Donovan Maxey-Parler, and his fresh legs allowed him to pull away for two touchdown sprints to beat Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills 23-13 in the SJS D1 title game.
What to expect from De La Salle: Physicality in the trenches, superb tackling, big plays from the veer offense and on special teams - all staples of the Spartans over the 40 years that program has been great. DLS has devastated teams forever with the ground game, and that means Charles Greer this season. He's rushed for 1,089 yards and 13 touchdowns. DLS has three losses this season to NorCal teams for the first time since, when? Forever? Close enough. Most likely not since 1979.
Predicted score: DLS 24-23
CalPreps predicted score: Folsom 28-20
Manteca (11-1) at Pittsburg (12-2)
When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
Why watch: If you're a fan of college-committed stars, particularly with those headed to the state of Florida, this is your game. Manteca's bruiser beast is RB/LB Blake Nichelson, headed to Florida State. Pittsburg's leader is QB Jaden Rashada, bound for the Florida Gators. Both teams are fun to watch, prolific and eager to cap their season on top.
What to expect from Manteca: A ground game. Lots of run plays and more run plays, starting with Nichelson, the top player in the SJS this season and a load at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds of leg-driving fury. He has rushed for 1,547 yards and 26 touchdowns and has 39 scores in all. He had five scores in a 51-48 win over Granite Bay in the SJS D2 finals. Hudston Wyatt is a capable QB and has passed for 1,228 yards and 20 touchdowns.
What to expect from Pittsburg: Emotion and a lot of playmakers. The Pirates do not want their season to end because it will mark the end of beloved coach Victor Gali, who has announced that this is his final season as coach. Rashada has passed for 2,585 yards and 29 touchdowns, and Elijah Bow has rushed for 966 yards and 15 scores. Pittsburg is battle tested, having lost 23-15 to NorCal No. 2-ranked Folsom, and 30-23 to De La Salle, which hasn't lost to an NCS team since falling to Pittsburg in the 1991 NCS finals.
Predicted score: Pittsburg 35-30
CalPreps predicted score: Manteca 34-31
Grant-Sacramento (10-2) at El Cerrito (13-0)
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Why watch: Speed. Athletes. Intensity. Fun. Touchdowns. Emotions. These programs are similar in all of that. Grant is a storied program, having won eight SJS championships since 1991 and winning the first state title for any SJS football program, taking the 2008 CIF State Open championship. Grant is also proof that programs can take a dip and roar right back. The Pacers went 1-9 in 2019 and 0-9 last season (there was no 2020 season due to the pandemic).
What to expect from Grant: The Pacers will pass with JoJo McCray, who absorbed every bit of that 0-9 season a year ago as the starter. He never thought about leaving. He just got better. He has passed for 3,190 yards and 45 touchdowns, and he has big-play receivers in Kingston Lopa (15 TDs) and Kyrell Goss-Pruitt (15 TDs), and the Pacers have a runner in Semaje Mafu-Hart, who has produced his best games in the last two games.
What to expect from El Cerrito: The Gauchos are coming off their second NCS championship in program history, beating Windsor for D3 honors. And they play terrific defense. El Cerrito allowed just 62 points in its first 12 games, allowing seven or fewer points nine times. RB Tony McAdoo rushed for 282 yards in the NCS win, and dual-threat Michael Vanhook has had a big season.
Prediction: Grant 28-24
CalPreps prediction: Grant 35-34.
Pleasant Valley-Chico (9-4) at Escalon (11-3)
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Why watch: Escalon represents the best of small-town ball in the 209 area code with state-championship pedigree and 13 SJS titles, all since 1990. PV has emerged as the top program in the Northern Section of late with state-championship pedigree (and it's the home of Green Bay Packers QB great Aaron Rodgers).
What to expect from Pleasant Valley: A program on a mission and one that looks decidedly different than the early season. In an effort to further raise its profile, the Vikings ramped up their nonleague schedule, including playing at SJS power Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills, a 41-10 loss and to NCS steady Rancho Cotate-Rohnert Park, a 32-21 loss. A 31-0 Eastern League opening loss to Enterprise-Redding was avenged in the playoffs as PV prevailed 38-20, and a 35-7 league-ending loss to Foothill-Palo Cedro was avenged in the North Section finals, 10-7. PV is balanced and on a roll.
What to expect from Escalon: The Cougars suffered September Trans Valley League losses to rivals Hughson, 29-14, and to Hilmar, 21-20, and have won eight consecutive games since, including a thrilling SJS title effort to beat Sonora, 35-34, as Donovan Rosevink tossed three touchdown passes and Ryker Peters rushed for 140 yards.
Predicted score: Escalon 24, Pleasant Valley 21
CalPreps predicted score: Escalon 31-21
Ripon Christian (11-2) at Hughson (11-2)
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Why watch: The fireworks. Not after the game. During the game with touchdowns as these are superbly coached and entertaining small-school programs where the entire town comes and watches. These two are SJS members, so the travel is a breeze.
What to expect from Ripon Christian: A lot of Trey Fasani, RC's talented senior QB who has passed for 1,847 yards and 31 touchdowns and rushed for 454 and six more. RB Grant Sonke has rushed for 934 yards and 14 scores and 6-5 TE Griffin De Abreu has 42 receptions for 737 yards and 15 scores. The losses were Central Valley Chrsitian-Visalia, 42-14, and to Orestimba, 21-7. The winning streak is eight.
What to expect from Hughson: Balance and tradition. Robert McDaniel has passed for 1,700 yards and 23 TDs. RB Liam Bridgford has rushed for 1,227 yards and 13 TDs and RB Alex Villareal has 775 yards and 10 scores.
Predicted score: Hughson 21-20
CalPreps predicted score: Ripon Christian 27-22.