High school football: Analy, Petaluma face off for Sonoma County League title
PETALUMA — For several weeks, Petaluma football coach Rick Krist wouldn’t allow his players even to utter the name. The Trojans had other challenges to address, and he didn’t want them to lose focus.
Now, finally, they can say it: “Analy.”
The team that has dominated the Sonoma County League for four years is next up on the Petaluma schedule. And in a fittingly momentous season finale, Petaluma and Analy enter Friday's game with matching 5-0 records in SCL play.
It’s a testament to how far the Trojans have come. Two years ago, they finished with a losing record overall (5-6). This year they ’ll be playing for the league title when they line up against Analy at Rancho Cotate High.
“You know what? I think it would only be worthwhile if you did it against somebody that you respect, and that are the best,” Krist said. “It makes it meaningful.”
An SCL banner isn’t the only thing on the line for Petaluma. The North Coast Section will set its football playoff brackets Sunday, giving local teams one more chance to impress the selection committee. Among the more important games Friday are Cardinal Newman at Windsor and Cloverdale at Fort Bragg.
Petaluma-Analy is the only one that will determine an outright league championship, though. And seeding is a big deal to the Trojans, who are looking for their first playoff win since 2009.
Make no mistake, they understand the uphill battle they face this week. Analy has won 25 consecutive league games, and has won five in a row against Petaluma, including a 42-6 rout in the first round of the 2013 playoffs. Many expected the Tigers to take a step back this season after losing their three top offensive players — running back Ja’Narrick James, quarterback Will Smith and wide receiver Kerr Johnson Jr. — but it hasn’t really happened.
In fact, the team from Sebastopol is, if anything, more balanced.
“The problem with Analy this year — yeah, they lost their Dynamic Three, but gosh, they’re so good across the board,” Krist said. “… You take one thing away, they go to something else. You can’t say where their strength is. The quarterback is good, their running back is good, all their receivers can catch the ball and do good things. They’re all good.”
The Tigers reached the semifinals of the NCS Division 3 playoffs last year, and are atop the Press Democrat rankings this year. And yet the Trojans have reason to be optimistic.
Last year, as Analy was roaring into the postseason, Petaluma gave the league champs all they could handle. That game was 14-13 at halftime. The Trojans scored late on a long run by Yusef Kawasami, then recovered an onside kick. The Tigers didn’t salt away the game until Smith and Johnson connected on three long passes; they won 34-23.
“Each year our record’s been getting better. And each year our scores with Analy have been closer,” said Brenden White, Petaluma’s senior quarterback and a starting linebacker. “… Hopefully this is our year.”
If so, they will have to find a way to stop Analy’s offense. Unlike most of the teams Petaluma has faced, the Tigers operate almost exclusively in a spread offense. They use multiple formations, but all of them are out of the shotgun, and they rarely huddle. Their team speed puts tremendous stress on a defense.