High school football: Analy, Petaluma face off for Sonoma County League title

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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.

“They just find the bubble as an offense,” is how White put it. “They know where the play’s going.”

Just once this year, in a 27-14 win at Maria Carrillo on Sept. 4, has Analy scored fewer than 41 points. The Tigers are averaging 49.3 per game.

That sort of firepower is hard to prepare for, especially in the SCL, where football participation numbers are way down at schools like El Molino and Healdsburg. To simulate Analy’s explosive passing game, Krist recruited former Petaluma quarterback Jeff Crudo, who still has a big arm. Jeff is the son of assistant coach John Crudo.

If Analy is a problematic fit for Petaluma, though, the Trojans hope the opposite is equally true. They don’t throw the ball all over the field or shift into ever-changing formations. They pound the ball out of a Veer scheme.

“We’re not like any other team that they’ve faced. We run a completely different offense,” Krist said. “We’re traditionally a control-the-ball type of team, and then this year we’ve got the ability to maybe bust a big one. But we’re gonna grind it out. And I told kids, we’re not gonna change for this team. We’re gonna be who we are. I think that’s our best shot.”

Petaluma’s Veer scheme might be a throwback, but it has a lot of moving parts and numerous options on each play.

“We have a complex offense,” senior Luke Wheless said. “You’ve got to do everything right for it to work.”

Krist is hoping his players learned from a game against Piner on Oct. 3. The Trojans won that one 29-22, but the coach was disgusted afterward.

“I thought we came in a little nonchalant,” Krist said this week. “I don’t think we prepared very well the week before. And I felt that we were a little out of condition.”

The result? Hell Week. Krist and his staff put the Petaluma players through extra conditioning the week following the game. It was like a return to summer training. Even now, the Trojans condition every day.

Petaluma won its three subsequent games by a cumulative score of 153-27. Granted, none of them came against an opponent as strong as Piner. But Hell Week seems to have gotten the Trojans’ attention.

No boot camp was necessary this week. If you play in the SCL, Analy gets your attention.

Fortunately for the Trojans, this game isn’t do-or-die. Yes, a victory would be huge for the program. But at 7-2, they know a playoff berth lies ahead.

“No matter what happens on Friday, we’re gonna have another game, which is nice,” Krist said. “And we’re gonna have to put this week aside at some point. Good or bad, we’re gonna have to put it in the vault and go on to the next team.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter @Skinny_Post.

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