Some of the best high school football in Northern California is being played in East Contra Costa County.
Five of those schools are located off of Highway 4 and play in the same league – the Bay Valley Athletic League. It’s strong and tough, one of the best conferences in the North Coast Section.
There is Pittsburg (9-2), the league champion, which will face Narbonne-Harbor City on Saturday at 4 p.m. in the 2017 CIF State Championship Division 1-A Bowl Game at Sacramento State.
There is Liberty-Brentwood (11-2), Antioch (8-4), Freedom-Oakley (9-3), and Heritage-Brentwood (7-5).
Liberty won the NCS Division I title, beating Freedom in the championship game, 37-0, on Dec. 2.
Antioch lost to Freedom in the semifinals of the NCS playoffs, 45-39.
Heritage lost in the second round of the NCS playoffs, falling to Liberty, 35-15.
“I feel that the BVAL has traditionally been a one- or two-team league based on the strength of Pittsburg over the years and a team here or there having a good year,” said Tim Simmons, a 1989 Vintage High graduate who is in his fifth year as a world history teacher at Pittsburg.
“Over the past few years, however, the BVAL has definitely shown to have a number of teams like Liberty and Freedom that are able to compete with the San Ramon Valley and Cal High programs. Also, the talent is there to last for a number of years in the future.”
Simmons coached football on the freshman staff for the Pirates during the 2013 and 2015 seasons. He coached on the varsity staff at Heritage in 2014.
The season continues this week for Pittsburg, which beat Granite Bay last week in a Northern California Regional Championship Bowl Game, 37-14, as Justin Boyd completed 14 of 19 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns. It’s Pittsburg’s first NorCal regional title and the Pirates’ first appearance in a state game.
“How often do you get to see your school in the state finals? It’s a big deal,” said Simmons, who is from Napa and now makes his home in Brentwood. “They take their football serious around here.
“This whole week is going to be pretty exciting for the student body. It’s really nice for our team to get a chance to be on that stage. It’s a big deal. It’s definitely a big deal around here.
“Pittsburg has always been known to be a powerful program in Northern California. They’ve had very talented teams throughout the years. It just seems like everything kind of fell into place this year for them.”
Pittsburg lost to De La Salle-Concord, 24-7, in the NCS Open Division championship game. But as an Open Division finalist, Pittsburg was able to extend its season.
“We definitely have the size on the line and the skill players are unbelievable, just amazing,” said Simmons, 46, in a telephone interview on Sunday. “They have all the tools – big, athletic, fast. It’s everything that you could ask for in a football team. And I think next year they’re probably going to be better, because all those juniors, they’re going to be seniors next year. I think they’re going to be the team to beat next year.”
NBC Sports Bay Area will carry each of the five state title games over the two days at Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium.
On Friday, Cajon-San Bernardino and Serra-San Mateo (12-2) meet in the Division 2-AA game at 4 p.m. and Helix-La Masa (13-1) faces Folsom (15-0) at 8 p.m. in the Division 1-AA game.
In other games on Saturday, it’s Grace Brethren-Simi Valley (13-2) vs. St. Francis-Mountain View (10-4) at noon in the Division 2-A game and Mater Dei-Santa Ana (14-0) vs. De La Salle (11-1) at 8 p.m. in the Open Division game.
There are eight other state championship games around the state on Saturday.
Simmons has been to two of Pittsburg’s games this year. He is hoping to travel to the state game.
“This year’s team is an offensive power,” he said. “The depth of the skill players is pretty amazing. It’s also a really close-knit team. It’s like a family atmosphere for them.”
The Pittsburg football program provided support for the Napa community during the wildfires in October.
According to a report by bayareanewsgroup.com, assistant coaches Bobby Belleci and Mike Orlando drove to Napa and delivered cases of water and canned foods for victims of the fires.
“The coaching staff at Pittsburg is a very close-knit staff,” said Simmons. “They’ve all known each other for a long time. They’ve all coached together for a long time. They’re proud of their history and they’re proud of their school.”
Simmons played football and baseball at Vintage. He also played on Napa Yankee Junior Olympic youth baseball teams in the 1980s.
The San Francisco State graduate coached in the Vintage football program for five years, from 1998-2002, including three on varsity under coach Les Franco.
He coached under Jerry Dunlap and Troy Mott in the Napa High program from 2003 to 2011, and was on the staff when the Indians won the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title in 2007. He taught world history, geography and P.E. at Napa.