It was just the second game of the season, the home opener on a Friday night in August at Napa Memorial Stadium, and things were not looking good for Vintage High School.
The Crushers had lost the week before, falling to Wood, 35-7, in an intersectional Zero Week game. They suffered six turnovers, four on interceptions, and struggled to get anything going. Two of the turnovers led directly to touchdowns.
Vintage was now trailing 21-8 in a game against Acalanes-Lafayette. Coach Dylan Leach was upset about a number of things in the first half, including mental mistakes and execution breakdowns. He lit into his team during a halftime talk, in which he said he “got aggressive and irate with the kids,” something that he added is not his style at all.
“I know I took a different approach to halftime,” Leach said last week, as the Crushers returned to their campus practice field after several days of being indoors due to poor air quality from the Camp Fire in Butte County. “But at the same time, I think the kids were not trusting us and buying into what we were doing at that point. I think there was kind of a ‘come-to’ speech at that point.
“Since then, the kids have bought into what we’re preaching and teaching and coaching. And I think that’s kind of been the turnaround.”
Vintage lost, 28-27, but played much better as it outscored Acalanes 19-7 in the second half and 12-0 in the fourth quarter. If there has been a turning point to what has led to a 10-game winning streak and a Vine Valley Athletic League title for Vintage, it may have been in the third and fourth quarters of the Acalanes game, following Leach’s impassioned speech.
“All in all, if you look back on it, it’s the best thing that ever happened,” said Leach. “We were able to get through that growing pain and come out of it and obviously roll off 10 in a row.”
Vintage (10-2 overall, 6-0 VVAL) will continue its season on Saturday in a CIF North Coast Section Division 1 semifinal game at San Ramon Valley-Danville (7-4 overall, 2-2 East Bay-Mountain League) at 7 p.m.
Vintage, the No. 8 seed, has playoff wins over No. 9 seed James Logan-Union City, 36-0, and No. 1 seed Antioch, 24-21, in double overtime. San Ramon Valley, the No. 4 seed, had a first-round bye and is coming off a quarterfinal-round win over Monte Vista-Danville, the No. 5 seed, 21-17.
In this week’s other semifinal game, it’s No. 3 Freedom-Oakley (8-3) at No. 2 California-San Ramon (8-3) on Friday at 7 p.m.
San Ramon Valley is No. 11 and Vintage is No. 18 in this week’s MaxPreps.com North Coast Section Rankings. Freedom is No. 8 and California is No. 10.
Another key to Vintage’s season was the way in which it held off Lincoln-Stockton in a nonleague game, 26-21, in late August. Lincoln made a run in the second half, shutting out Vintage.
“I feel like the turning point for us was coming together and becoming one with each other and bonding together and just trusting the coaches,” said Luis Arroyo, who starts at right tackle and nose guard. “I feel like it came more from the offensive line, coming together and trusting each other and becoming a brotherhood and fighting for each other every day.”
Arroyo plays on the offensive line with Jack Odell at center, Alfonso Medina at right guard, Rhys Irwin at left guard, and Nyllan Mosqueda at left tackle.
“I feel like our team is prepared to go against any challenge that we’re faced with,” said Arroyo.
Vintage concluded its nonleague season with a win over Bellarmine College Prep-San Jose, 26-14.
Victories in the VVAL season for Vintage came over Casa Grande-Petaluma, 44-0, Petaluma, 50-7, American Canyon, 27-14, Justin-Siena, 48-6, Sonoma Valley, 56-6, and Napa, 69-14.
“The second quarter of Acalanes is when we really started to trust our coaches and believe in them,” said Michael Webber, a starting cornerback. “That’s really what got us going, and I believe that is what has made our team what it is today. I think this team fights harder than any other team.”
“It’s good to have the seniors be close with the juniors and show them how this team should work, and for them to do the same next year and for the years to come.”
One of the messages that the coaching staff continuously stresses is “Do our job.” The Crushers were not fulfilling some of their assignments earlier in the season, said Kyle Archer, the team’s co-defensive coordinator, special team’s coordinator and linebackers coach. “We said, ‘If everyone just does their job, and do what we teach and what we drill, it’s going to come together,’ and it really came together,” said Archer.
“Lincoln started to come back on us, and our defense just said, do your job. Guys made plays. The scheme we drew up that week bought us a couple of big stops in that fourth quarter. The kids were like, ‘Hey, we can do this.’ We trusted the scheme and we did our job. And when 11 guys with heart do that, good things happen.”
Like so many other teams that have been affected by the smoky skies, Vintage has not played a game since Nov. 9. The Crushers have had indoor practices and team activities in order to stay together.
“We’re a tight-knit coaching staff. They’re a tight team. We’re really tight together,” said Archer. “The weight room has helped us be consistent. We really believe in that.”
“Even on the days that we could not do too much, we kept that team unity, and between that and the weight room, it’s kind of kept us on track.”