A Del Norte tackler brings down Scott Root of El Capitan, which will face Imperial in next week’s San Diego Section Division II quarterfinals.
LAKESIDE Final score: El Capitan 45, Del Norte 21.
Next up: The No. 6 seed Vaqueros (10-1) advance to Thursday’s quarterfinal game at No. 3 seed Imperial (10-0).
Key plays: Quarterback Brad Cagle passed for two touchdowns to teammate Isaiah Capoocia and ran for another score to lead El Capitan over No. 11 seed Del Norte in a first-round Division II playoff game Friday night at El Capitan High. Moments after Cagle scored on a 5-yard keeper, Capoocia picked off a first-quarter pass and returned it to the Del Norte 5-yard line to set up the Vaqueros for an early 14-0 lead. El Cap expanded its advantage to 24-7 by halftime. Capoocia capped a big night with a 71-yard TD run for the game’s final score. Quarterback Parker Lappin passed for three TDs for Del Norte (5-6).
Key stats: Cagle completed 20 of 36 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns.
Quotable: “The key to winning was following our game plan all the way, working hard in practice and then everyone coming out today and doing their jobs like they’re supposed to,” said Cagle.
Scene and heard: A Del Norte cheerleader practiced her alliteration during a pregame walk through the parking lot, asking: “Why did the bus have to drop us so far from the frigging field?” ... Pregame sprinkles gave way to a second-quarter shower, Mother Nature missing the memo that rain wasn’t supposed to arrive until today. Wish the weatherman would go on “The Apprentice” so he could be fired. ... Parking was at a premium with an RV show filling up the rodeo grounds. Upside was waiting out the rain at halftime in a Winnebago.
Growing their Flock: Del Norte is in only its fourth varsity season and, while this is its third straight postseason appearance, the Nighthawks are still trying to attract a following. They have been supported by a group of students known as “The Flock,” which puts on a spirited display at games. “The Flock is a great group of kids,” said Del Norte coach Leigh Cole. “I’ve got a big picture of them on my wall. They follow us around. They’re fired up. They paint their faces. They do all the stuff you want your fans to do.”
Key loss: El Capitan running back DJ Smith was just 18 yards shy of 1,000 when he suffered a dislocated left elbow on the team’s first offensive play (a 4-yard carry) last week against El Cajon Valley. Said El Capitan coach Ron Burner: “There’s no way to replace him. Other guys have to step up and play.” Capoocia was among those who did just that. Smith had to root his teammates on Friday night, hoping against hope they can extend the season long enough for his return. “We’ll just see how the healing process goes,” said Smith, who has to wear a cast for two weeks. A junior, Smith will be back one way or another and he remains a vocal presence. Wednesday night’s practice was lacking in the Vaqueros’ usual intensity. After one player said, “I’m just not that into it,” Smith responded: “Do you know what I would give to play? And you’re not into it?” Burner said that put a spark back into things.
Keep an eye on: Another junior who bears watching is Del Norte WR/CB/PR Quenton Meeks, who led the Nighthawks during the regular season with 12 touchdowns. Eight of his 31 receptions (for 419 yards) went for TDs. Four other scores by the 6-foot-2, 185-pounder came on kick returns and an interception. “He’s fast and strong and he really wants to win,” said Cole. “He’s a competitor. That’s what makes him special.”
You’re making us hungry: They say an army travels on its stomach. So does a football team. Burner’s family restaurant, Nicolosi’s, provides pregame team meals for the Vaqueros “They’re hung up on our mac and cheese,” said Burner, who brought one pan of the stuff early in the season and now things have gotten out of control. “They inhale it. We go through three full pans that usually feed 90 people.” This mac and cheese is not to be confused with the stuff out of a box that you make in the microwave at home. “It’s nothing like it,” said Burner. “It’s got like six different Italian cheeses, a little alfredo mix. ... For the players, we add a little pancetta (Italian bacon) ...” Hey, whatever it takes to get a W.
Speaking of food: Enjoyed a hot dog — which earned three belches on our five-belch scale — at the Vaqueros concession stand. It was tasty. Still asked if they could add mac and cheese to the menu.