Manteca wide receiver Zion Allen steps out of an Oakdale tackle during the Buffaloes' victory in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III final.

After quick party, section champions prepare for next big game: NorCal bowls

James Burns

Take pictures. Reminisce with friends and family. Re-watch the game while the wounds and the smiles are still fresh. Celebrate like rock stars until the sun comes up, but when it does ...

It's right back to work.

There's a special stamina required of high school football teams this time of the year, when the season is whittled down to just champions and dreams of a state title begin to feel real.

Less than a day after lifting the school's first Sac-Joaquin Section Division II banner, Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa took a deep breath, hit play on the game film and readied for another round of championship football.

Such is the life of a section champion these days.

Teams that win "the big one" have less than 24 hours before they must prepare for "the next big one." The region's top-ranked football team, Central Catholic leads a large contingent into the next round: the CIF State Northern California Regional bowl games, played at home sites on Friday and Saturday.

The Raiders are one of two local teams to host a regional bowl. Central Catholic welcomes Bullard (Central Section) on Friday for the Division 2-AA bowl, while Argonaut, the section's D-VI champion, hosts St. Vincent (North Coast Section) in the Division 5-A bowl. Both games kickoff at 7:30 p.m.

Canepa was confident the Raiders would be rewarded with a home game.

"It's our schedule," he said on Sunday evening. "If you look at our power ranking, there are just one or two schools with that power ranking. We beat the D-III champion and the D-III runner-up. We beat Merced, which was in the D-IV final. And we won Division II by 21 points. Then you take (games with) Bellarmine Prep and San Ramon and St. Mary's, who almost beat Rocklin. There it is.

"The team that wins now is the team that is mentally tough," he added. "It's going to get a little colder and you're playing all these games, and we're all a little banged up. Now is the time you have to be focused, and that's why being at home is huge. Not all home teams win, but it helps. I'm happy we got a home game."

Others weren't so lucky in the draw.

Manteca, the section's D-III champion, travels to a familiar out-of-section foe in the Division 2-A bowl. The Buffaloes tangle with Wilcox of Santa Clara on Saturday at 6 p.m. The two have met twice, splitting early-season contests in 2013 and 2014, and it was those contests that helped spur Manteca's rise into a regional force. Since 2013, the Buffaloes have won five of their eight total section titles and played in three regional bowl games, all losses.

"These past eight to 10 years, we've thrown ourselves in the conversation year in and year out," Manteca coach Mark Varnum said. "We want to win this one and take it another step forward."

Escalon travels to San Rafael High to face one of the state's marquee programs, a football factory in Marin Catholic. The Cougars punched their ticket into the Division 4-AA bowl with a 20-13 victory over Hilmar, its Trans-Valley League rival, and now must prepare for a team that casts a long shadow.

Marin Catholic is paced by senior Michael Ingrassia, a two-star quarterback who has thrown 31 touchdowns without an interception this season. In the North Coast Section final, he torched Cardinal Newman for six touchdowns — three through the air and three more on the ground.

"They fill out a uniform," Beam said of the team's physical advantage at nearly every position. "They're going to look the part. We're going to pride ourselves on being tough and being physical, and relying on our smashmouth football game to keep us in a game like this. Their offense may be special, but if we play our game we have an opportunity and a chance."

Le Grand, the section's D-VII champion, travels to the North Section to face Fall River on Saturday in the Division 7-AA bowl. Kickoff is at 6 o'clock. Fall River is 11-0 and has won every game by 14 or more points.  Woodland Christian also was 11-0 before the Bulldogs ended their season in the D-VII final 35-12.

Bulldogs coach Aaron Martinez doesn't know much about his opponent, the schemes they run, offensively and defensively, or the region they're traveling to ("We're trying to figure what there is to do in Redding on Friday," he said). However, Martinez's confidence is bolstered by the Bulldogs' battles in the Southern League. 

"It's a gauntlet. It's small-school football at its finest," Martinez said of the SL. "When I came back (to Le Grand), it was a different animal altogether. When I left (for coaching jobs at Merced and Golden Valley), Denair was competitive and Mariposa was our gigantic rival. Gustine was in your face, running right at you. When I came back, though, Delhi was much improved. Ripon Christian came into our league and provided a thump. This year, Waterford was fantastic. ... Going into Woodland, we heard about this and we heard about that. It didn't matter, because we have an inner confidence because we were prepared by our league. We felt battle tested."

History awaits those that come through this latest battle.

Oh, and there's this: Another short turnaround.

CIF State championship games are slated for Dec. 10-11, either at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo or North home sites, depending on division. This week's winners won't have long to celebrate.

Beam, like the other section winners, understand that more than ever.

"We had to make sure we enjoyed it ... and lived in the moment," he said, "because all of this can disappear and leave in an instant. We truly enjoyed it until noon today (Sunday)."