Four DII clubs convene this weekend for the Pacific Coast championships, with all sorts of questions to answer.
All sorts, or maybe just one – which team is the dominant team? Both Snake River out of Idaho, and Santa Rosa in Northern California, have fairly dominated their leagues (Santa Rosa somewhat more, but still), and neither has played the other as the two leagues are completely separate.
Santa Rosa went 9-0 in Northern California, beating teams by an average margin of 53 points. That takes some doing. But Head Coach Alan Petty isn’t completely sold on his team’s fortunes.
“We can score a lot of points, that’s true,” he said. “But whether we’ve been tested enough, and how we do against tougher defenses we haven’t seen, I don’t know.”
It’s a run-and-shoot offense, for sure, and led by an outstanding group of loose forwards who get to the breakdown and players who know each other very well.
“We have players who have been playing together since high school,” said Petty. “Our scrumhalf and flyhalf have been together since the mid-1990s. We have two really good wings, which is important because then the defense can’t load up on one side.”
AJ Gutierrez and Greg Hildebrand are those two bookend wings, while up front prop Rob Hager, in Petty’s words, “can go places.”
He will have to if, as expected, Santa Rosa gets by ORSU and Snake River defeat the 8-1 Diablo Gaels.
“Snake is always really tough, physical, with big forwards,” said Petty.
Snake River Head Coach Mike Saunders doesn’t disagree with that assessment. He said the collisions on the field during this past weekend’s Pacific Northwest playoffs were clearly audible to the spectators.
“It was a great, clean, tough, physical game,” Saunders said. “Both teams battled really hard at the tackle contest. But we also have some speed. We had two tries over 50 meters, one of them 75 meters.”
Both of those came from scrumhalf Harley Davison, who is a small, smart, shifty player who is very difficult to take down.
“He has skills you can’t coach,” said Saunders.
Now it is no foregone conclusion that these two #1 seeds will meet. Petty said Diablo is a much improved team at this point in the season, and ORSU pushed Snake River close. In the end, the edge might be with Snake, if only because, as isolated as they are in Idaho, they are used to play two games in a weekend.