De La Salle completes first perfect season in seven years

CONCORD — De La Salle football coach Justin Alumbaugh found a letter on his computer this past week, a special request he wrote four years ago on behalf of a 14-year-old who was good enough for promotion to varsity but needed approval.

The boy wore No. 90 back then, even though he played quarterback.

When weeks of waiting for the return of California high school football turned to months and months of waiting turned to an all-out push by a trio of coaches that included Alumbaugh — a push that eventually convinced state officials to give youth sports the green light — the fight was for seniors such as that 14-year-old boy who is now 18.

Saturday night, Dorian Hale played his final game in a De La Salle uniform. He threw a touchdown pass, ran for a touchdown, and scored on a two-point conversion. De La Salle needed all of those points to defeat Clayton Valley Charter 21-7 in a hard-hitting season finale.

De La Salle finished 6-0, its first unbeaten season since 2014 and 22nd overall, an ongoing state record, according to Cal-Hi Sports. Clayton Valley went 4-2.

Hale, whose previous three seasons for De La Salle ended with losses in state championship games, said the six games were worth it.

“Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking when I wasn’t going to play,” said the Sacramento State-bound quarterback, who made a decision to play just as practice started. “I am super grateful and blessed that I came back and was able to play my senior season.”

As Hale and his classmates took postgame photos in the end zone, Alumbaugh and his staff addressed the returning players near midfield.

This was a season like no other for Alumbaugh or anyone else across the state who coached or played, an exhausting experience that included cohort conditioning when games were uncertain to be played, temperature checks, locker-room sanitization, COVID-19 testing and constant worrying that a matchup could be canceled at any moment.

But they did it for the class of 2021.

“For the seniors to be able to get this, it’s gratifying and it made the effort worth it,” Alumbaugh said. “But I’ll be honest, I’m cooked.”

On the other side of the field, Clayton Valley coach Tim Murphy said, “I am really glad that the powers-that-be came to the decision they did. It would have been really nice for this group to take them to the playoffs, with the kind of heart and character they had. But at the same time, it’s way better than not getting a season.”

All of the points Saturday night came before halftime.

Zeke Berry opened the scoring for De La Sale, catching a deep pass from Hale. With the ball in his possession, Berry twisted free from two defenders and kept going, the touchdown play covering 59 yards. Clayton Valley blocked the extra-point attempt.

CONCORD, CA – APRIL 17: De La Salle’s Zeke Berry (29) runs past Clayton Valley Charter’s Tanner Maltbie (4) to score a touchdown in the first quarter of their game at Clayton Valley Charter High School in Concord, Calif., on Saturday, April 17, 2021. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Mekhi Norfleet followed with a 4-yard touchdown run and Hale’s run across the goal line on the two-point try made it 14-0 late in the first quarter. Nico Torrez’s 56-yard run put De La Salle into scoring position. Also a senior, Torrez pounded his way to 136 yards in 18 carries.

“That was a physical game,” Alumbaugh said. “It wasn’t a perfect game from them or us, but there was a lot of hitting and a lot of battling. One of the only times this year, it really felt like a football game. The teams haven’t had much time to prepare and obviously what everyone has been going through. But this was a football game.” 

A fourth-down stop near midfield set up Clayton Valley’s only score. The drive ended with Omari Taylor charging in from the 2 to cut De La Salle’s lead to 14-7. Taylor, in his final game for a program he helped lead to a state championship last season just weeks after his brother was killed in a Halloween shooting, ran for 70 yards in 21 carries.

CONCORD, CA – APRIL 17: Clayton Valley Charter’s Omari Taylor (11) scores a touchdown against De La Salle in the second quarter of their game at Clayton Valley Charter High School in Concord, Calif., on Saturday, April 17, 2021. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Hale answered Taylor’s touchdown with a 4-yard run into the end zone just before halftime to make it 21-7.

The second half was all defense.

Clayton Valley had hoped for late-game magic. The Ugly Eagles reached the De La Salle 10-yard line early in the fourth quarter, but senior Jake Kern’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete.

“I think we had them on their heels,” said Kern, who transferred his freshman year from De La Salle and will be remembered for his heroics in the rain to beat Elk Grove in a NorCal title game in 2019. “It feels good, but it’s definitely sad because this is it. Any senior who ever played this game knows this feeling. I always thought it would end with De La Salle and it ended with De La Salle. Wish we won. But we gave them a run for their money. I couldn’t ask for more than that.”

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