Hughson High football coach Shaun King is one victory away from replacing his hat.
During a team-bonding retreat prior to the start of the 2023 season, King wanted to impress upon his troops that new and unique challenges awaited his defending section and state champions.
Gathered around a roaring bonfire, King told his players that the time for looking backward was over, and that it was time to focus on repeating.
To hammer home this point, King pulled the Sac-Joaquin Section championship hat off his head and whipped it into the flames, telling his team, “Let’s go get a new one.”
On Saturday, the fourth-seeded Huskies will take on No. 3 Bradshaw Christian (Sacramento) at Sac City College’s Hughes Stadium with the Division 6 title — and a championship hate — on the line.
Kickoff is slated for 3 p.m., when the temperature is expected to be in the low 60s.
Hughson (9-3) and BC (10-2) have one common opponent in Sutter. The Pride lost 14-7 to Sutter on Sept. 8, while the Huskies defeated top-seeded Sutter 21-14 in last week’s semifinal — a game that wasn’t really as close as the final score indicated.
I’ve had the opportunity to see Hughson play six times this season. I saw the Huskies get handled by Escalon — which is playing for the D-4 title against Patterson Friday night at 7 at St. Mary’s High School in Stockton — and I saw them lose a head-scratcher to Hilmar in Trans-Valley League play. I also saw them nearly knock off Downey, a D-2 school with an enrollment nearly three times as large as Hughson’s.
I also saw the Huskies turn in a nearly flawless performance against Colfax in the quarterfinals two weeks ago — a performance that would’ve made them much more competitive against Escalon; a performance that would’ve been more than enough to get them past Downey and Hilmar.
Hughson’s showing against Sutter, while not as dominant as the one against Colfax, was nonetheless impressive. The Huskies had to drive three hours to play in cold, rainy conditions. They turned the ball over on downs inside the 5-yard-line twice in the first half. Had they cashed in on those opportunities, it would’ve been a much more comfortable margin. But even though it was a one-score game for much of the contest, I always had the feeling that Hughson was in control.
The Huskies will be challenged this week by the three-headed running attack of juniors Mateo Mojica (5-7, 205), Brandon Burden (5-10, 180) and Nathan Zeppieri (5-11, 175), who have combined for more than 2,800 — Mojica leads the way with 1,209 yards — and gain an average of nearly 8 yards every time they’re given the ball.
Junior quarterback Ethan Rickert (6-0, 175), son of head coach Drew Rickert (153-52 in 18 seasons), has completed 61 percent of his passes for 1,149 yards and 16 touchdowns — against zero interceptions.
In a nine-year span between 2008 and 2016, the Pride reached the section championship game seven times, emerging victorious on five of those trips. And though BC hasn’t been to a final since 2016, it has reached the semifinals in four of the past five non-COVID seasons.
Overall, however, the Pride lack experience, with just six seniors on their 36-man roster. Conversely, Hughson has 21 seniors on a roster that is double the size of BC’s.