The first week of the CIF Sac-Joaquin High School Football season began this past Friday night at well-attended fields sprinkled throughout the valley and the nearby hills. Many strong teams took advantage of the opportunity to take a big stride out of the gate.
One of the most highly anticipated matchups pitted the McNair High Eagles out of Stockton against the hometown Huskies of Sheldon High.
The Eagles are led by duel-threat quarterback Cedric Somsack-Phillips, a talented and confident senior who is on the radar of a handful of top-25 college programs. Somsack-Phillips wears number seven as a nod to Mike Vick, a dynamic player who initially got him thinking about playing the quarterback position. The 17-year-old looks a bit like Robert Griffin III with his medium-length dyed braids and his dialed-in footwork in and out of the pocket.
The Eagles came into Elk Grove’s Sheldon High with a tall task ahead of them. Each member of the team – and the cheerleading squad, for that matter – attended a full day of classes on campus in Stockton before hopping on a bus in near 100-degree temps for the haul up Interstate 99.
They then waited through the at-times painfully slow-moving JV game (this had a lot to do with the officials) on the sunny side of the field before taking the gridiron for warmups just after 8 o’clock – about an hour later than scheduled. Add to this the fact that the Sheldon High Football team is a passionately and smartly-coached squad which works well-oiled systems on both offense and defense, and an Eagles road victory would have been nothing short of miraculous despite the obvious talents of Somsack-Phillips.
The Huskies on-point game planning was evident from the opening kickoff. They blitzed an overmatched McNair front line repeatedly, consistently pressuring Somsack-Phillips and rarely allowing him to set his feet for the long throws toward the sidelines that became his signature during a standout junior campaign.
The night belonged to the Sheldon offense and quarterback Nolan Merker, who himself at times resembled Vick and Griffin III with impressive escapes that led to accurate improvised completions. The referee crew didn’t do the pace of the game any favors, and at one point in the second quarter they whistled five or six dead-ball and live infractions within the span of one minute of game time. This wouldn't have been quite so bad if the group didn’t take an abnormally long time to deliberate and sort out each call.
Sheldon ran an offense that gave Merker more options than a roulette wheel, leading to a handful of scoring drives that had the Huskies up 35-7 at the half. Somsack-Phillips didn't suit up for the second half after landing awkwardly on his right knee, but it seemed to be a precautionary move in light of keeping the McNair leader in shape to fight another day.
Hats off to the young men and staff at Sheldon High, who ended up walking away with a 52-14 victory in front of well over 1,000 fans at Sheldon Pleasant Grove Community Field, a very comfortable, welcoming and well-kept locale.