Played throughout the more sparsely populated areas in Northern California, 8-man high school football is a fast paced, high scoring game requiring both speed and agility from the players.
In Colusa County where four of the five high schools play the traditional 11-man game, the Princeton Eagles are the lone 8-man program having made the switch when attendance at the high school dropped.
Coaching the Eagles over those 16 seasons has been Bryan Lex, the subject of the Coaches Corner Overtime installment, and who last year joined the ranks of Pierce’s Gregg LeMaster, Colusa’s Dave Driffill and Maxwell’s Robert Wilson in exceeding the 100 game win mark while coaching a single Colusa County football team.
With an overall record of 102-69, Lex had a difficult time narrowing down his most memorable groups, acknowledging that “They all had unique qualities,” but eventually selected his league champion 2007 and 2016 teams, along with his 2004 crew, which played in the inaugural season of the NorCal 8-man League.
Starting off with the 2007 squad that went 11-1 overall and 6-0 in the 8-man South League, Lex said that they were “probably one of the most well-rounded team talent-wise I can remember coaching. They were a very competitive group, and a pleasure to work with.”
On a team that outscored their opponents 472-160, junior Guillermo “Memo” Rodriguez shouldered the load offensively finishing as the Northern Section’s 8-man leader in rushing as well as touchdowns scored, compiling a total of 1773 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Sophomore quarterback Logan Valencia turned in a formidable effort throwing for 797 yards and 19 touchdowns without an interception, while junior Daniel Cooper hauled in 11 touchdown passes.
Defensively, Rodriguez ended the season with a team-high 88 tackles, while fellow junior Oscar Gutierrez collected 68.
After winning 11 straight however, the 2007 Eagles saw their season come to an end in the second round of the playoffs as they fell in a 22-21 heartbreaker to Champion Christian (Chico), a team they had beaten handily early in the year.
Statistically similar to the 2007 team, was the 2016 bunch, who after dropping the season opener went on an eight game tear, and although stumbling in the second round of the playoffs, is still remembered by Lex for its grit and competitive spirit.
“The 2016 team might have been the scrappiest,” said Lex. “Tough group that loved to play. Lots of heart, and beat teams that may have looked better on paper.”
Leading the Eagle offense was dual threat quarterback Manuel Espinosa who carried for 1829 yards in addition to throwing for 713 yards which accounted for 78% of the Eagles ’offense.
Espinosa, a junior, averaged 321.4 yards per game, and also registered 35 touchdowns that year, as he ran for 24 while tossing 11 more.
Junior Jonathon Angel averaged 19.2 yards per catch and caught all 11 touchdowns thrown by Espinosa.
Espinosa anchored the defense as well, averaging 10.3 tackles per game to finish with 86 in total, while junior Ivan Angel made 9.8 tackles per outing, recording 59 in just six games.
Rounding out Lex’s most memorable teams was the 2004 squad, which marked the Eagles’ debut in the 8-man Nor Cal League.
Princeton finished second in league that season with a 6-2 record, relying heavily on senior running back Shane Roach who rushed for 744 yards and nine touchdowns in addition to garnering 345 receiving yards and two more touchdowns.
Senior Agustine “Agu” Serrato was a leader on the defensive side of the ball, as was junior David Wright.
Thus, over the years, the 8-man tradition has continued in Princeton and despite having the smallest high school enrollment in the county, one thing is certain however, that Lex continually shapes his teams into a competitive force and should football season kickoff in January as anticipated, the Eagles will be ready. ♣