The first time San Ramon Valley High quarterback Zach Kline dropped back to pass on Saturday night, California's Jack Dowling stormed in and sacked him.
It was a recurring theme in the No. 2-seeded Grizzlies' 24-7 thumping of the visiting Wolves in the North Coast Section Division I semifinals that earned California a second shot at De La Salle in the championship game at the Oakland Coliseum on Dec. 11. The Spartans beat the Grizzlies 31-17 in the regular-season finale on Nov. 12.
It's been a dream season for California (12-1), which has hammered every team not named De La Salle and broke a school record for victories Saturday. The scrappy No. 6 Wolves held California under its 40.1 scoring average, but the Grizzlies defense picked up the pieces.
"The defense stepped up, bigtime," said second-year California coach Eric Billeci. "They made so many plays. They kept us in the game. They won the game for us, no doubt about it."
Dowling had four of his team's six sacks and was in Kline's face all night. The Grizzlies, who intercepted Kline twice in the first half, got two second-half touchdown runs from Kyle Alvarez and led 24-0 after the second, a 5-yard burst with 1:33 left in the third quarter. They sacked Kline twice to snuff out the Wolves' next possession Late in the first half, the Grizzlies' Matt Deans leaped for critical interception in the end zone, preserving a 10-0 lead.
"The reality is they are a big, physical team," San Ramon Valley coach Mark Kessler said. "Our little guys did the best they could, for as long as they could. I think that the proof was in the pudding. It wasn't that we lacked effort or we weren't good. They were just bigger."
San Ramon Valley's defense was solid in the first half, limiting the Grizzlies to a 27-yard field goal by Guillermo Rivas and a touchdown on a fake field goal. Jerrell Dunn took a pitch from holder John Sarmenta and ran around the right side for a 5-yard scoring run.
The play stunned the Wolves (7-6), who upended their crosstown rival Monte Vista 27-16 in the quarterfinals.