When Alta-Sandy High School rallied to defeat Bingham-South Jordan 21-17 in the Utah 5A state football championship on Nov. 21, the two teams couldn't have had any idea they would affect what teams would be selected to participate in the California Interscholastic Federation state bowl games three weeks later.
But that's what happened Sunday when the CIF selection committee chose Grant-Sacramento to represent Northern California in the Open Division bowl game this Saturday. It's the inaugural year for the Open Division game, billed by the CIF as a game between the top overall teams from the north and south, regardless of enrollment.
The committee, basing its selection largely on Grant's two out-of-state wins against state champions — one of which was Alta — chose the Pacers over defending Division I champion De La Salle. The Spartans instead will play Friday for the Division I title against Centennial-Corona, the same team they beat last year.
"If Alta doesn't come back and win that state championship game, Grant doesn't have that argument (of beating two state champs)," CalHiSports.com editor Mark Tennis said. "That one game made their season. They ought to send them a bouquet of flowers."
So just how did the section commissioners who voted for Grant come to the conclusion the Pacers' strength of schedule was better than De La Salle's? Don't ask, because they won't tell you.
Of the four section officials contacted on Monday, all four declined to comment, directing all questions to CIF state bowl event director Ken Gunn.
So, what did Gunn have to say about the impact that out-of-state competition had on this year's selections?
"It scares me a little bit frankly," Gunn said. "I don't think schools, particularly in today's economy, need to go outside the state. I think there's an awful lot of good teams they can play in the state."
Consider the facts. The combined record of the 12 teams De La Salle played this year was 85-53. Teams that played Grant? 71-62-1. In the latest USA Today Super 25 poll, De La Salle is ranked No. 16. Grant is unranked. In MaxPreps.com's national rankings, De La Salle is ranked No. 10 while Grant is unranked and Bellarmine-San Jose, a Northern California Division I school not invited to a bowl game, is ranked No. 19.
And in the CalHiSports.com state rankings, where Grant does appear, De La Salle is No. 3 and the Pacers are No. 6.
Grant's other out-of-state win came against Highland-Pocatello, the Idaho 5A state champions. Former Northgate coach Darin Owens, who saw Highland play before his Hillcrest team took the field for its state title win, equated Highland with a team such as Las Lomas, a Division II team in CIF classification.
"They'd be competitive with Las Lomas," said Owens, when asked to compare them to a team he coached against last year. "They just don't have the raw talent that you're going to have in California."
And then there's the question of whether the process should be secret at all. The lack of transparency has some scratching their heads as to why the votes were cast as they were.
Gunn, for one, is not in favor of an open voting process.
"I think what that does is it forces section commissioners to vote for people in their own section," Gunn said, "Nobody knows for sure, but I honestly believe the commissioners listen to all of (the information)."
So what might this controversy do to this weekend's games? Some say it may leave more questions than answers when it comes to naming a true state champion.
"The logic and the facts really don't support (Grant) being selected over De La Salle," Tennis said. "When the games happen, De La Salle will still be ranked ahead of Grant in every poll. Just because the commissioners picked it one way, everyone will leave it as is because nothing has changed."
Following are this season's game logs for the De La Salle and Grant-Sacramento football teams:
De La Salle (12-1)
Serra-San Mateo (8-4) W 29-28
Loyola-Los Angeles (6-5) W 27-21
D. Bosco Prep-N.J. (11-1) L 23-21
Granada (4-6) W 48-10
Livermore (0-10) W 48-0
Foothill (9-3) W 63-7
Amador Valley (4-6) W 34-14
Monte Vista (8-3) W 45-35
San Ramon Valley (9-4) W 44-7
California (7-5) W 21-14
Deer Valley (8-4) W 52-7
Foothill (9-3) W 42-7
Pittsburg (11-2) W 34-10
Montgomery-S. Rosa (4-5-1) W 45-14
Highland (Idaho) (10-2) W 34-21
Alta (Utah) (13-1) W 35-28
Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills (5-6) W 34-7
Johnson-Sacramento (3-7) W 62-6
Rosemont-Sac. (6-5) W 58-9
Sacramento (4-6) W 55-0
Kennedy-Sac. (0-10) W 61-0
McClatchy-Sac. (2-8) W 89-0
Burbank-Sac. (9-4) W 35-13
Granite Bay (9-2) W 22-19
Woodcreek-Roseville (6-6) W 49-14
Burbank-Sacramento (9-4) W 55-6