In an effort to better break down the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I football semifinals, we turned to a man who has faced each of these teams in Delta River League action. A man who faced the defenses and studied the offenses as the senior school-record-breaking quarterback for Sheldon High School.
Here's Nolan Merker's take on the two games ...
Jesuit (9-3) at Folsom (12-0)
Jesuit can win if:
"The Marauders put pressure on Jake Browning without sacrificing coverage. Teams have tried everything to slow down Folsom's offense, but Browning and company just adjust. Some teams blitz the house, but then they have to leave their receivers in man coverage and get torched.
"Some teams rush only 3 and drop 8 back into coverage, but then Browning has all day to sit back and pick teams apart. Jesuit's Malcolm Harvey and the rest of their defensive line must be able to get some sort of pass rush to force bad decisions and/or turnovers. Their corners have to keep everything in front of them, and their linebackers must make tackles in open space.
"Offensively, they have to pound the run with Beau Bisharat and Ben Parietti to control the clock. They cannot let it turn into a shootout. Finally, Jason Elenberger needs to make plays with both his feet and arm. Among his teammates and fans, he's known as 'Johnny Football.' Elenberger will need to play like him to lift his team to the upset."
Folsom can win if:
"The Bulldogs execute and don't turn the ball over. Talent, coaching and system wise, no team in the section is better than Folsom, and it's shown through the season and playoffs. If their O-line, led by Cody Creason and Tommy Farrell, is dominant as usual, then Folsom will cruise. With time, Browning will get the ball to his talented playmakers. Defensively, linebackers Bailey Lailogi and Rodney Ellison must come up and plug running lanes. If they can force Jesuit to abandon the run, then no one is going to beat them in a shootout."
Oak Ridge (11-1) vs. Pleasant Grove (10-2)
Oak Ridge can win if:
"The Trojans contain Pleasant Grove's athletes. Oak Ridge plays a disciplined style of football, and the Trojans' ability to play to their responsibilities was a major reason for their 28-14 victory over Pleasant Grove in the regular season. Their defense needs to use their strength to control the line of scrimmage. Thomas Mahlman, James Portilla and the rest of their linebacking core must make open field tackles. Jacob Sipes will have to patrol against the deep threat of Pleasant Grove's Wyatt Demps.
"In the regular season victory, Oak Ridge had a relatively balanced offensive attack with the run and pass. If Ian Book receives adequate protection from his offensive line, then he'll guide them to a victory. The game is at home again, so Oak Ridge needs to feed off of the energy and atmosphere that their fans and band bring."
Pleasant Grove can win if:
"The Eagles use their superior speed and athleticism. If they can get their weapons in space or to the second level beyond the line of scrimmage, then they will win some matchups. Quarterback Dre Terrel, running backs Ian Broom and Damaree Morris, and wide receivers Wyatt Demps and Esley Simmons are all dangerous in the open field. If their offensive line can open up holes and get good blocks on Oak Ridge's linebackers, then their running backs should have a field day. Pleasant Grove also needs to attack Oak Ridge's corners, as those are matchups they should win.
"Defensively, Pleasant Grove must force Oak Ridge to throw the ball. The Eagles defensive backs are their biggest strength. If they can load the box to stop the run and still be able to contain the pass, they will severely limit Oak Ridge's offense. Finally, Pleasant Grove must avoid the wear of the road. They have not played a single playoff game at home, and it's no short trip from Elk Grove to the rowdy atmosphere of El Dorado Hills. If they can put that behind them, they have a great shot at knocking Oak Ridge off."
PHOTO: Sheldon High School senior quarterback Nolan Merker. Photo courtesy Merker family.