And here we are, down to the final pair.
I've had the chance to cover some incredibly exciting high school football under the lights, and the sport has produced my top two contests of this fall. Both went down to the wire, had large stakes and featured memorable individual performances.
So without further ado ...
No. 2 Lodi Football vs. Chavez, Nov. 3
If you're looking for unlikely heroics, David Simon's late-game performance against the Titans fits the bill nicely.
In their 2011 home finale, the 4-5 Flames looked to be cruising towards a second straight playoff berth. As it turned out, big-time poise from a sophomore quarterback would help them recover it during a wild, 32-25 win.
Playing the opening half without its two best players - running back Richard Black and receiver Deshion Perkins - visiting Chavez spotted Lodi an 18-0 edge, only to tie up the contest within a three-minute span out of the break.
So the ball was in Simon's court, after he spent much of the season as a handoff machine to running backs Josh Mastro and Daniel Frazier. But with the game on the line, he proved to be one cool customer - connecting with T.J. Ortiz to give his team back the lead, 25-18.
And when the Titans came back to retie the game, Simon helped march his team down the field in the final minutes like a veteran. A strike to Ortiz here. Another to Louie Conti there. A gutsy sneak on 4th-and-1 to keep the drive alive.
Then, the play that earned his team a trip to the postseason: a quick drop, followed by a safe, low throw to Conti in the left corner of the end zone. Caught. Touchdown.
Lodi coach Todd Dillon said at the end of the year that Simon wasn't exactly a sophomore anymore. He was right.
No. 1: Liberty Ranch Football vs. Colfax, Nov. 18
To this day, I don't know how Hawks coach Anthony Linebaugh stayed so composed in his post-game speech.
Liberty Ranch's caravan of fans was hooting and hollering all over the Falcons' home field. John Wiernicki, who had crossed the goal line for the decisive score in his team's http://www.lodinews.com/sports/article_2f8bc638-fb1c-532b-a53b-e1670b4ae673.html"> monumental 33-32 playoff upset, was emotional when talking to television reporters.
The Hawks avoided an 0-3 start to Sierra Valley Conference play by winning consecutive games on two-point conversions. They had come back in the fourth quarter at Cosumnes Oaks to control their SVC destiny, and rallied in the second half against Calaveras just to make it to Colfax.
And down 26-7 in the second quarter against the Falcons, even Linebaugh admitted his team was at its breaking point. They never broke. Jake Tibbetts engineered a crucial scoring drive before the half, while the bruising Wiernicki and an energized defense took charge in the third quarter.
How confident were the Hawks then? Linebaugh said his team had no doubt about responding when the Falcons retook the lead with 3:30 left - confidence that Tibbetts and Wiernicki backed up on the eventual game-winning drive.
Liberty Ranch's season may have ended the following week against Hilmar, but Linebaugh and company assured that this season - just the school's second on the varsity level - won't be forgotten any time soon.