The Lodi High School football team will play its first real home game of the season at the Grape Bowl this week, but its playoff showdown against McNair will be played under the Thursday night lights instead of Friday.
The No. 12-seeded Flames (8-3) drew an against-the-odds home game after defeating No. 5 Turlock High School (8-3) on Friday night, and No. 13 McNair (8-3) also pulled off an upset in taking down No. 4 Franklin High School, of Elk Grove (8-3). As the higher seed, the Flames won the right to host the second round home game against the Eagles in the second round of the Division I Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Flames, the Grape Bowl was already rented out. Brookside Christian High School, of Stockton, had reserved the field for its Division VII playoff game against Big Valley Christian School on Friday night.
"It was kind of a fluke that it turned out this way," said Lodi Athletic Director Erin Aitken. "It all came down to a contract, and we got the boot for an outside team."
Jeff Hood, Lodi city spokesman, said Lodi High was offered a chance to reserve the field before Nov. 12 for this Friday, but that school officials were not ready to make that decision. At that time, Brookside Christian came forward, made a deposit and signed a contract to pay $120 an hour to use the stadium, plus the cost of staffing.
"Lodi High had the opportunity to secure the field, but didn't," Hood said. "Then we had a user ready and willing."
The Grape Bowl has been unavailable for use all year because of construction delays in bringing the 1940 stadium into compliance with Americans with Disability Act requirements. It re-opened last week, when the football regular season was completed.
The scheduling conflict happened because Lodi was unsure it would have a home game. Brookside Christian, on the other hand, had a first-round bye and knew it needed a home field this Friday.
Aitken said she had been in contact with the Lodi Parks and Recreation Department at the end of the season about the Flames being able to play postseason games at the Grape Bowl.
"It is our home field. The last correspondence I had with them was that it was up in the air on if Lodi was going to have a game, but we could use the stadium for the playoffs if we had a game there," Aitken said.
Lodi Parks and Recreation Department Interim Director Jim Rodems said he talked with Lodi before the playoff brackets were released on Nov. 6. At that time, it was still unknown whether Lodi would have a home game in the first round. After the section released the brackets with Lodi slotted to play in Turlock on Nov. 12, it was clear that Lodi didn't need the field on that day.
"Brookside knew they had a home game on the 19th, and no one else had made that request, so we said OK," said Rodems. "If Lodi had been thinking about it, I think they would have made an agreement with us for Nov. 19."
Rodems said he contacted officials at Brookside Christian on Monday to see if the Knights could move their game to be played either on Thursday or Saturday at the Grape Bowl or to a different stadium. Rodems said Brookside Christian officials were sympathetic to Lodi's situation, but had already sold tickets, and changing the game would be too much of an inconvenience.
Rodems said he wasn't approached by Lodi High officials until Saturday morning, after Lodi had upset Turlock and McNair had upset Franklin. Brookside Christian's agreement was already in place.
According to Will DeBoard, the section's director of communication, the section office does not reserve any venues for any teams before the finals. That responsibility is up to each school.
"This is a case where Brookside Christian reserved the Grape Bowl for their game this week, and Lodi got a home game after McNair upset Franklin of Elk Grove," DeBoard said in an e-mail. "Basically, the home team has the option to go wherever they want or wherever they can."
Thursday will mark the end of Lodi's self-titled "Road Warrior" portion of the season as they will play in the first high school game on the new all-weather turf at the Grape Bowl. While it will come under the Thursday night lights instead of Friday, Aitken is confident the Flames' ability to cope with adversity will continue on in full force.
"The coaches and the players have been great about this all year," Aitken said. "They have never complained. Their motto has been no excuses this year and they have lived up to that, and I really appreciate that."
General admission tickets for Thursday's game will be $10 per person, while students and children will be $6. Tickets will be sold at the gate before the game.
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