Week 5 of the high school football season has come to an end and the California Grizzlies, led by head coach Eric Billeci, pulled out a big win against the Granada Matadors with a score of 24-21.
It was a great match up as both teams have played at an elite level this season. Both teams are known as physical, run first offenses that hang their hats on moving the line of scrimmage. "Going into the game we were playing an undefeated Matadors team that went to the CIF finals last season, and had a lot of their varsity players return this year," Billeci said. "We knew we had to play a really good game to win this week."
The Matadors came out of the gates hot, scoring on the opening drive in under three minutes. Despite Granada's fast start, the Grizzlies did not waver and retaliated with 21 unanswered points in the first half. "They took that opening drive and scored, but we answered right back," Billeci recounted. "Our defense stepped up and made a few huge stops to give us more opportunities on offense."
Granada's quarterback, Matt McCreary, played extremely well all night, scrambling to keep plays alive and continually finding open receivers. "I think we did a good job of keeping them honest with play action passes," Billeci said. "Matt was able to get the ball behind the defense and keep drives alive."
During their 21-point swing, the Grizzlies made a few gutsy play calls and great catches. "It was right before the half, 4th and five, and we decided to go for it," Billeci said. "We ran a flea flicker to our tight end- Cameron Fitzpatrick, who made a great catch and finished in the end zone."
When asked about his defense, Billeci said, "Our defense stepped up all night. They played really tough against the run and Kaden Jarvis made a big play before the half to set us up for that flea flicker. The defensive line held their own and forced them into long 3rd downs."
Coming out of the half leading 21-7, Billeci felt like his team was in a good position but he was not ready to call it a win just yet. "We felt pretty good at half time, where we were points wise," Billeci recalled. "But, the kids knew we had to come out the second half as if the score was 0-0."
After a few short drives that ended in punts, the Matador offense began chipping away at the score and going on a run of their own. "They made some acrobatic catches, and beat us deep a few times on some play action passes," Billeci recounted.
With less than five minutes to go in the game, Billeci and the Grizzlies made the smart decision to take the points and kick a field goal, leaving them up 10 as the clock ticked down. "We knew we had a two-score lead, so now it was about stopping the big plays and making them earn every yard," said Billeci. The Matador offense scored one more time before the Grizzlies came back on the field and then controlled the clock until the final whistle blew.
Billeci has been coaching football for 16 years, after a playing career at De La Salle, and St. Mary's college. He had coaching stints at Freedom and James Logan high schools before taking the head job at California High School in 2009. Expectations for the year include taking the season week by week and, "getting everybody on board, playing at their highest potential."
As a Bay Area native, Billeci is fond of Coach Wedemeyer and even coached in his all-star game in the early 2000s. Of the Award, Billeci said, "It is an honor to win the award, knowing what he stood for and his involvement in the football community. I'm humbled to receive the award."
As our Charlie Wedemeyer Memorial Coach of the Week presented by U.S. Bank, Coach Billeci will receive a $1,000 grant for the California Grizzlies football program from the 49ers Foundation. As part of this award, he will also receive two tickets to a 49ers home game where he will be recognized on the field. Coach Billeci will also be invited to visit the SAP Performance Facility to watch a closed practice where 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan will officially present him with his award. He will also be featured on the 49ers Cal-Hi Sports Report on Sundays at 6 p.m. & 10p.m. on NBC Sports California and re-broadcast throughout the week.
Congratulations, Coach Billeci!