To say the Newark Memorial High football team has had a tremendous season thus far would – without a doubt – be an understatement.
The Cougars won an outright Mission Valley Athletic League title for the first time since 1983 and went undefeated for the first time in school history with a 6-0 record. They did grab a share of the title in 1985.
A 40-8 win over American in the North Coast Section Division II playoffs last week marked Newark’s first postseason victory since claiming a 7-6 win over Berkeley in the NCS 3-A playoffs back in 1983.
And the Cougars (9-2) have done all this with no returning starters from a team that went 5-5-1 last year.
“I’m proud of our kids and our coaches,” said Newark coach Rich Swift, who is in his 35th year at the helm. “(The coaches) have done a great job with these kids.”
The season continues Saturday when the No. 6 seeded Cougars play at No. 3 Northgate at 7 p.m. Northgate had a first-round bye and went 8-2 in the regular season.
Newark is riding a four-game win streak and has won eight of its last nine. The Cougars have scored 40 or more points eight times this season.
Swift realized this group had something going on a Sept. 28 game against visiting Moreau Catholic.
The Mariners, who joined the MVAL this season, was the league’s most unknown team and came in riding a three-game win streak.
“We had scouted Moreau and thought these guys were very good,” Swift said.
What transpired was a 40-7 romp. Newark dominated in every phase of the game and was most impressive when it held the Mariners out of the end zone on a first-and-goal from inside the 10-yard line.
“We played a pretty complete game against them and I thought ‘wow’,” Swift said. “They come out with four different offenses. They do a good job of mixing up throwing and running the ball. We played good defense. I thought our defense would be OK.”
The Cougars have allowed 18.3 points per game. Their two losses are undefeated El Cerrito (11-0), which is the top seed in the Division III bracket and James Logan (10-1), which is the No. 3 seed in the Division I playoffs.
The Cougars are paced on defense by lineman John Tai. The senior, who was named the Ron Johnson Defensive Player of the Year, played as a freshman but hasn’t played the last two years. Joining Tai on the line and someone who is coming into his own is junior Damien Banford, another player who didn’t play last year.
“He’s done a great job this year,” Swift said of Tai. “He’s a good football player. We have some other guys also playing better. We have some athletes and I think the coaches have done a good job of tightening these guys up.”
Defensive backs Marty Leggett (first-team all-MVAL), Fred Tidwell and Robert Ramirez (first-team) have been solid all season.
Offensively, the Cougars have done a great job of balancing the running game with the passing game. In a 41-16 win over American in which the Eagles stacked the line, the Cougars simply went to the air with quarterback Riley Pivin. Pivin was 9 of 12 with 172 yards and four touchdowns. The Cougars combined for 191 yards rushing in that game.
Pivin has done a stellar job of spreading the ball around to tight ends Tai and Banford. He’s also hit his running backs Leggett, Tidwell (also a first-team wide receiver) and Mark Morton (second-team running back) on numerous occasions.
“At Newark, if we have a quarterback we throw the ball,” Swift said. This particular guy (Pivin) was ineligible last year (grades), but he could still practice and he was there every day.”
Follow Steve R. Waterhouse on Twitter @SRWaterhouse