Tracy’s connection to this year’s NFL playoffs dates back to the 2004 and 2005 seasons, when the West High football team squared off against a Pitman High team led by future San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
West beat Pitman both times, winning 35-21 on Nov. 19, 2004, in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs and 27-22 on Nov. 25, 2005, in the second round of playoffs. West later played in the 2005 SJS championship game and finished as Division I runner-up with a 46-7 loss to Nevada Union.
Former West football coach Steve Lopez said those victories mean more to him now that the quarterback of the opposing team has gone on to win the 2013 National Football Conference championship and is going after the NFC title again at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19, when the 49ers travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks.
“I’m a big ’Niner fan, so I love him now,” Lopez said.
“I know that I tell everybody, Kaepernick’s good, but he’s 0-2 against West.”
Lopez said the 2004 win came after the Pride had won the Central California Conference title in Pitman’s second year with a varsity team. West was the fourth-place team in the nine-team San Joaquin Athletic Association.
“We had to go there to play them and they were really hyped up,” Lopez said.
Lopez said that West senior quarterback Alex Popplewell led one of the Wolf Pack’s best efforts of the year to beat Pitman.
Each of West’s five scoring drives that night got the Pack into the end zone in eight plays or less. West’s touchdowns included an 87-yard pass from Popplewell to senior Tyson Palacios and a 65-yard run by junior Ian Lloyd. West ran 39 plays on the night, compared with 89 for Pitman.
“That really crushed them,” Lopez said.
West beat Pitman 27-22 the next year on Tracy High’s Peter B. Kyne Field in the second round of the 2005 playoffs. Both teams were league champions, with West finishing as the top team in the newly formed Tri-City Athletic League.
West graduate Garrett Andrews, a senior wide receiver on the 2005 team, remembers that players knew going in how tough it would be to beat the Pride.
Pitman beat Lincoln High of Stockton 35-14 the week before in the Pride’s first-ever playoff win. Kaepernick was a senior in his third year as Pitman’s starting varsity quarterback and was passing for an average of 163 yards a game.
“We knew enough about him by watching film,” Andrews said. “Even then, we knew that we’d need to contain him.”
Andrews, most recently the league-leading wide receiver for the German Football League’s Munich Cowboys (1,470 yards, 16 touchdowns), said that playing against Kaepernick in high school is the type of connection with the NFL that makes his high school days memorable — especially because Andrews is a 49ers fan.
“It’s neat to say we played against him,” he said. “We knew he was good, but we didn’t know how good.”
West’s roster also included Amini Silatolu, who was a junior offensive lineman in 2005 and the Carolina Panthers’ second-round draft pick in 2012. Silatolu was unable to play in Carolina’s 23-10 loss to the 49ers on Sunday, Jan. 12, because of a knee injury earlier in the season.
NFL prospects on that West team also included Stanley Arukwe, who was a junior defensive back in 2005. Arukwe signed with the Arizona Cardinals at the start of the 2012 season and also played for the New York Jets in the 2012 preseason.
Former West football coach Matt Loggins, who was the Wolf Pack’s defensive coach for those playoff runs, said he didn’t know much about Pitman’s offense in 2004, except that the Pride had a 6-foot-5, 180 pound quarterback with a reputation for being quick and for running a fast-paced game.
Loggins said he was more concerned about Pitman’s junior running back Anthony Harding, who already was looking like an NCAA Division I prospect. Harding went on to play four years at Fresno State.
Loggins said that for the 2005 playoff game, Pitman had a more experienced team and West had a better idea of what to expect.
“We really focused on their tempo and trying to stop their running game,” Loggins said.
“In the second half, it turned into a shootout and (Kaepernick) started throwing the ball. We had to scrap our game plan and I had to call a lot of pass coverage.”
West overcame Pitman’s 22-21 fourth-quarter lead with a 28-yard touchdown run by senior fullback Ian Lloyd with 1 minute, 21 seconds left on the clock. West junior Brian Tilos deflected Kaepernick’s potential last-second touchdown pass, sealing the win for the Wolf Pack.
In the end, Pitman ran for 215 yards and Kaepernick completed 11 of 14 passes for 180 yards. West’s defensive line, including senior Chuks Obi and junior Michael Donato, also sacked Kaepernick repeatedly to hold him to negative yards on the ground.
Contact Bob Brownne at 830-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.