Le Grand's Bulldogs no longer pups

Bulldogs face Waterford in today's D5 final; vying for third straight banner

Sjansen@mercedsunstar.comNovember 23, 2012 

The Le Grand football team will return to a familiar site tonight.

The Bulldogs will try to win their third straight section title at the Grape Bowl in Lodi.

Le Grand (10-2) will square off against Waterford (10-1) in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 championship at 6 p.m.

While the Bulldogs made it back to the Grape Bowl, their journey was much different than last year.

"We had more obstacles this year," said Le Grand running back Ryan Martinez. "We didn't have a bye in the playoffs. We had to go on the road in the second round. But I think all that made us better.

"I think this team was too young to have a bye. We wouldn't have appreciated it. It was good for us to come back and play a game after we lost to Ripon Christian."

With a younger team this year, it took a little longer for the Le Grand coaching staff to find the right spots for some of their players.

"It wasn't that long ago in 2008 or 2009 where we were trying to win games just to get in the playoffs," Le Grand head coach Rick Martinez said. "Then we were trying to get a home playoff game. At this point, after the success we've had, the expectations are higher. Some of our guys didn't understand what it took.

"I think after the loss to Ripon Christian they realized it. They learned that they have to earn it. Nothing is given to them."

The Bulldogs have earned their way back to the section title game.

They were in a tight game with Rio Vista in the first half before pulling away in the final two quarters. The Bulldogs had to come from behind in the second half to defeat Golden Sierra in last week's semifinals.

"I knew it would be harder this year," said senior defensive lineman Chris Miranda. "Last year, with the guys we had, I knew we would come out and beat everyone. This year, we had to try different guys in different spots.

"We had to man up and that's what we did. All that hard work paid off."

Le Grand faces a Waterford team that it beat 40-20 on Oct. 5.

The Wildcats will also be without their top offensive threat in running back Dylan Gonzalez, who's out with an injured leg.

Le Grand knows Waterford will come in hungry, trying to win its first section title and trying to defeat the Bulldogs for the first time.

"We know it's hard to beat a good team twice," Martinez said. "I know if we got another shot at Ripon Christian, we would go harder at them than normal. We know we'll see their best game."

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