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Del Norte receiver Jordan Sliva carries the ball against Calvin Christian on Sept. 17. (Courtesy of Kim Zielinski)

Last fall, Del Norte High School celebrated its opening in 4S Ranch. Fast-forward a year and the Nighthawks football team is cause for celebration, picking up the school’s first ever varsity football victory Sept. 17 against Calvin Christian.

“I’m really happy for the boys and their families because it is hard to compete against bigger teams (that are) bigger-sized,” said Del Norte coach Jerry Ralph. “These guys are tough; they’re warriors.”

Playing without seniors in their first varsity season, it took Del Norte only three games to capture their first win. Junior receiver/strong safety Jordan Silva said the timing of the 28-14 win, however, did not come as a surprise.

“I wasn’t really surprised. We played hard, so we deserved it,” Silva said. “We’re a small team but we have a lot of heart and that really helped us win.”

With the game tied at 14 in the fourth quarter, Del Norte made big plays on defense and special teams to bring home their first win. Nighthawks running back Wayne Ganan took a punt 60 yards for a score to make it 21-14 and defensive back Tyshea Davis sealed the historic victory with an interception return for a touchdown.

“I was so hyped up. I just came up to Tyshea and gave him a big pat on the back,” Silva said. “The whole defense was pumped up and we kept stopping them after that pick.”

Ralph emptied the bench in the final minutes to make sure every player made an appearance in Del Norte’s first ever win. He said the Nighthawks wore their opponents down as the game wore on.

“We kind of did to them what other teams did to us – we kind of wore them down a little bit,” Ralph said. “In the second half, their line was just pooped we were really able spring some big plays and make some nice throws and catches at the end.”

Prior to the victory, Del Norte lost their first two contests to bigger schools. The Nighthawks lost 38-6 to Rancho Bernardo in their first home game on Sept. 3 and fell 21-7 at Monte Vista on Sept. 10.

“Coming so early is a great thing and now they know what it takes to keep pulling off more wins,” Ralph said.

Despite Del Norte’s youth – 12 of the 38 players on the team are sophomores – Silva doesn’t see that as a disadvantage. It is simply the reality of a football program at a new school.

“It’s not that different,” Silva said. “I don’t think age really matters as long as you play your hardest.”

Ralph said he doesn’t mind the overall inexperience of the team. But he also acknowledged that not having a senior class presents leadership challenges within the program.

“When you’re brought up on a team as a young player with a great upper class leader, that’s something you never forget and that’s something these guys are missing – that senior middle linebacker or senior quarterback who is a great person and a great leader,” Ralph said. “They have to find that and we have to try and build that into our program.”

On defense, Del Norte runs a 50 front. On the other side of the ball, the Nighthawks plan to keep it quick with a no-huddle spread attack that should look familiar – it is the same offense Ralph’s St. Augustine teams ran, where the Saints won back-to-back Division III titles in 2005-06 during his tenure.

“We’re trying to put in a high-tempo passing attack here and keep that success and bring it to North County, but play tough, physical hard-nosed defense,” Ralph said.

Del Norte goes for varsity win No. 2 on Friday night at Westview (1-2). The Wolverines were in the same boat as Del Norte earlier in the decade; they opened about eight miles south in 2002.

“They’re kind of our neighbor school here and they’re really big,” Ralph said. “They had to go through this nine or 10 years ago, so a lot of those coaches are still there and they know it’s a difficult thing.”

Wins won’t be easy for the Nighthawks later in the season, where they’ll be in the reconstructed Valley League that includes perennial power Valley Center and upstart Mt. Carmel. But that doesn’t really bother the Nighthawks.

“We’re just going to stay positive and keep working,” Ralph said, “and know that our time is coming and we want it to be sooner rather than later.”

Their first varsity win certainly arrived quickly.

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sportsjunkie Sept. 25, 2010 @ 7:51 a.m.

Nice coverage on a team/program that is not in the media spotlight, yet. Sounds as if the program has laid a foundation for future success.


Anthony Gentile Sept. 27, 2010 @ 10:11 a.m.

It will be interesting to see how competitive they are in a couple of seasons.


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