Even before the film “When the Game Stands Tall” opened Friday, the uniform of the De La Salle of Concord High football team was known nationally.
Katako Brown feels honored to have worn the Spartans’ school colors of silver and green – on the crown and the face mask of his black, white and red Fairfield helmet.
De La Salle’s national-record 151-game winning streak is the stuff of legends – hence the movie – and two of the victories were over Fairfield, No. 3 in 1992 and No. 16 in 1993.
Most games in the streak were blowouts, even in North Coast Section title games, which the Spartans have won for 22 straight years.
But not Fairfield’s game at De La Salle in 1992, due in large part to a herculean effort by Brown.
The senior fullback bulled his way to 205 yards and helped keep Fairfield within seven points entering the fourth quarter before the Spartans pulled away for a 41-20 victory.
“My friends and I still talk about it,” said Brown, who lives in Sacramento and runs a skateboarding business. “We spent a lot of emotional energy. It was a big moment for us, for the school, for the program, for the city, as individual players. I will never forget the moment we found out we had them on the schedule.”
That third game on Fairfield’s 1992 schedule was on every Falcon’s mind, but coach Jim Sykes didn’t let them look past their first two opponents.
On the first play of the season, Brown bolted 80 yards for a touchdown against Tokay of Lodi. He ran 49 yards on Fairfield’s second play and had 217 yards and four touchdowns by halftime of an eventual 48-14 victory.
Against Atwater at Fairfield’s Schaefer Stadium, the Falcons fell behind early 7-0, but two Brown TD runs put them ahead to stay in a 27-16 triumph.
De La Salle, meanwhile, had topped Sac-Joaquin Section power Merced 34-14 and blasted Riordan of San Francisco 54-0.
Even with their 151-game streak ahead of them, the Spartans were legendary, having won 34 straight games before being upset by Pittsburg 35-27 in the 1991 NCS 3A title game.
Fairfield was coming off its best season ever, having reached the 1991 SJS Division I title game, where it fell to Elk Grove 20-6.
As the Falcons walked onto Owen Owens Field at De La Salle, Brown recalls the atmosphere as being anything but high school.
“I just remember feeling like it was a college game,” he said. “Having played in college (at UC Davis and Tabor College) and looking back at it, it was a college atmosphere. The moment we left the locker room and headed to the field it was electric. Their crowd was into it, our crowd was into it. . . . It felt like the playoff games from the year before. The year before, we went to the section finals. It felt like that. Wow! It was the real deal.”
From the opening kickoff, so were they Falcons.
After allowing a first down, Fairfield forced the Spartans to punt. Three runs and a penalty gave the Falcons a first down at their own 40 and they decided to get tricky.
“We did play action and everybody sucked up on me,” Brown said. That left tight end Jason Vorhauer wide open and quarterback Mario Vela hit him at the 20 for a 60-yard touchdown.
“We usually don’t pass that early in the game,” Vorhauer said later. “They were looking for the run. Nobody was within a billion feet of me.”
With 7 minutes, 28 seconds left in the first quarter, the Falcons had a 7-0 lead. It lasted less than 15 seconds.
Andy Nicholson returned the ensuing kickoff back 99 yards to tie the score.
Fairfield’s next two possessions ended with a fumble and a punt and the Spartans responded with a pair of touchdowns to take a 21-7 lead.
Brown had gained 58 yards in the first quarter and added 49 in the second to help set up a 23-yard field goal by Will Ruark that made it 21-10 at halftime.
Fairfield took the second half kickoff and marched 72 yards to the De La Salle 8-yard line before settling for a 30-yard Ruark field goal.
Once more, the Spartans responded in a hurry. Patrick Walsh bolted 61 yards on their next play to push the lead to 27-13.
Refusing to fold, Fairfield finished off an 80-yard drive, on which Brown gained 57 yards, including the final 20 for a touchdown to make it 27-20 with 2:27 to go in the third quarter.
De La Salle then took a little longer to break the Falcons’ hearts, going 74 yards in 11 plays with Walsh sweeping the final 6 yards for a back-breaking touchdown 25 seconds into the fourth quarter.
The Spartans scored on their next possession on yet another Walsh touchdown – he finished with 177 yards on 12 carries – to go up 41-20.
Fairfield put together one last drive, on which Brown suffered an injury that ended his night, but the march stalled at the De La Salle 16.
“I never came out of a game with so many stick marks – that’s what we called it at the time – on your helmet,” Brown said. “We called it a badge of honor: green on my helmet, silver on my face mask.”
Brown had 28 of Fairfield’s 49 carries and rushed for 205 of their 258 yards. Because he was unable to make the postgame handshake line, Spartans coach Bob Ladouceur sought him out.
“I’ll never forget it,” Brown said. “He walked across the field – I got hurt in the fourth quarter and didn’t get to do the whole handshake deal – and he made beeline over to the bench to shake my hand. That was a monumental moment, not only for my career but for my confidence level.”
“He’s great, what a tough kid,” Ladouceur said of Brown after the game. “He played a great game. We couldn’t stop him.”
Were the Falcons disappointed in falling short? To an extent, but they were pleased they’d held their own.
“I wouldn’t say we were disappointed – we absolutely went there to win the game – but I don’t think we were disappointed because I left there knowing we were a good football team,” Brown said. “We just got beat by a superiorly run program. I wouldn’t say we were outcoached at all. Of course we were outplayed, the score is indicative of that. We weren’t out-hit, that was the point.
“From the opening kickoff I just felt like we belonged on the field with them. It wasn’t like a big brother, little brother thing. It was two best friends going at it. One of the friends was going to win, but after the game it was mutual respect, absolutely electric.”
But standing toe-to-toe with the Spartans took a toll. Despite having arguably the best team in the Monticello Empire League – the Falcons scored the most points and gave up the fewest in MEL play in 1992 – they somehow finished fourth.
The next week they lost the lead in the closing seconds in a 22-21 home loss to Vallejo and then folded late in falling 14-13 to Vintage. A later 22-21 loss to Hogan ended any hopes of a league title or the playoffs.
“The player in me obviously is going to say (playing De La Salle) didn’t take much out of us,” said Brown, who went on to coach several seasons at Cordova High School of Rancho Cordova under Max Miller, the winningest coach in SJS history. “The coach in me says, ‘Yeah, it did,’ I remember playing the next couple games in a knee brace. I had a couple of good games, but I was not as explosive as I was against Atwater and Tokay. It took something out of us, for sure, for sure.”
The Spartans spanked the Falcons 53-13 at Schaefer Stadium in 1993, one week before Fairfield fell 30-26 to Vallejo for their only MEL loss, one that kept them from the championship.
While playing De La Salle may have cost the Falcons two MEL titles, it’s an experience Brown isn’t about to give back.
“It’s pretty cool because people still talk about that game throughout the De La Salle community,” Brown said. “One of my friends was quarterback at De La Salle two years after we played.”
That friend asked if Brown had played football. He answered that he’d played for Fairfield in 1992, to which his friend replied, “You were that guy.”
Brown laughed and said, “We were win No. 3 in the 150 million game-win thing.”
Reach Paul Farmer at 425-4646, ext. 264, or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pfarmerdr.