FAIRFIELD — Fresh off a 1-5-3 campaign in 1982, his first year as Vanden High football coach – after having replaced Ed Serpas, the only coach in school history to that point and his coach with the Vikings nearly two decades earlier – Ron Beverly had some doubts.
But only a few. He knew a solid group of underclassmen was in the pipeline, a set of players who would gel quickly and go undefeated to capture the school’s second Sac-Joaquin Section championship in 1984.
Beverly and most of the players from that SJS title team will renew old memories at a reunion in the back quad of the Vanden campus on Saturday at noon.
“It was just a matter then of coming up to varsity and not messing it up,” said Beverly, recalling that as freshmen and sophomores, they were undefeated. “The talent was there as they were coming up.”
Along with the three ties, four of the five losses in 1982 were by seven points or less, the struggles brought about largely because of rash of injuries.
“The 1982 season we started off with 33, 35 players,” Beverly said. “When the smoke cleared, we ended up with 17. I’d never seen so many players (hurt). We ended up with our third quarterback. He started out as a wide receiver.
“You question your ability as head football coach at that point. I was replacing a legend, my coach, Ed Serpas.”
Help was on the way, however. A big part of it was his son, Ron Beverly Jr., who started at quarterback from 1983 through 1985, and was an integral part of the title run.
“As a sophomore (in 1983), he took his lumps,” Beverly said. “As a junior he matured, he knew the offense, kids around him were bigger. It was a matter of not making mistakes.”
It was a team that left little margin for error. Despite outscoring the opposition 301-131 in going 12-0, the Vikings won five games by one score or less, two others by two scores.
“Offense, defense special teams, we were pretty sound in all three things,” Beverly said. “We weren’t overly big, but we were aggressive and just conditioned. We were a good conditioned team. They all liked each other. They got along. They’d played a lot together.”
Vanden showed signs of what was ahead in 1983, going 6-4, including 4-2 in the rugged Superior California Athletic League. The Vikings even made the playoffs, getting spanked by Oak Ridge 27-12 in El Dorado Hills.
The Vikings wouldn’t lose again until 1985. They opened 1984 with home nonleague victories over Galt (22-15) and Hogan of Vallejo (30-13).
They began SCAL play with a 29-0 road blanking of John Swett of Crockett before edging Dixon 19-14 at home after having been thumped by the Rams 25-6 the year before.
Vanden then avenged its other 1983 SCAL loss by blitzing Justin-Siena in Napa 32-10.
A narrow 14-6 victory over Benicia was followed by triumphs over St. Patrick’s of Vallejo (25-12), Delta of Clarksburg (28-7) and Rio Vista (33-13) to wrap up a 9-0 regular season.
As fate would have it, the Vikings opened the postseason against Oak Ridge, the team that had knocked them out of the previous year’s playoffs, this time at home at George A. Gammon Field.
“Anytime you get that home field its works to your favor,” Beverly said. “You don’t have to travel, you have your field, you have your fans. It’s important to have those two ingredients. Everybody plays better at home. We’re no different.”
Yet the Vikings appeared not ready for prime time. They fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter and 21-7 in the second before scoring 28 unanswered points and eventually winning 35-27.
Beverly Jr. ran for 96 yards and three touchdowns and threw for two more TDs to lead the comeback.
“There was no stopping us after the Oak Ridge game,” Beverly said. “We were the team of destiny, we were determined, they believed in themselves.”
Next up was Folsom, also undefeated. With Bryan Batchan running for 136 yards, 92 in the second half, and a fourth-quarter TD, and the defense forcing five turnovers, the Vikings pulled out a 14-0 victory.
Despite being the unbeaten team, Vanden had to play at 11-1 Hilmar in the championship game.
“The whole school’s gotten behind us,” Beverly told the Daily Republic before the game. “I hope we don’t let them down.”
Perhaps wanting to soften the blow in case the Vikings came up short, Beverly added, “We accomplished a lot this year and a set a lot of records. So no matter what happens, they can’t take that away from us.”
Not to worry. Vanden scored once in each of the first three quarters before withstanding a late Hilmar surge for a 20-14 victory.
Batchan, who set a single-season rushing record with 1,539 yards that wasn’t broken until Pat Haines rambled for 1,904 in Vanden’s next SJS title campaign in 1995, led the way with 140 yards, including the decisive 11-yard TD run in the third quarter.
“The last quarter I think we had to make some first downs, we didn’t turn the ball over to them,” Beverly said 30 years after the fact. “I remember the town closed down. They had everybody there.
“It was a hard-fought, old-fashioned football game.”
Surveying the scene in the postgame locker room that night, Beverly said, ” I’m really going to miss this group.”
Indeed, the Vikings lost 19 seniors to graduation and fell in the first round of the playoffs in 1985, a stunning 21-20 loss to Folsom to end up 8-2
“We figured we could have repeated,” Beverly said. “Walking off losing on the home field, we were thinking, Did this really happen? I thought we’d do it one more time.”
Vanden went 8-2 in 1986, Beverly’s final year at the helm.
With his son playing both football and baseball at the University of the Pacific, Beverly left Vanden to coach outside linebackers and serve as assistant special teams coach at UOP in 1987.
Beverly moved on to revive the football program at Solano in 1988, coaching the Falcons for 12 seasons before retiring in 1999.
He’s looking forward to getting together with his former players, many of whom he hasn’t seen in three decades.
“I haven’t seen probably 80 percent of them since they graduated from Vanden High School,” Beverly said. “They left as young men, 17 or 18 yearsold. Now they’re 48, 49 years old. It’s like looking in a mirror, there’s a transition. They’re fathers and some are grandfathers.
“I want to look them in the eye and say ‘Hello’ and say ‘Thank you for helping me as a young coach.’ They’re young men, I’m the old man.”
Jeff Rooney, a lineman on the 1984 team and one of the organizers of the reunion, is working on a book about the championship team entitled, “We Took Names: The Time of Vikings and Friends.”
No doubt, Saturday will be a time of Vikings – and a time of old friends.