Antioch football caps off historic season, will play De La Salle next year

Antioch's Najee Harris, the top running back in America, this season, hurdles a Foothill player, during Antioch's North Coast semi-final loss on Friday, November 28, 2015. photo by Michael Pohl

Najee Harris, the top running back in America, this season, hurdles a Foothill player, during Antioch’s North Coast semi-final loss on Friday, November 28, 2015. photo by Michael Pohl

By Luke Johnson

The Panthers’ magical season came to an end after a nail-biting 55-54 defeat to Foothill High School in the North Coast Section Semifinals on Thanksgiving weekend. Overall, Antioch’s football team broke countless records and reached feats that had not been witnessed in decades.

The Panthers caught the attention of De La Salle (Concord), arguably the most prestigious high school football team in the country, and have collectively agreed to battle each other in week four of the 2016 regular season. The game is scheduled to take place in Concord and is in the works of being nationally broadcasted on ESPN according to Antioch head coach John Lucido.

“They contacted us, and said they wanted a game,” Lucido said. “It’s a compliment for a team like that wanting to play us, and to be on the big stage… It will feature two great teams going at it, and we’ll see where we stand.”

This year, Antioch won a league championship for the first time since 1984, and finished the regular season undefeated for the first time since 1977. But two years ago, Antioch experienced the lowest of lows, finishing with a miserable 1-9 record. Despite the team’s misfortunes, the future seemed promising with five sophomores and one freshman on the roster.

“I knew we were going to be good one year,” Najee Harris said, who was the sole freshman on that team. “Last year was a year for development, and this year was the year to execute… And hopefully next year we’ll do the same and go farther.”

Harris now holds every rushing record in the 90-year history of Antioch football: yards in a career (5,127), yards in a season (2,744), yards in a game (396), touchdowns in a career (60, plus three receiving), touchdowns in a season (36, plus three receiving) and  touchdowns in a game (six on two occasions). Brian Boccio formerly held the career touchdown record at 32, but Harris shattered that with 39 this season alone — one more and he will double the previous career mark. The oldest milestone Harris surpassed was Worth Shaw’s single-season touchdown record of 25 set back in 1945. The junior also set a new record with yards per carry by averaging over a fresh set of downs each time with 11.3.

Complimenting Harris on the scoreboard was senior Ryan Payne, who found the end zone via: reception, rush, interception, fumble, kick and punt return. His 14 touchdowns combined with Harris’s set a new all-time high in the Bay Valley Athletic League for combined touchdowns by two teammates with 53 — breaking Joe Mixon and Darrell Daniels’ (Freedom) record of 50.

Another player to make a huge name for himself was senior Kobie Beltram, who eclipsed his brothers, Richie and Markie, for the most tackles in a career at Antioch by collecting 343, almost a hundred more than the previous record. On a side note, both Beltram and Payne were also on the 2013 team that went 1-9.

Out of all these records and milestones, Harris said the most memorable one was defeating arch-rival Pittsburg for the first time in nine years in a 44-42 Saturday afternoon thriller.

Lucido said the team is looking forward to next season with a sufficient amount of returning key players. Antoine Tanner, Kyle Brown, Isaiah Dunn, Neel Sahota and Joey Gray each earned All-BVAL honors as underclassman. Another player to look out for is sophomore Omari Harris, whose potential has a high ceiling according to his coaches and teammates.

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