For all the headlines touting Fresno City's offense this season, it might be the team's defense that delivers an invitation to the Northern California championship game.
The NorCal No. 2 Rams (8-0) take on No. 8 San Joaquin Delta (6-2) in the battle of Valley Conference unbeatens at 1 p.m. Saturday at Ratcliffe Stadium.
Fresno City goes after its seventh trip to the NorCal final in Tony Caviglia's 13th year as coach. Delta is looking for its first appearance.
Rams quarterback Lance Orender, the No. 1 rated passer in the state, is setting school records each time out. He already owns the marks for single-season (2,773) and career (5,299) passing yards, and this season has thrown for 35 touchdowns against six interceptions.
But, it's been the Rams defense that's given Orender short fields and set up drives with fumble recoveries and interceptions.
"We try to get our three-and-outs and make sure we get the ball into Lance's hands as much as possible," said Rams sophomore defensive back Fred Gaines (Chowchilla).
The Rams rank sixth in the state in points allowed (17.8 per game) and are No. 1 in interceptions with 20. They also have 16 sacks.
Delta runs a balanced, hurry-up Oregon-style offense out of the shotgun that uses multiple formations and runs the ball a lot. The Mustangs average 39.6 points per game and put up 62 on College of the Sequoias and 52 on Reedley.
"They're a prolific offense, the best we've faced so far," Caviglia said.
The Rams will counter with a quick, aggressive defense that's allowed only 13 points in the fourth quarter.
"They play very disciplined," Caviglia said. "We're strong at cornerback and safety, and forcing the ball inside and not giving up a lot of big plays. This team also makes the adjustments it needs."
Sophomore Dasheon Frierson (Edison) is the leading tackler with 46 and five interceptions.
"We feel we have the best corners in the state," Frierson said, "and that comes from going up against the best receivers in the state. The key will be to start fast, because we know Delta won't let down."
Frierson is joined in the cornerback corps by Gaines, TaiJuan Martin (four picks), Trevor Baker (Sierra). The safeties are Donnell Vercher (Clovis), Austin Fugate (Corcoran), Marshon Shoemake and Duron Singleton.
"We're treating this game like any other, just trying to get better every week," Vercher said.
Sophomore linebacker Caleb Justice (Bullard) is second in tackles with 45 tackles and has 3.5 sacks. Corey Childs, a 6-foot-1, 235-pounder out of Stockdale, anchors the line.
With the defense playing so well, Caviglia has the luxury of opening up the offense to play on Orender's strengths.
"We can be a lot freer in our play selection," Caviglia said, "take more chances knowing we've got a good defense to back us up."