Writeups by Mark Tennis, Paul Muyskens, Harold Abend
All games at The Home Depot Center in Carson
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OPEN DIVISION (Saturday, 8 p.m.)
De La Salle (Concord) 34, Centennial (Corona) 21
We have gone with the Spartans in this game for the past three years and since they won all three times we’ll stick with them in a matchup that probably won’t be as easy for them as the last two against Servite of Anaheim (48-8) and Westlake of Westlake Village (35-0).
The familiarity that Centennial head coach Matt Logan and his staff have of going against De La Salle should help compared to others who have never done it before. The Huskies also don’t figure to be dominated up front compared to De La Salle’s defensive line the way Folsom was in the NorCal bowl game. That’s because Centennial’s offensive line is big and nasty as well, led by Cameron Hunt. If Hunt is not hampered by leg cramps as he was against Narbonne, his matchup against De La Salle’s two interior defensive linemen could be a key.
Coming into a fourth straight tough game after Upland, Vista Murrieta and Narbonne also could be a difference for the Huskies. Those types of contests can tend to beat teams up. De La Salle, on the other hand, has continued to simply roll and may be more healthy, less banged up than Centennial.
It’s always hard to compare the many great teams at De La Salle, and although this one has given up more touchdowns than last year, the defense is among the school’s best ever. With linebacker Michael Hutchings and defensive end Austin Hooper both coming off of huge outings against Folsom, there should be no letdown on that side of the ball.
It took a 21-16 win for Centennial’s best team ever to beat the Spartans in 2008. Is this year’s team as good as that one? To us, it doesn’t appear so, but it’s as gritty a bunch that Logan has had and has a penchant for making big plays on both sides of the ball.
Still, it should be a fourth straight Open Division state crown for De La Salle and if that happens it will be interesting to see what head coach Bob Ladouceur says afterward. If he wants to go out on top after 33 seasons with a career win total sitting at 399, it wouldn’t be a surprise.
DIVISION I (Friday, 8 p.m.)
Long Beach Poly 21, Granite Bay 20
These two teams can say they’re the comeback kids in both the north and the south. For Long Beach Poly, its 1-3 start included a 56-0 loss to Narbonne of Harbor City. For Granite Bay, its 1-3 start included a 48-13 loss to Oaks Christian of Westlake Village.
Since Oaks Christian also is from the CIFSS Pac-Five Division (the same one that Poly won the title in two weeks ago against Mater Dei), it’s too hard to go against the Jackrabbits to be the winners in this game. But the way in which the Grizzlies have been going, it also still looks like a tossup and is the hardest game for us to predict on the weekend.
Poly’s experience from being in a state bowl game before also should help. None of the current players of course were on the field in 2008 when the Jackrabbits lost to Grant of Sacramento, but the coaches just won’t allow the players to be anything short of completely jacked up and ready to play. We certainly know that Granite Bay is going to come out strong (as it has in every game the last five weeks) and Poly better match that, otherwise it could be a long night.
Offensively, Granite Bay’s Fly offense could present problems for Poly’s defense because it depends so much on misdirection and defenders over-playing certain angles. That could be a good recipe for success since Poly’s defenders are so quick to the ball and love to attack the opposing quarterback.
Among those that Granite Bay coach Ernie Cooper can turn to include flyback Tony Ellison (1,144 yards rushing with 11 TDs and 48 catches for 585 yds and eight TDs); running back John Cooley (1,556 yards rushing, 17 TDs) and quarterback Grant Caraway (1,761 yards passing, 21 TDs). Defensively, linebackers Cameron Smith, just a sophomore, along with seniors Beau Hershberger and Mason Conen are physical and fast.
Poly’s advantage should be the same that Helix of La Mesa had in last year’s D2 bowl game against Del Oro of Loomis (from the same league as Granite Bay) or when Granite Bay played Oaks Christian earlier. That’s speed and lots of it on both sides of the ball. Running backs Gerard Wicks (Washington State) and Manusamoa Luuga have both rushed for more than 1,300 yards and either one can take it the distance on any play. The Poly secondary also is just plain ridiculous, led by junior safety John “JuJu” Smith. Smith, who also plays receiver on offense, has to be one of the best junior recruits in the nation. Three others on defense with D1 offers include linebacker Jayon Brown (UCLA commit), corner David Price and sophomore corner Iman Marshall.
If Poly does win, it will give the storied athletic superpower — regarded as the best all-sports high school in U.S. history and trust us there is no school even close – its first CIF state football title since 1919. The Jackrabbits also would become the first school from the previous old-time CIF football playoffs from 1915 to 1927 to win in the current bowl game format that began in 2006.
DIVISION II (Saturday, 4 p.m.)
Serra (Gardena) 33, Oakdale 14
Oakdale’s lone loss this season was to Oceanside of the CIF San Diego Section 34-14 in a game that wasn’t that close as the Mustangs trailed 34-0 before scoring two late touchdowns.
While we don’t expect Serra to jump out to that big of a lead by halftime, the Cavaliers could be a better team than Oceanside and we can see a similar final score.
“We learned that there is a lot of good talent down there,” said Mustangs’ quarterback Spencer Thomas on the early season loss. “We’ve seen what is down there and we now know what we are going to go up against.”The problem for Oakdale is that the team it will face is a talented Serra squad that defeated four teams that were ranked in the top 25 this season – Long Beach Poly, Lompoc, Chaminade and Edison — on the way to the state finals.
Junior signal caller Jalen Greene is a threat running and throwing the ball and that versatility should be key. The Mustangs’ offense will have to hope they can continue to make plays in the passing game like they did against Clayton Valley after being a run heavy team most of the season. Making that harder to do is a Serra secondary led by Adoree Jackson, the 2012 State Sophomore Athlete of the Year and one of the top juniors in the nation.
DIVISION III (Saturday, 12 noon)
Marin Catholic (Kentfield) 31, Madison (San Diego) 21
Unlike at Oroville in a 23-7 victory over Sutter last week, there won’t be any train horns or cowbells being rung by 3,000 screaming fans at Carson on Saturday, so Marin Catholic won’t have that to deal with. Nor will Madison be playing on the host school’s turf like it did in their 21-17 win over Monrovia.
What Madison has to do is find a way to slow down Marin Catholic’s 6-foot-5, 195-pound Cal-bound quarterback Jared Goff (3,460 yards passing, 36 TDs) and his variety of wide receivers led by junior Andrew Celis (67 catches, 1,184 yards), and stop running back Akili Terry who now has 1,763 yards rushing with 26 touchdowns.
Marin Catholic will be facing a Madison team whose lone loss was 42-28 in Week 2 to an El Cajon Valhalla team that lost 31-28 in the CIF San Diego D2 semifinals to section champion and near SoCal D2 bowl pick Oceanside. The Wildcats will have to stop the running game of Madison, and particularly Arizona-bound Pierre Cormier. As a team the Warhawks have rushed for over 3,800 yards but the running game was bottled up by Monrovia, who despite holding Cormier (1,976 yards rushing, 26 TDs) to a season low 36 yards on 11 carries, still was unable to win the game because they gave up big plays and had turnovers.
The leader of the defense responsible for halting the Warhawks’ charge will be Wildcats’ linebacker Alex Poksay. The 6-foot, 205-pound senior had a sack, four tackles for loss and 16 total tackles against Sutter.
The Warhawks player that will lead the pass rush against Goff will be 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior defensive end Sam Vermillion. He had two of his 11.5 sacks this season against Monrovia. Madison also sports its own talented dual-threat quarterback, 6-foot, 170-pound Kareem Coles, a sophomore that’s stating showing up on some scouting services, and has thrown for almost 1,800 yards and run for nearly 1,000 more.
Marin Catholic’s lone loss came at Vacaville, when the hosts scored in the final seconds after Terry had an uncharacteristic fumble with the Wildcats trying to close out a victory. Marin Catholic has had trouble with speedy backfields like they did with El Cerrito, but Madison has not seen anyone like Jared Goff, and so far he has been the difference in key games. Our pick is he will be the difference here again.
DIVISION IV (Friday, 4 p.m.)
Central Catholic (Modesto) 38, Santa Fe Christian (Solana Beach) 13
Led by head coach Roger Canepa storming up and down the sidelines and running backs Rey Vega and Ray Lomas storming their way up and down the field for big gains, the Raiders could be the biggest favorite of the weekend after winning their last two games with running clocks in the fourth quarter.
Despite Vega having to miss out on the start of the season, the two have combined for 3,223 yards and 55 rushing touchdowns. With a win over St. Mary’s of Stockton on their game log, the Raiders also are currently on an 11-game winning streak and on the year they have averaged 49 points while allowing an average of just 17.6 per game.
Junior Tony Miro and senior quarterback Hunter Vaccaro are a solid running tandem for the Eagles and they will likely try to control the game with those two seeing lots of carries but facing the high-powered Raiders’ offense they may end up having to throw the ball much more than usual.
This is a game that Santa Fe Christian has been itching for since the bowl games began in 2006 and it’s a team that might be capable of winning it in some seasons. Once Central Catholic, though, got through its section playoffs (against teams like 2010 D3 state champ Escalon) and became bowl eligible, this state title seemed to be headed to Modesto. A poor effort with multiple turnovers combined with a spirited effort and the best performance of the year by Santa Fe Christian may be the only way to prevent that.
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