It’s been since 2012 when the CIF has had Northern California and Southern California regional football finals. It’s not yet been 10 years, but there’s been some high-octane shootouts, super-close finishes and amazing comebacks. With this year’s games slated for Friday & Saturday, here’s a look at our top 10 games.
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Note: The CIF went to its current format of allowing all CIF section champions to be eligible for a regional final in 2015. The divisions have only gone to 7-AA and 7-A in the last couple of seasons due to sections crowning more champions.
1. Southern Regional Open Division 2013
St. John Bosco (Bellflower) 70, Centennial (Corona) 49
There were regional games in the Open Division for only two seasons (2012, 2013). It was a format when at least there was an inkling of hope that the CIF Southern Section D1 champion in the south and De La Salle of Concord in the north would have some competition. DLS actually would have had some in 2014, but since then it didn’t until this season.
If you notice the year, 2013 also was the year in which St. John Bosco would finish 16-0 and claim its first of three CIF Open Division state titles. So how did it happen that another CIFSS powerhouse like Centennial played the Braves that season? This was in the years, remember, when not all of the very best teams in the CIFSS were in the top division as they are now. Bosco was in that top division, but Centennial was still in the old Inland Division and in 2013 the two were selected to play each other in this CIF regional final.
It turned out to be one of those shootouts of epic dimensions and one of the most prolific for both teams in state history playoffs or not. Centennial has had a few like it, but not at the CIF regional/state level. Both teams were unstoppable, but the Braves made just a few more plays on defense, which was the difference.
Sean McGrew, who would later be named State Sophomore of the Year and is only just now finishing up his collegiate career at Washington, had a game for the ages at running back for Bosco. He went for 367 yards on 17 carries and he scored seven touchdowns. Junior QB Josh Rosen also passed for 243 yards and three TDs.
For Centennial, which had 773 yards of offense on the night, QB Robert Webber passed for 442 yards and four TDs. RB Tre Watson also shined with more than 200 yards rushing.
2. Southern Regional D2-AA 2016
Madison (San Diego) 60, Calabasas 53 (OT)
In what was described at the time as the most wild-and-wacky CIF regional bowl game perhaps ever played, the Warhawks followed up a massive comeback from the previous week in the CIF San Diego Section D1 final with an even more remarkable one.
Madison trailed by 19 points in the fourth quarter as Calabasas built a 47-28 lead behind QB Tristan Gebbia (who finished with seven TD passes). QB Terrell Carter and RB Erick Buchanan (scored five TDs) sparked the comeback but the team needed a late interception by standout LB Sampson Niu and a 44-yard field goal with three seconds left to force overtime.
In the extra period, Madison took its only lead of the game on a TD and PAT. Calabasas could not answer. A fourth-down pass from the 1-yard line from Gebbia to All-American recruit Darnay Holmes was incomplete.
Madison went on to win its second CIF state title the following week. Calabasas had its best team in the years it was coached by current Alemany head coach Casey Clausen and ended 14-1.
3. Northern Regional D1-AA 2015
Bellarmine (San Jose) 42, Folsom 35
Entering this game, everyone assumed Folsom at 14-0 and with the state’s longest current win streak at 31 games was going to be playing Mission Viejo (also unbeaten) for the state title the following week. But that didn’t happen as head coach Mike Janda’s Bells knocked off the Bulldogs with a big upset.
In a 35-35 tie game with less than one minute left, Folsom had the ball and looked to be in good shape to score the points it needed to beat the Bells. But that’s when Vincent Fernandez came up with an interception and more importantly returned the interception 54 yards back down the field all the way inside Folsom’s 30-yard line.
Then two plays later, with just 41 seconds to go, Antonio Garcia raced up the middle through a seam in the Folsom defense for a 24-yard touchdown.
Bellarmine finished 14-2 after losing to Mission Viejo the following week, but Janda put his career win total at 270 games for a new CIF Central Coast Section coaching record.
4. Southern Regional D1-AA 2016
Cathedral Catholic (San Diego) 35, Narbonne (Harbor City) 28
This was a matchup of a 13-0 team from San Diego that was on its way to finishing up an unbeaten season that generally is considered one of the greatest seasons in CIF San Diego Section history against a 14-0 team from Narbonne that was perhaps the strongest of those teams that the Gauchos had in the late 2010s.
Cathedral Catholic had the edge early behind sophomore RB Shawn Poma, who rushed for four TDs in the contest. But the Gauchos, who trailed 28-7 at halftime, were the better squad in the second half. They tied the score at 28-28 in the fourth quarter on a 14-yard TD pass from Jalen Chatman to Tyronne Marshall. Cathedral Catholic then scored to take the lead with just over one minute left on Poma’s fourth TD run. Narbonne responded by driving down to the Dons’ 17-yard line with a chance to force overtime or win on a two-point conversion. On the final play of the game, however, Chatman was sacked and couldn’t get a throw off into the end zone.
5. Northern Regional D1-AA 2018
Folsom 84, Central (Fresno) 46
This was another one in which neither team could stop the other, but it wasn’t as close of a score as some others as the Bulldogs (who had won the CIF D1-AA state title in 2017 and would later repeat the next week after this game) pulled away on the strength of an interception return by Noah Jenkins and a kickoff return by Elijhah Badger that went for touchdowns. Central coaches also knew after this game that they’d have to vastly improve their defense to ever have a shot at winning the D1-AA state title (which they did in 2019).
Folsom churned out 643 yards of offense despite the two return TDs. Central’s offense had even more yards (763) with the extra two possessions. The two teams’ combined total of 1,406 yards of offense is one of the highest in state history.
Badger caught three TD passes to go with the kickoff return. QB Kaiden Bennett completed 16 of 22 passes for 276 yards and four TDs and he rushed 10 times for 94 yards and four scores. C.J. Hutton added eight carries for 145 yards and one TD with four catches for 48 yards.
Trent Tompkins kept the home crowd at Central engaged by hitting on 29 of 48 passes for 482 yards and five TDs. He also had 80 yards rushing on 11 carries. Junior Quali Conley caught 10 passes for 126 yards and one TD and rushed for 145 yards and one TD on 16 carries.
6. Southern Regional D1-A 2016
San Clemente 39, Edison (Huntington Beach) 35
These two longtime Orange County powerhouses played each other in a regional final in 2016 and it will be a matchup never forgotten for either program. Both had won CIFSS titles the week before was a similar move that the CIF made this year in the same division for Serra of Gardena vs. Long Beach Poly.
San Clemente (12-3) took the lead twice on TD passes by USC-commit Jack Sears, but Sears and the rest of his teammates watched in horror as Edison’s E.J. Ginnis gave his team the lead at 35-32 with 4:41 left on a 100-yard interception return.
After the pick six, Sears stayed composed and directed a game-winning scoring drive. The Tritons scored with 54 seconds left on a 1-yard run by Brandon Reeves.
San Clemente went on to defeat Del Oro of Loomis in the state final the following week. This game also was the final game for Edison’s retiring head coach, Dave White, who ended with a career record of 237-120-3.
7. Southern Regional Small Schools Open Division (2015)
San Marino 36, Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) 35
This was the only year in which the CIF staged an Open Division for small schools. Although San Marino was no match for Central Catholic of Modesto in the state final of the division, the Titans won an unforgettable game to get there.
San Marino (15-0) lost starting QB Carson Glazier to an injury and trailed 35-14 heading into the fourth quarter, but down the stretch rallied behind back-up QBs Mark Wicke and Blake Cabot.
Glazier, who entered the game with 45 TD passes and threw two more in the first half, went down in the second quarter. The comeback featured a lot of passes to non-injured receiving standout J.P Shohfi. Cabot had a 44-yard TD pass to him and then running back Michael Chan had a 24-yard TD run.
With 1:11 to play, San Marino scored on a one-yard run by Wicke and head coach Mike Hobbie then decided to go for a two-point conversion. Wicke himself again ran it in.
Sierra Canyon (14-1) was led by senior running back Bobby Cole, who had 27 carries for 245 yards.
8. Southern Regional Division 2 2014
Redlands East Valley (Redlands) 59, Ridgeview (Bakersfield) 42
It was only 3-0 after the first quarter, which was not an indication of the fireworks to come. Ridgeview grabbed a 34-24 lead in the third quarter on a TD run by Sheldon Croney. REV came right back with a pair of touchdowns to take a 38-34 advantage. As the back-and-forth nature of the game looked like it was going to swing back to the Wolfpack, two plays pushed the Wildcats to a bigger lead that they did not give up.
The first of those plays was a fourth-down stop from the one-yard line by the REV defense. Then just a couple of plays later, Malik Lovette caught a screen pass and broke loose for a back-breaking 88-yard touchdown and a 45-34 lead.
QB Armando Herrera was just a sophomore for the Wildcats, but ended the season with 3,864 yards and 42 TDs. Another sophomore was defensive end Jaelen Phillips, who is now starring for the Miami Dolphins’ defensive line.
REV won its only state title the following week against Clayton Valley of Concord.
9. Northern Regional D4-AA 2017
Placer (Auburn) 43, Salinas 42 (OT)
The Hillmen won their only NorCal title and made their only CIF state title game appearance after getting past the Cowboys in this game in which they had to go to overtime on the road.
Behind QB Brett Reade, Salinas powered out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and was ahead 27-7 in the second quarter. Placer took the lead briefly at 28-27 on a touchdown run by Marshall Chapman with 6:34 to go in the third quarter. Missed PATs were a big part of the game and that came back to haunt the Cowboys two more times in the game. They got a field goal and touchdown following Placer’s 28-27 edge, but the missed PAT only gave them a 36-28 lead. Placer scored with 3:44 left, needed to go for two and got it on what was described as a trick play by Brad Bishop. The score was tied 36-36 going to overtime.
Chapman, who had 30 carries for 195 yards and four TDs in the game, then scored on a two-yard run in the overtime with the PAT good. Salinas got its chance and despite suffering a penalty was able to punch it in. Its PAT kick, however, was no good. Placer had the one-point win and was able to start planning for a trip the next week to place Crenshaw of Los Angeles. The Cougars won that state final in what is still the only state title for longtime head coach Robert Garrett.
10. Southern Regional D5-A 2017
Katella (Anaheim) 36, Monte Vista (Spring Valley) 35
Under Orange County Coach of the Year Fred Di Palma, the Knights were known for comebacks such as when they came from 21 points down to defeat Arcadia in the CIFSS D7 playoffs. They had an even better one in the regional final after winning the CIFSS D7 title.
In this matchup against a CIF San Diego Section champion, Katella was trailing 35-7 in the third quarter but got the win on a 1-yard TD run by Andrew Pisani and then a two-point conversion run by Pisani with just 1:50 left.
Katella (14-1 and playing in its first SoCal regional final) mounted its rally behind QB Nathan Arrington, who ran for two TDs and threw a 25-yard TD pass to Edward Williams to cut the margin to 35-28. Arrington, who also scored the Knights’ first TD of the night, also completed a 57-yard pass to Isaac Anderson to set up Pisani’s game-winning heroics.
Jahmon McClendon, who had 383 yards and eight TDs rushing in his previous game, led Monte Vista (8-6) once again but was held to 139 yards on 27 carries and two TDs.
Katella lost in the state final the following week to Fortuna.