CIF State FB Previews & Picks

Head coach Tyler Schilhabel of Bakersfield Independence (left) greets players coming to the sidelines during game two years ago. At right are players from Vanden of Fairfield after they won CIF NorCal D3-A title. Photos: & Harold Abend /

It should be an edge for teams from Southern California playing at Saddleback College this weekend on Friday & Saturday, but a bulk of the teams from Northern California playing at home on Saturday in Divisions 3-AA down to 7-A figure to win and some by multi-score margins.


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Serra of San Mateo vs. Mater Dei of Santa Ana
Saturday, 8 p.m. at Saddleback College

Records, Rankings & History: Serra 12-1 & No. 5 overall in state; Mater Dei 11-0 & No. 1 overall in state; Serra 1-2 in state finals (win in 2017; lost in 2016 & 2019); Mater Dei 2-0 in state finals (wins in 2017 & 2018).
Comments: All season long, there just hasn’t been any indication that there’s any team in the state capable of staying close to the big four in the CIF Southern Section of Mater Dei, Servite of Anaheim, St. John Bosco of Bellflower and Corona Centennial. The stockpiling of talent at those schools combined with the coaching that they all have is just too overwhelming for any high school that isn’t doing the same things. Just look at all of the scores of those four when they are playing any other top teams in the state other than each other.
Can Serra keep it close for a couple of quarters? Sure, there were several games in which Mater Dei has gotten out to a slow start. It just only takes a couple of three-and-outs followed by several explosive plays to turn it into running clock mode.
Serra’s defense did a good job holding down the St. Francis run game in the CCS final, reversing an earlier loss to the Lancers. It’s not that they can’t do that again, but that with the Monarchs that just means the passing game becomes front and center and it is just as potent as their run game. Mater Dei’s fans already will be probably celebrating several hours before the game starts due to alum Bryce Young likely winning the Heisman Trophy (the third one in school history). We know that there’s a lot of controversy swirling around the program, but the investigations will continue and further developments will occur. For this one night, though, it’ll be one of red-themed celebrations.
Prediction: Mater Dei 42, Serra 14.

Cathedral Catholic head coach Sean Doyle talks to his players after tough overtime loss to Folsom in 2018 CIF D1-AA state final. Photo: Mark Tennis.

Folsom vs. Cathedral Catholic of San Diego
Friday, 8 p.m. Saddleback College

Records, Rankings & History: Folsom 11-3 & No. 8 overall in state; Cathedral Catholic 10-2** & No. 10 overall in state. Folsom 4-0 in state finals (last win 2018; other wins in 2010, 2014, 2016); Cathedral Catholic 2-1 in state finals (lost to Folsom in OT in 2018; wins in 2016 in OT and in 2008). Folsom already is first team in state history to go 4-0 in state finals (modern era).
Comments: Perhaps the matchup of the weekend in Mission Viejo will be the Folsom defense going up against the Cathedral Catholic offense. The Bulldogs are coming down to SoCal after holding down the De La Salle run game in their 28-27 win from last Friday in Concord. They also did a good job against the Spartans’ rushing attack when they played against them and lost in early October. It was the special teams that pushed De La Salle to that win, not as much the offense. Cathedral Catholic just gained 734 yards and had Lucky Sutton rush for 435 and six TDs (with a seventh TD on a catch). So what will happen when that run game meets the defense that just beat a team that the Dons lost to 42-21 early in the season?
One advantage for Cathedral Catholic is that Saddleback College is just a short drive from its northern San Diego County campus. It could just about be like a home game and this is a team that has played its best at home. Charlie Mirer, the Dons’ QB, could be the key. He threw three interceptions against De La Salle and he’ll probably need to throw and throw it well for his team to win. We’ve seen both teams play and see scenarios for both to win. Folsom’s offense, for example, has some matchups it should be able to exploit in its passing game.
Prediction: Cathedral Catholic 36, Folsom 34.

Liberty of Bakersfield vs. Serra of Gardena
Saturday, 4 p.m. Saddleback College

Records, Rankings & History: Liberty 11-2 & No. 22 overall in state; Serra 10-4* & No. 19 overall in state. Liberty first CIF state final; Serra 2-1 in state finals (lost in D2 in 2010 to Folsom, won in 2009 & 2012).
Comments: We saw both teams in back-to-back weeks in Honor Bowls with Serra losing big to American Fork of Utah while Liberty lost 14-13 to Clayton Valley of Concord. The ingredients for both teams to be good, however, were obvious and they’ve both reached their goals in recent weeks.
Serra QB Maalik Murphy (Texas commit) has passed for nearly 2,800 yards despite a shoulder injury in the middle of the season. He’ll be hard for the Patriots to deal with. The Serra receivers can be hot-and-cold and if they’re hot that’s big for that team. Early in the year, Serra’s top-notch sophomores, including RB/LB Cincere Rhaney, LB Tanu Sosa and DL D’Angelo Davis, were still a bit inconsistent. They’ve now been growing into their own.
Liberty’s balance of pass-run and special teams has been especially impressive in its run to the Central Section title. QB Carson Woods has thrown for more than 2,000 yards, RB Jalen Hankins has rushed for more than 1,100 yards, and WR Jason Oliver is a special talent at WR. The line has been a strength for the Patriots for many years. One change a few weeks ago was to use D1 college recruit Grant Buckey (6-5, 275) on both sides of the ball. He leads the team on defense in sacks with six.
Prediction: Liberty 24, Serra 21.

Central Catholic of Modesto vs. Mater Dei Catholic of Chula Vista
Friday, 4 p.m. Saddleback College

Records, Rankings & History: Central Catholic 13-1 & No. 25 overall in state; MD Catholic 12-0* & No. 21 overall in state. Central Catholic has won in its last four CIF state title appearances. That was when the Raiders won four in a row from 2012 to 2015. Their only loss was in 2007 to St. Bonaventure of Ventura. The Crusaders won in their only state title appearance in 2015 in D5-AA.
Comments: All season long in the San Diego Section, the locals have been pumping up the Crusaders as one of the top three teams in the section regardless of division. They proved that was correct by beating Helix of La Mesa (the D1 champion) last week even though they were the D3 section winners. This is a program clearly on the rise in terms of having numerous high-level D1 prospects on the roster. Leading the way is LB Tre Edwards, one of the top junior LB recruits in the nation. Central Catholic does have a win over St. Mary’s of Stockton with its only loss to Bellarmine of San Jose. Head coach Roger Canepa’s squad can really pound the rock with RBs Aiden Taylor and Julian Lopez running behind a huge, effective group of linemen. A big game may need to be turned in by sophomore QB Tyler Wentworth for the Raiders to get a win. We would say that Helix is equal or better than Bellarmine and it would seem Mater Dei Catholic’s speed around the edges may be something it can exploit.
Prediction: Mater Dei Catholic 28, Central Catholic 21.

Wilcox of Santa Clara vs.
Scripps Ranch of San Diego
Saturday, 12 noon Saddleback College.

Records, Rankings & History: Wilcox 10-4 & on State TOP 50 bubble; Scripps Ranch 12-1 & on State TOP 50 bubble. Wilcox won in its only previous state title game, defeating Kaiser of Fontana in the 2018 CIF D3-A final. This is the first time going for a state title for Scripps.
Comments: The way that Wilcox ran through the CCS D2 playoffs it would seem that the Warriors probably should have been in D1. They’ve played a couple of higher level opponents of the type that Scripps Ranch has not played, with one game standing out being a close 31-26 loss to North Coast Section D1 champ Pittsburg. Luther Glenn and the veer option running game has been quite effective in recent weeks and it may be hard for the Falcons to slow it down if they haven’t gone up against it before. We’re also pretty sure, however, that Wilcox hasn’t played a 6-foot-8 QB like Jax Leatherwood before. He comes into the game with 41 TD passes this season and just two interceptions. The Falcons have also been averaging well over 40 points per game so one key to watch will be if that Wilcox rushing attack can also chew up some time and limit a few possessions for that offense.
Prediction: Wilcox 35, Scripps Ranch 28.

Aquinas of San Bernardino at Vanden (Fairfield)
Saturday, 6 p.m.

Records, Rankings & History: Aquinas 10-5* & on State TOP 50 bubble; Vanden 12-2 & on State TOP 50 bubble. Aquinas lost to Clayton Valley of Concord in 2019 in its first CIF state final but in a higher division (2-AA). This is the first CIF state football final for Vanden.
Comments: Both of these teams have shown in their sections that they were much better than their divisional assignments. Vanden won the Sac-Joaquin Section D4 title, which included a Kimball of Tracy team that beat SJS D3 champion Manteca. Last week, Aquinas actually played and beat the CIF Southern Section team, Newport Harbor, that won the CIFSS divisional title (D6) that was higher than the division it won (D7). Both have had some explosive wins very recently. Many around NorCal were shocked by the size of Vanden’s win (56-28) over a Windsor team that had just one loss and by one point. Aquinas won its section title, 66-14, over St. Pius X-St. Matthias of Downey. The greatly named QB, Tre Dimes (yes, he throws dimes), and two of our NorCal players of the week — Jamai East for special teams two weeks ago and Orion Null for defense (4 sacks vs Windsor) — will help lead the Vikings. Watch out for frosh RB JoJo Solis (more than 1,400 yds) and massive OT Junior Taase Faumui (6-5, 350) for the Falcons.
Prediction: Vanden 42, Aquinas 35.

Birmingham of Lake Balboa at McClymonds (Oakland)
Saturday, 6 pm.

Records, Rankings & History: Birmingham 9-5, No. 112 in CalPreps computer; McClymonds 11-1, No. 46 overall in State Top 50. First-ever CIF state final for Patriots and in making it hard not to think about its 2007 team that was very close to being selected to play De La Salle in top division and regarded as one of best in section history. Mack has won five straight NorCal bowl games and is 3-1 in its previous state finals.
Comments: We’re pretty sure the CIF was thinking about McClymonds losing by a big margin in the D2-A state game in 2019 to Pacifica of Oxnard when it slotted the Warriors for D3-A instead of D2-A again. That Pacifica team, though, was that good and Mack clearly should have been higher than Manteca in NorCal and has been since beating the Buffaloes, 33-14, last spring. The Warriors also suffered their only loss in an overtime game to a Menlo-Atherton squad that lost to St. Francis of Mountain View in the CCS D1 semifinals. If that means it’s going to be a long night for Birmingham, the answer is probably. The Patriots rolled through the L.A. City Section Open Division, however, and they will have the best player on the field in Arlis Boardingham. They knocked off the Patrick Henry Patriots last week, but McClymonds could be too much.
Prediction: McClymonds 28, Birmingham 14.

Central Valley Christian of Visalia at Marin Catholic (Kentfield)
Saturday, 1 pm.

Records, Rankings & History: CVC 11-4 & under consideration for final medium schools ranking; Marin Catholic 13-1 & on the bubble for State Top 50. CVC lost in its only other CIF state title game in 2018 in D4-AA to Pleasant Valley of Chico. Marin Catholic is looking for its first state title. It lost in 2009 in D3 to Serra (Gardena) and again in D3 in 2012 to Madison (San Diego).
Comments: The visiting Eagles were defeated 43-14 three years ago in this same game by Pleasant Valley and will come in as solid underdogs. They may have the best player on the field, though, in 6-4, 230-pound junior TE/DE Jaedon Moore. Max Bakker also has thrown for 30 TDs. The Wildcats will be looking to play better than they did against Escalon. Their only loss is to McClymonds and they have a win over San Marin plus a 42-7 win in the NCS D4 final over Cardinal Newman. Charles Williams could be one of the top NorCal sophomores at the RB position.
Prediction: Marin Catholic 30, Central Valley Christian 14.

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Northview of Covina vs. Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco
Saturday, 6 pm at Kezar Stadium.

Records, Rankings & History: Northview 9-6 and looking to move up after last two wins; SHC 8-7 and on bubble for NorCal Top 25. This is the first CIF state title game appearance for both schools.
Comments: This is a tough spot for Northview just because the Fightin’ Irish are frankly taking advantage of being way too low in the CCS divisional placements and too low on the NorCal board (should have played Marin Catholic and not Chico). Sacred Heart Cathedral of course is from one of the best leagues in the state (West Catholic Athletic League) and although the team has a bad loss from early in the season to Sacred Heart Prep and had a bad one in league vs. Archbishop Riordan it also has a win against State Top 50 ranked Bellarmine. Cheo Medina (1,800 yds rushing) and James Arellanes (1500 yds passing) will battle hard and make some plays for the Vikings, but it would be big upset if they win in this game.
Prediction: Sacred Heart Cathedral 36, Northview 12.

Independence of Bakersfield at San Marin of Novato
Saturday, 6 pm.

Records, Rankings & History: Independence 9-6 & unranked in any of our divisions; San Marin 13-1 & has been top 10 in small schools. This is the first CIF state finals appearance for each program.
Comments: It’s easy to root for Independence to do well under the guidance of head coach Tyler Schilhabel, who is believed to be the first head coach of a team in a state football final who coaches from a wheelchair. Tyler has been on the job at Independence for a couple of years. He’s a former QB for the school who was paralyzed in an ATV accident at age 16. The Falcons advanced to this game by defeating Venice of the L.A. City Section last week and have two players who’ve been quite prolific — RB Evan Peaker (1,900 yds rushing) and QB Ladon Denmark (more than 1,600 yds rushing & passing). They are going to be hard-pressed, however, to stay close to the Mustangs. They have just the one loss to Marin Catholic and have been especially strong the last two weeks. RB Justin Guin has a chance to be the state leader in rushing (he has 2,240 yds) while QB Joey Cook has more than 2,000 yds passing.
Prediction: San Marin 28, Independence 14.

Righetti of Santa Maria at Sacred Heart Prep of Atherton
Saturday, 1 pm.

Records, Rankings & History: Righetti 6-8 & unranked in any of our divisions; SHP 7-7 and has been on the bubble for small schools. This is Righetti’s first CIF state title game. For Sacred Heart Prep, it was on the losing side in 2013 in a loss to Corona del Mar of Newport Beach when CdM became the first team in state history to finish 16-0. The Gators also lost in 2015 in the D3-A final to Rancho Bernardo of San Diego.
Comments: Not having ever won a CIF state title before (even though the school has had better teams before) should be added motivation for a team that is going to be a strong favorite. Righetti has been playing well on defense (just seven points allowed last week vs Northwood of Irvine), but SHP is simply a cut above based on the teams it has played in league and in non-league. The Gators also have turned it around later in the season, which is best shown by their win in the CCS playoffs of 42-14 over a Hillsdale of San Mateo team they lost to (20-13) earlier.
Prediction: Sacred Heart Prep 29, Righetti 7.

Quartz Hill at Argonaut of Jackson
Saturday, 6 pm.

Records, Rankings & History: Quartz Hill 9-4 & No. 287 by CalPreps computer; Argonaut 11-3 & No. 187 by CalPreps computer. This is the first ever CIF state title appearance for both schools.
Comments: It’s quite a pair of trips for the Royals (formerly the Rebels). They went out to Blythe (almost to Arizona) last week and now head up to Mother Lode country in Amador County. They won at Palo Verde, 26-20, and took their CIFSS divisional title with a 43-8 romp past Compton. Going by the computer rankings (100 place spread) one would think Quartz Hill has no chance. We don’t think so. This is a bigger school used to playing competition like Palmdale and Highland of Palmdale. Chalin Crawford leads the offense with nearly 2,300 yards of passing and rushing with 29 combined TDs. Argonaut has a similar player in Beau Davis, who has piled up nearly 1,900 yards as a dual-threat QB. Davis, though, also gets after it on defense and has been one of the leading tacklers in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
Prediction: Quartz Hill 24, Argonaut 21.

Players from Salesian of Richmond celebrate after a touchdown in win over Bishop that gave team the CIF D6-A state title. The Pride will be looking to repeat in 2021. Photo:

Arlington of Riverside at Salesian of Richmond
Saturday, 1 p.m.

Records, Rankings & History: Arlington 7-8 & unranked in any of our divisions; Salesian 10-2 & has been on the bubble for small schools. It’s the first-ever berth for Arlington in a state final. Salesian actually is the only CIF state champion from two years ago (remember no state playoffs in 2020) that is trying to win a CIF state title in the same division for this season. That also was the first team from the city of Richmond to earn a CIF state crown.
Comments: This is a much different school and team that the Pride is playing this year in this game compared to Bishop (far away in the Sierra Nevada mountains) from 2019. Arlington has played sound defense in recent weeks (including a shutout of Montclair) and has ridden the shoulders of senior RB Ray Warhop, who had back-to-back 200-yard games in the CIFSS semifinals and finals. Salesian has scraped by both Justin-Siena of Napa (28-26) and Aragon of San Mateo (36-28) in recent weeks. Still, playing at home and with a win last week against an Aragon team which seems similar to Arlington may give the edge to Salesian.
Prediction: Salesian 26, Arlington 14.

Morro Bay at Fall River of McArthur
Saturday, 6 p.m.

Records, Rankings & History: Morro Bay 8-6 & unranked in any of our divisions; Fall River 12-0 & on the bubble for small schools. First-ever CIF state title games for both schools. For Fall River, however, it opted out of competing for a NorCal regional title in both 2018 and 2019.
Comments: Since it has been such an outstanding team this season at Fall River, opting out this time would have been a real shame. The Bulldogs started out the season with four straight shutouts and have been rolling in every game. One of those early-season blankings came against perennial small schools power Ferndale while another was against Pierce of Arbuckle (which later reached the Northern Section D4 title game). Fall River won it in D5 and last week topped LeGrand out of the Sac-Joaquin Section. QB Ryan Osborne has been spectacular for the Bulldogs with 1,586 yards passing (16 TDs) and 1,465 yards rushing (28 TDs). Morro Bay will try to counter with a balanced offense that includes QB Nicky Johnson and RB Dylan Turner.
Prediction: Fall River 37, Morro Bay 22.

Taft of Woodland Hills at Balboa of San Francisco
Saturday 1 p.m.

Records, Rankings & History: Taft 7-7 & unranked in any of our divisions; Balboa 8-4 & unranked in any of our divisions. This is the first CIF state title game appearance for either school.
Comments: There was no regional game leading into this one, which makes picking a winner a lot harder. These clearly are the final teams on both the north and south sides of the CIF bowl board, too. One thing to like about the Buccaneers is that they lost 7-0 to Lincoln of San Francisco earlier this season but rebounded to beat the Mustangs, 21-0, in the S.F. City championship. Lincoln also is the team that won in the lowest game on the board two years ago, but that was for 7-AA since there were teams opting out from above.
Prediction: Balboa 13, Taft 7.

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports

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