While Mater Dei is a solid favorite to win its fourth CIF Open Division state title and the De La Salle-Mission Viejo matchup in D1-AA looks like a toss up, the NorCal team is favored in just about all of the other 14 CIF state finals coming up this weekend at three JC stadiums in Southern California. We’ll see if the travel difference makes up for some of the rankings differences, which in some divisions is almost 200 positions in which the North team is higher. Why? The CIF sections in the north just don’t do competitive equity playoffs the same way as in the south.
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Serra of San Mateo (CCS D1) vs. Mater Dei of Santa Ana (CIFSS D1)
Saturday, 8 p.m., Saddleback College
Records, Rankings & History: Serra (12-0) won its only state title in 2017 and did it against possible Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels, a junior QB that season for Cajon of San Bernardino. The Padres lost in CIF Open Division state finals the last two seasons, first to Mater Dei in 2021 and then last year to St. John Bosco. The Monarchs (12-1) won their first CIF Open Division state title in 2017 and since then have added titles in the same division in 2018 and 2021. Serra is No. 4 in our overall State Top 50 and is No. 6 by the MaxPreps/CalPreps computer. Mater Dei is No. 1 in both.
Comments: For the second straight year, Serra got the upper hand toward landing the CIF Open Division berth out of the north with early season wins over both Folsom and De La Salle. It was basically smooth sailing after that through the CIF Central Coast Section Open Division championship. Some observers think the Padres have one of the top teams in the Bay Area ever. That could be true, but the CCS and the West Catholic Athletic League also lacked a worthy challenger. What happens in the state final will go a long way regarding the lasting legacy of the group. For Mater Dei, it will look to throw out a big statement game to all of the national pollsters still working toward final rankings. The Monarchs have the lineups on both sides of the ball to do that, but will there be any overconfidence?
Records, Rankings & History: De La Salle 11-2 & No. 6 overall in state; Mission Viejo 12-3 & No. 8 overall in state. Going by the computer, DLS is only No. 13 in the state (ranked even behind Folsom, which is silly) while Mission is up at No. 5 (even ahead of Serra). The Spartans are on a current five-game losing streak in the CIF state finals after they went on a run of dominance with four in a row in the Open Division from 2009 to 2012 and then six out of seven through 2015. Last season marked the first time that DLS wasn’t in the Open Division and didn’t have to deal with the mega powers of Mater Dei or St. John Bosco. Despite the five straight title game losses, De La Salle’s total of seven state titles is tied for the most ever in state history. The only other school with seven is Bakersfield for the early years before 1927, although the CIF counts a 1916 title awarded to the Drillers in a boardroom. We don’t count that one. Mission Viejo usually has to deal with Mater Dei or St. John Bosco in the CIF Southern Section D1 playoffs, but this year the Diablos were in D2. The school was in its first and only CIF state final in 2016 and completed a 16-0 season with a D1 title game win against Bellarmine of San Jose. The Diablos had teams at or near the top of the state just before the CIF re-instituted the state football playoffs in 2006, including their 2004 State Team of the Year squad that included QB Mark Sanchez. Mission Viejo had a 19-17 win over De La Salle in 2004 (which was the same year in which the school had its 151-game win streak snapped at Bellevue, Wash.). The Diablos won again vs the Spartans in 2005, but DLS won in 2006 and 2007. The schools haven’t played since then.
Comments: Both teams come in after surprisingly one-sided routs over previously unbeaten teams — DLS over Clovis North 41-0 and Mission Viejo over Granite Hills of El Cajon 49-21. The game being at Saddleback should provide the Diablos with a home crowd edge since their school is just a couple of exits north of the stadium. But the Spartans at least have the experience of playing at Saddleback last season. It figures to be a close matchup. Mission is not a one-dimensional team like Clovis North and has been balanced on offense in this recent surge. Head coach Chad Johnson also has some experience going against DLS since he was offensive coordinator at St. John Bosco in 2013 and 2016 in those Open Division games. This Mission team is not like any of those two Bosco squads, however. It lost not that long ago to San Clemente, 20-10, in a matchup that likely has shown the DLS coaches that their grind-it-out style of offense that worked so well in wins against Folsom and San Ramon Valley (especially the second time) has a good chance of working well again.
Prediction: De La Salle 21, Mission Viejo 20.
Folsom (SJS D1) vs. St. Bonaventure of Ventura (CIFSS D3)
Saturday, 4 p.m. Saddleback College
Records, Rankings & History: Folsom 12-2 and No. 7 overall in the state; St. Bonaventure 12-3 and No. 23 overall in the state. Going by the computer, St. Bonaventure is only No. 28 in the state with Folsom at No. 11. The Bulldogs are looking to win their fifth state title but the first under current head coach Paul Doherty. They won crowns in 2010, 2014, 2017 and 2018. They lost in the D1-AA title game in 2021 to Cathedral Catholic of San Diego. St. Bonaventure has been State Team of the Year during a season (2005) that was played before the state championships came back on-line in 2006. The Seraphs then won back-to-back CIF state titles in D3 in 2007 and 2008. They haven’t gotten back until this season.
Comments: This is the first of many games in these predictions in which the north team is coming in much higher ranked than the south team. This is clearly because while the CIF Southern Section is all in on competitive equity based playoff divisions, that is not the case for the Sac-Joaquin Section (where Folsom is from) and the North Coast Section. Folsom has had some close moments in its run to the D1 section title and in last week’s win vs previously unbeaten Pittsburg, but nothing like what the Seraphs had to do in their win last week over St. Augustine with no time on the clock. SoCal fans also will get a chance to check out Folsom soph QB Ryder Lyons, who is the best sophomore QB at the school since Jake Browning started for the Bulldogs in his sophomore season.
Prediction: Folsom 28, St. Bonaventure 14.
Grant of Sacramento (SJS D3) vs. La Serna of Whittier (CIFSS D4)
Friday, 4 p.m. Saddleback College
Records, Rankings & History: Grant 12-2 and No. 19 overall in the state; La Serna 12-3 & No. 37. Using the CalPreps computer, Grant is No. 23 overall and La Serna No. 27. This is Grant’s third CIF state finals’ appearance and it is looking to improve to 3-0. The Pacers were in the Open Division in 2008 in a controversial selection over De La Salle as the North team in that game and then posted a memorable upset over Long Beach Poly. Grant hadn’t been back to the state finals until last year and won the D3-AA title on its home field against San Jacinto. La Serna is playing in its first-ever CIF state championship.
Comments: Talk about high scoring. This one should be it. Grant staying in D3 in its section was a mismatch from the beginning, but in the SJS teams don’t move up that fast into higher divisions. Last week, though, the Pacers played SJS D2 champion Rocklin and rolled, 41-14. Only allowing 14 to Rocklin was a vast improvement compared to when we saw them lost 36-35 to Monterey Trail. Since then, the backfield combo of Wayshawn Parker and Devin Green has pushed it to a higher level. La Serna had trouble with D1 back Sire Gaines last week against Orange Vista and may not have won if Gaines had not gotten hurt. Grant has two backs like that. The hope for the Lancers is that their own offense behind QB C.J. Ceron and RB Owen Long will be able to keep up. In their playoff games, they’ve scored 46, 50, 52, 49 and 49 points.
Prediction: Grant 49, La Serna 35.
Los Gatos (CCS D2) vs. Central Valley Christian of Visalia (Central Sec D2)
Saturday, 7 p.m. Pasadena City College
Records, Rankings & History: Los Gatos 12-2 and No. 34 overall in the state; Central Valley Christian 14-1 and No. 50 overall in the state. For the computer, the Wildcats are No. 33 and the Cavaliers are No. 66. Neither of the two schools has ever won a CIF state title. This is the first appearance for Los Gatos as well, but CVC lost in the 2018 D4-AA final to Pleasant Valley of Chico and lost in a 2021 CIF state final to Marin Catholic. The Wildcats were D3 State Team of the Year for 2001 at 13-0 and are one of few teams in the state with more than 600 all-time wins.
Comments: This is the divisional game that previously had been with the other higher games at Saddleback College, but is going to be played at Pasadena. It is closer for all of those traveling and it looks like TV (Spectrum News/Spectrum RSN) also preferred to have the L.A. City champion playing at Saddleback where the other TV games are being played. This could be one of the highest scoring games in any state final. Los Gatos only scored 14 last week vs El Cerrito, but went for 49 in its previous game against Wilcox. CVC has been in scorefests since the first game, which was that bizarre 63-41 contest with Ripon Christian in which RC ran 79 plays compared to the Cavaliers with just 15. Bryson Donelson one-play touchdown drive runs and kick returns contributed to that strange contest and Donelson has been scoring like crazy ever since. He enters this week with 54 TDs on the season (which leads the state). Last week’s score was 55-38 against Simi Valley. No offense to Simi Valley and Ripon Christian, but Los Gatos is the second-best team from the CIF Central Coast Section. It will be a shock if the Wildcats don’t score as much if not more than recent CVC opponents. Donelson should have his moments, but the LG defense also is likely stronger than any opponent other than Clovis North that the Cavaliers have faced.
Prediction: Los Gatos 56, Central Valley Christian 41.
Acalanes of Lafayette (NCS D4) vs Birmingham of Lake Balboa (LA City Open)
Saturday, 11:30 a.m. at Saddleback College
Records, Rankings & History: Acalanes 10-4 & only on the State TOP 50 bubble. Birmingham 12-2 and also on the State TOP 50 bubble. The CalPreps/MaxPreps computer on this one shows these two teams right next to each other at No. 75 for Acalanes and No. 76 for Birmingham. Acalanes is making its first appearance in a CIF state final. Birmingham lost 54-7 to McClymonds of Oakland in 2021 in the D3-A state championship and lost last year in the regional finals to Laguna Hills. The Patriots also lost in the regional finals in 2019 to Pacifica of Oxnard.
Comments: Most people around Northern California wouldn’t think of a team from a place like Lafayette or Orinda or Moraga as being one with a lot of speed. But Acalanes has some true speedsters, including Trevor Rogers, a CIF state long jumper who is headed to Cal to play receiver. Paul Kuhner joined Rogers on the school’s 4×100 relay team that was second in the state last June and is a dangerous kick returner. Veteran head coach Floyd Burnsed (we remember him as the head coach when Miramonte had Ken Dorsey at QB many years ago) also got the Dons prepped to beat 12-0 San Marin for the NCS D4 title and last week it was really no contest in the NorCal final vs Escalon. Birmingham stepped up last week to beat the San Diego D2 champ on the road and with a miracle play that was similar to the famous Immaculate Reception of Franco Harris NFL fame. Acalanes may be a step up from that, but it’s not like Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks or Steele of Cibolo (Texas), which are the two teams that routed the Patriots in their only losses this season. If Peyton Waters (Washington) is indeed the best player on the field, then Birmingham could have edge.
Prediction: Acalanes 30, Birmingham 24.
Marin Catholic of Kentfield (NCS D3) vs. Mayfair of Lakewood (CIFSS D7)
Saturday, 7 p.m., El Camino College
Records, Rankings & History: Marin Catholic 13-1 & listed on state top 50 bubble; Mayfair 12-3 and not on the bubble. For the CalPreps.com computer, it’s a big gap as Marin Catholic is at 63 and the Monsoons are at 129. Marin Catholic won its first CIF state title two years ago at home with a victory against Central Valley Christian of Visalia. The Wildcats lost in 2012 in D3 in the previous format to Madison of San Diego despite an impressive performance from QB Jared Goff. Mayfair is making its first-ever CIF state title game appearance after winning its first CIFSS title in any division since 2001.
Comments: After Marin Catholic lost to league rival San Marin, that forced the Wildcats to go down an extra division in the NCS pecking order given to the CIF for the regional games. And now that the team has beaten a McClymonds of Oakland squad that has been in the State Top 50 this season, that just shows the difficulty facing Mayfair. For head coach Derek Bedell’s team to have a chance, it will have to play its best game of the season. Marin Catholic also has an elite running back in Charles Williams and Mayfair is going to have to slow him down, too. The Wildcats are not as good as the Warren of Downey team that handed the Monsoons one of their losses, but are probably better than Downey and definitely better than Huntington Beach (their other two losses).
Predicted Score: Marin Catholic 31, Mayfair 21.
Soquel (CCS D2) vs Jurupa Hills of Fontana (CIFSS D8)
Friday, 8 p.m., Pasadena City College
Records, Rankings & History: Soquel 12-2 & No. 73 by the computer, Jurupa Hills 9-6 & No. 156 by computer. Neither school has been to a CIF state championship before. Soquel won its first ever CIF Central Coast Section title with a D2 shutout of Christopher (Gilroy). Jurupa Hills won its second ever CIFSS title in D8 with a 21-14 win against Charter Oak (Covina).
Comments: After losing in its first game to Los Gatos, which look above is playing for the CIF D2-A state title, Soquel has had an impressive season. Its only other loss has been to a Salinas squad that was D1 for the CCS playoffs and had to play Serra (SM) in the first round. Wins against Christopher in the CCS D2 final and last week over Casa Roble of Orangevale in the NorCal final also displayed strength. Jurupa Hills has been on a great run since just getting into the CIFSS playoffs as an at-large team. DB Michael Ephraim was our SoCal Defensive Player of the Week after he had a 30-yard fumble return TD and picked off a pass in the end zone that clinched the win in the section final. It seems like the Spartans will need to come up with at least one defensive touchdown to beat the Knights.
Predicted Score: Soquel 28, Jurupa Hills 14.
Palma of Salinas (CCS D3) vs Mission Oak of Tulare (Central Sec D3)
Saturday, 3 p.m., Pasadena City College.
Records, Rankings & History: Palma 10-4 & No. 136 by CalPreps.com, Mission Oak 10-5 & No. 171 by computer. Palma is among the state leaders for schools that have won section titles with 12 and they once won 18 straight league championships, but the Chieftains have never been to a state final before. This also is the first time that a team from Monterey County is playing for a CIF state title. Mission Oak also has never been to a CIF state final before and won its first CIF Central Section title two weeks ago.
Comments: This is another division in which the NorCal team has to be favored despite playing further from home unlike the last two years when it was playing home games in the lower divisions. Palma’s situation is a bit different since a forfeit loss pushed it perhaps lower by one division in the CCS than it may have been. The Chieftains only lost 14-7 to Soquel (see above) as the Knights scored on a late touchdown with three minutes left to win a close game. Mission Oak has shown some explosiveness on offense behind senior QB Daniel Gonzalez and has Kenny Jackson returning kicks and making big plays.
Prediction: Palma 35, Mission Oak 24.
Pleasant Valley of Chico (Northern Sec D2) vs Ramona of Riverside (CIFSS D11)
Friday, 8 p.m. at El Camino College.
Records, Rankings & History: Pleasant Valley 10-3 & No. 129 by the computer; Ramona is 10-5 & No. 198 by the computer. PV, of course, is most known for being the alma mater of future NFL Hall of Fame QB Aaron Rodgers, but under head coach Mark Cooley has been a dominant program in its section. The Vikings also enter this game 2-0 all-time in CIF state finals with a win in 2016 in D4-A over St. Anthony of Long Beach and a win in 2018 in D4-AA over Central Valley Christian of Visalia. Ramona is making its first-ever CIF state title game appearance.
Comments: Looking at the computer rankings and the way that the Vikings took care of Chico to avenge one of their losses in the section final and the way they played last week against Miramonte of Orinda makes them favored in this matchup. The Rams did have to beat the CIFSS D10 champion last week (Torrance) and they did as the D11 champion. A player to watch is Royce Mendoza of Ramona, who has nine interceptions on the season and had his fourth pick-six touchdown in last week’s game. We don’t know for sure if five is a state record but Hakim Reynolds from Grant of Sacramento also has four this season and he also still has one game left.
Prediction: Pleasant Valley 28, Ramona 21.
Woodland Christian (SJS D7) vs Banning of Wilmington (LA City D1)
Saturday, 3 p.m. at El Camino College.
Records, Rankings & History: Woodland Christian 14-0 & No. 153 by the computer. Banning 9-6 & No. 241 in the computer rankings. This is the first-ever state title game appearance by Woodland Christian. Banning also is making its first appearance, but of course has a legendary history in the LA City Section. The Pilots were State Team of the Year for 1976 and 1980 under head coach Chris Ferragamo, the brother of Banning alum and Super Bowl QB Vince Ferragamo.
Comments: Woodland Christian is the only 14-0 team in this week’s state finals and since all of the other CIF state champions from last year now all have losses (thanks to Mission Viejo’s win last week over Granite Hills and San Marin falling to Acalanes) that also makes the Cardinals the team with the longest current win streak in the state. Despite the differences in school size and longtime history, the computer makes Woodland Christian the favorite. Its win over Orland last week (defending champion in this division) was impressive and so was its win over Ripon Christian in the Sac-Joaquin Section D7 play-in game. Banning has turned it around in recent weeks, but all the way to win this game? We shall see.
Predicted Score: Woodland Christian 22, Banning 21.
St. Vincent de Paul of Petaluma (NCS D6) vs Wasco (Central Sec D5)
Friday, 4 p.m. at Pasadena City College.
Records, Rankings & History: St. Vincent de Paul 12-2 and No. 175 by the CalPreps computer. Wasco 9-5 and No. 397. After falling short in NorCal regional finals twice, St. Vincent broke through last week at home over Palo Alto and is looking to win its first CIF state title. Wasco has never been in a CIF state final, but in 2012 it had an unbeaten team in the Central Section that was not selected to play in one of the regional games under the previous five division format. There was an outcry, local politicians got involved and it did influence the CIF to switch to its current format of all CIF section championship teams getting a guaranteed regional game.
Comments: You would assume that Wasco is a school at more of a comfort level for St. Vincent than Palo Alto from last week. Paly is a school that has won a state title at a much higher division and comes from the same league as Los Gatos (see above). Wasco is more of a legit small school. And looking at the vast difference in computer rankings, it should be especially hard for the Tigers to stay even with the Mustangs.
Prediction: St. Vincent de Paul 34, Wasco 20.
Colusa (Northern Sec D4) vs Sweetwater of National City (SD Sec D5)
Saturday, 11 a.m. at El Camino College.
Records, Rankings & History: Colusa 13-0 and No. 256 by the computer. Sweetwater 8-6 and No. 448 by the computer. Neither team has won a CIF state title before nor has been in a state final before. Sweetwater had a team in 1984 that was unbeaten and was named D2 State Team of the Year.
Comments: Again, there’s a huge difference in computer rankings in this game with the NorCal team coming in almost 200 spots higher in the state. Colusa at 13-0 also is one of just three undefeated teams left in the state along with Woodland Christian and Serra (San Mateo). The Cardinals are known for their defense and held South San Francisco to just one late score in last week’s NorCal final. Sweetwater has bounced back from an 0-4 start and has become one of the most effective rushing teams in the San Diego Section regardless of class. The Red Devils in fact could become one of just a few or the first (we don’t quite know which one) team in state history to have four 1,000-yard rushers if QB Zaryan Crews can rush for 73 yards in this game. Xzavier Crews, Izell Wright and Carlos Delgado have already gone past 1,000. We really tried to look hard to go against the computer in one of these lower division games and this is the one we did it for.
Prediction: Sweetwater 27, Colusa 26.
Ferndale (NCS D7) vs Fairfax of Los Angeles (LA City D3)
Friday, 4 p.m. at El Camino College.
Records, Rankings & History: Ferndale 10-4 and No. 401 by computer. Fairfax 10-4 and No. 577 by computer. Neither team has won a CIF state title before nor has been in a CIF state final before. Ferndale had a great run of teams in the early 2000s, which included 11-1 in 2002, 12-1 in 2003, 11-1 in 2004, 11-2 in 2005 and 11-1 in 2006.
Comments: Ferndale had two league losses to Arcata, which was later in a higher NCS playoff division, and took advantage in the lower division with solid wins over St. Helena, Clear Lake and Willits. An eye-opening 32-7 win over unbeaten Portola from the Northern Section then came last week. Fairfax was the SoCal team that got a bye directly into the state final after winning the L.A. City title over Chatsworth. Ivan Levant has thrown for 44 TDs for the Lions, but this was another division we picked in which we couldn’t go against the large difference in computer rankings.
Prediction: Ferndale 21, Fairfax 13.
Strathmore (Central Sec D5) vs. Bell Gardens (CIFSS D14)
Saturday, 11 a.m. at Pasadena City College.
Records, Rankings & History: Strathmore 11-4 & No. 488 by the MaxPreps/CalPreps computer. Bell Gardens 10-5 & No. 676 by the computer. Strathmore has won a CIF state title before. The Spartans went down to Southern California to win that one as well in 2017 with a triumph in the D6-AA final over Orange that also capped a 16-0 season. They almost repeated in 2018, but lost in the regional final to Hilmar. Bell Gardens has not been in a CIF state final before.
Comments: Head coach Jeromy Blackwell of the Spartans knows how to win in these state/regional games and his team has upped its game over the last few weeks. Bell Gardens did a nice job slowing down the running game of L.A. Jordan in last week’s regional final and can take this one if the defense plays like that again. Still, it’s almost 200 spots of a difference in the computer rankings. Are they all going to be completely wrong?
Prediction: Strathmore 26, Bell Gardens 22
Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle.