There is only one certainty about Friday’s start to the Central Coast Section football playoffs. After tonight, the eight-team field of San Mateo County teams vying for a CCS trophy will be down to seven — that’s because two of the Peninsula Athletic League division champions, Burlingame and Hillsdale, will collide as part of a seven-game docket.
Other than that, we only know the PAL goes into the 2013 version of the CCS playoffs with the most No. 1 seeds it has ever had as three of the five brackets are fronted by a Peninsula teams. But while that might mean to some people a team is favored, the reality of CCS is, with the top 40 teams distributed through the five brackets, nothing is for certain — all fans (and reporters) have are questions.
1. How legitimate are No. 1 Terra Nova’s chances in the Open Division?
If you’d had a chance to see the Tigers play this season, you know they’re for real. And head coach Bill Gray for years has subjected his team to a grueling non-league schedule to prepare them for the section’s beyond-loaded Open division. This might be the year it pays dividends. Terra Nova beat the WCAL’s St. Ignatius, fellow Open division member Pioneer and Oakland power Bishop O’Dowd in non-league play by an average score of 50-28. So, Terra Nova is no slouch and they’re the No. 1 seed in the entire CCS for a reason.
That said, since CCS rules state that no team in the Open that play in the same league can face each other during the first round, Terra Nova will have to prove just how good they are by facing a maximum of three West Catholic Athletic League teams. Valley Christian finished third in the WCAL and is 7-3 overall. Additionally, they’re getting healthy and will throw a trio of great running backs at the Terra Nova defense (Kirk Johnson, Tre McCloud and Mark Quinby). To prove their legitimacy, the Tigers will have to break a WCAL-CCS hex — Terra Nova is 0-5 against that league in postseason play, losing by an average score of 43-15.
2. Which Serra team are we getting?
In No. 2 Serra’s defense, its two losses this season haven’t been for a lack of effort and heart — no one prepares his players better in that regard than head coach Patrick Walsh. The question leans more toward whether CCS will see the razor sharp and mistake-free Padres, or the Serra that was a couple of turnovers away from going into CCS with an unblemished 10-0 record.
Few expect No. 7 Pioneer to give Serra too much of an issue. But, after Pioneer, lurks a potential matchup with WCAL nemesis and recent Achilles’ heel Bellarmine College Prep, who has knocked the Padres out of CCS the last two years. Serra does have a win against the Bells this year already. If the Padres arrive in these playoffs firing on all cylinders, they have to be considered the team to be in the section’s toughest division.
3. Is M-A primed for a deep run in Division II?
CCS’ DII is stacked. But the No. 3 seed for the Bears is well-deserved and the Bears are very prepared to make a championship game return like they did two seasons ago.
Oak Grove, with its defense, will be a formidable road block, but Isiah Nash is healthy and running the ball with confidence. A win against the Eagles Friday night sets up a potential rematch with No. 2 Los Gatos — a team the Bears have already beaten this season.
The key for M-A will be whether they can stay disciplined — late-game mental toughness in avoiding back-breaking penalties and lapses on defense will dictate how far M-A goes in Division II.
4. Who is Burlingame’s biggest threat in Division III?
Believe it or not, it’s the 2-8 St. Ignatius Wildcats. If there was ever a time not to judge a team by its record, this would be it — the term “best 2-8 team ever” has been thrown around a couple of times.
Burlingame is like a well-oiled machine right now. Hillsdale, their quarterfinal opponent, is very athletic and might give them issues. But the Panthers are just too efficient and confident to lose Friday night — no disrespect to the Lake champions.
That means a game with WCAL power, and reigning Open Division champion St. Ignatius — who despite its record, has been in every single league game they’ve played. The Wildcats will be a giant test for the Panthers. Burlingame can take a bit of solace in knowing S.I. has lost to a pair of PAL teams this year already, though.
5. Should we count out Hillsdale out already then?
No. Don’t do that. Like Burlingame, Hillsdale is a very confident team coming into Friday’s game. They’re a team that can score and is very well balanced. In addition, the Knights proved last week they can hang with PAL Ocean teams after losing by just two points to Aragon in a game that went back and forth throughout.
Hillsdale’s best chance comes in trying to run the ball with Giancarlo Bosacci and having Cole Carrithers pick his spots with Brandon Butcher and Shawn Charan in the middle of the field. They’ll need to eliminate the big play on defense as well if they have a chance.
6. How many teams will Aragon play against?
Talking to Dons head coach Steve Sell, you get the sense he knows that if his team does not beat itself, a very good No. 2 Aptos team is beatable. Aptos ran through its league schedule like a hot knife through butter and without a doubt the Dons pose the toughest challenge they’ve had since Week 4 of the season.
But like Sell said earlier this week, Aragon has to stop shooting itself in the foot and, in a sense, stop playing against itself with costly turnovers at the most expensive of times. A clean football game by the Dons can translate into an opening round CCS upset.
7. Does Sacred Heart Prep have the necessary experience to repeat as Division IV champs?
Yes, the Gators do. The fear here is that last year’s championship squad had great senior leadership at the quarterback and safety positions and that replacing them would be tough for the Gators. So far, with a 9-1 record, it appears SHP has had no issues there.
The interesting thing will be observing the Gators when they hit a bit of adversity. Talent-wise, especially on the defensive side of the ball, this SHP team can repeat as champions. Also, watch out for the Gators’ health — a couple of nagging injuries have kept the SHP offense in check for a couple of weeks now. They’ve had to rely heavily on that defense and, come championship time, they’ll need those explosive plays that have made them one of the section’s best this season on both sides of the ball.
8. How healthy is Jack Heneghan?
It’s the most important question in the Division IV bracket. After an injury during the M-A loss, Heneghan sat out the Valparaiso Bowl and a team that was averaging over 40 points a game put up three. Without Heneghan, No. 5 Monterey’s chances are very good against the Knights. With Heneghan, there’s no reason to believe we won’t be in for a rematch of last season’s Division IV championship game in SHP versus Menlo in the DIV semifinal.
With Heneghan at the helm, Menlo is a championship-caliber football team.