There will be plenty on the line when 10 teams take the field this week as five North Coast Section football titles go up for grabs. We dig into each matchup and give our predictions.
MATCHUP: No. 1 DE LA SALLE (12-0) vs. No. 3 PITTSBURG (10-2)
HISTORY: When it comes to this matchup, there’s nothing but history. De La Salle is seeking a 23rd straight NCS title. And as most Bay Area football fans know by now, the last time the Spartans failed to win an NCS title, it was Pittsburg who beat them (35-27 in 1992). Pittsburg has three NCS titles on its resume, the others having come in 1980 and 1985. These teams last met for the title in 2009 with De La Salle winning 49-14.
DE LA SALLE KEYS TO VICTORY: Protect the football. As good as the Pittsburg defense is, De La Salle’s dominant run game and sneaky-efficient passing game should allow the Spartans to move the ball against the Pirates. But the DLS ball carriers can’t afford to be careless. A couple of turnovers could go a long way in keeping Pittsburg in the game much longer than the Spartans would prefer.
PITTSBURG KEYS TO VICTORY: Stop the run and limit big plays. Every good defense that lines up against De La Salle makes stopping the run its top priority, but it’s easier said than done. The Pirates haven’t had a defense this good in at least five seasons, and in it’s top form, it may be able to keep De La Salle close into the second half. To do that, it will need to limit big chunk plays and make the Spartans grind out drives. A good night from Pittsburg’s erratic offense would be a big help too, allowing the defense to rest a bit.
CIF BOWL IMPLICATIONS: With a victory, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that De La Salle would earn a direct berth into the CIF Open Div. State Bowl game. A new rule passed this fall eliminated a regional playoff for the Open Div., so the Spartans would get a bye to prepare for the Southern representative named by the CIF on Dec. 7. Should Pittsburg pull off the upset, it would almost certainly get heavy consideration for a bid into CIF Div. I regional playoff.
PREDICTION: De La Salle 38, Pittsburg 7
MATCHUP: No. 1 CLAYTON VALLEY CHARTER (13-0) vs. No. 2 CONCORD (12-1)
HISTORY: Bitter rivals meet for yet another installment of a matchup that has heavily influenced the Div. II landscape in recent years. Clayton Valley Charter captured the 2012 title and Concord won it in 2010. The two met in the 2012 semifinals, with CVC winning 49-22. Last season, the Eagles made it to the semifinals while the Minutemen reached the quarters.
CLAYTON VALLEY CHARTER KEYS TO VICTORY: Finish strong. After racing out to a 26-point lead in the first half, the Eagles outlasted Concord in the second half for a 48-40 win earlier this season. If running back Miles Harrison continues his prolific season and CVC’s defense can make just a handful of stops, the Eagles should be in good shape.
CONCORD KEYS TO VICTORY: Don’t dig a hole. Despite falling behind so early in the first matchup with the Eagles, Concord had all the momentum at the end before a key interception ended the comeback attempt. If the Minutemen keep their emotions in check and continue their season-long offensive assault, the game will be close yet again.
CIF BOWL IMPLICATIONS: The road to a CIF Northern Regional game is extremely simple for both teams; win, and you’re in. Clayton Valley ranks No. 1 and Concord No. 2 in the latest CalHiSports.com rankings and the winner of this game can plan on playing one week later with a trip to Carson on the line.
PREDICTION: Clayton Valley 49, Concord 47
MATCHUP: No. 1 CAMPOLINDO (13-0) vs. No. 3 MARIN CATHOLIC (10-3)
HISTORY: It’s not a stretch by any standard to label these two programs as the most dominant Div. III teams in the Bay Area since 2011. Since that season, Campolindo has compiled a record of 48-4 with an NCS title and CIF State Bowl appearance in 2011 while Marin Catholic has gone 49-7 with an NCS title and State Bowl appearance in 2012. Marin Catholic is actually making its fourth straight finals appearance. The Wildcats have nine NCS titles and Campolindo has two. These teams last matched up for a final in 2011 with Campolindo winning 20-18 on a last-second FG.
CAMPOLINDO KEYS TO VICTORY: Establish the run and create turnovers. Senior RB Nick Fadelli is having a fantastic season, and when he’s getting 5-to-6 yards per carry, the Cougars offense is virtually unstoppable. His success sets up the passing game for QB Jack Stephens. Marin Catholic will do its best to keep that offense off the field, so forcing turnovers (like the Cougars 4 INTs in a semifinal win over Analy) will be huge.
MARIN CATHOLIC KEYS TO VICTORY: Win the line of scrimmage. That goes for both sides of the ball. If the Marin Catholic defensive front can win the point of attack, it’s going to go a long way in limiting Fadelli’s rushing success and will also help put pressure on Stephens. On offense, the Wildcats O-line will want to give multi-threat QB Darius Peterson as many chances to make plays as possible.
CIF BOWL IMPLICATIONS: As of Nov. 28, Campolindo hadn’t budged from the top spot in CalHiSports.com’s Div. III North bowl rankings. The Cougars should certainly get a nod to compete in a regional playoff the following week. If Marin Catholic wins, the Wildcats would probably need a few other championship games to end in upset in order to receive an invite to the party.
PREDICTION: Campolindo 34, Marin Catholic 24
MATCHUP: No. 1 ST. MARY’S-BERKELEY (11-1) vs. No. 3 JUSTIN-SIENA-NAPA (10-3)
HISTORY: This is the second year in a row St. Mary’s will appear in the D-IV title game, and this year they won’t have to wait a week to do it. Last season, the Panthers’ trip was waylaid due to poor weather before St. Mary’s eventually traveled to Humboldt State the following weekend and beat Fortuna 49-21 to win their first NCS football title. Justin-Siena last won in 2012, giving the Braves their second title in the past decade (2008).
ST. MARY’S KEYS TO VICTORY: Keep the offensive train rolling. The Panthers have combined for 103 points in their two playoff victories, and the backfield duo of Tamarick Pierce and Stevie Harvey combined for nearly 300 yards rushing in a semifinal blowout of San Marin. Quarterback Ryan Jenkins will also factor heavily for a team that is by no means one-dimensional.
JUSTIN-SIENA KEYS TO VICTORY: Defense wins championships. The Braves have allowed just 13 points per game this season and own four shutouts. Take away a 49-0 loss at Northern Section powerhouse Sutter and that figure drops to a paltry 10 points per game. If Justin-Siena can take away one facet of St. Mary’s offense and force the Panthers to rely on the other exclusively, the Braves will be in the hunt.
CIF BOWL IMPLICATIONS: Both teams appear to be on the outside looking in at a CIF Northern Regional berth. St. Mary’s is ranked fifth in CalHiSports.com’s latest Division III bowl rankings while Justin-Siena isn’t ranked at all. A Panthers win would actually go a fair way towards bolstering Salesian’s case for a spot in the Division IV regional game since the Pride would then have a win over a section champ.
PREDICTION: St. Mary’s 21, Justin-Siena 20.
MATCHUP: No. 1 SALESIAN (11-1) vs. No. 3 ST. HELENA (12-1)
HISTORY: The last five years have belonged to Salesian when it comes to NCS titles as the Pride added last year’s Division V title to back to back D-IV crowns won in 2010 and ’11. St. Helena is chasing its first section title since 1977, but the Saints are making the drop this year after consistently reaching the D-IV playoffs in recent seasons.
SALESIAN KEYS TO VICTORY: Keep doing what you’re doing. The mixture of great senior leadership and an influx of talented sophomores has produced a team that is among the region’s best on both sides of the ball. In a semifinal win over Stellar Prep, the Pride rushed for over 400 yards led by 207 from senior Charles Hillary. In two playoff games Salesian has outscored its opponents 89-20.
ST. HELENA KEYS TO VICTORY: Make the big play first. In the Saints’ 37-14 semifinal win over St. Bernard Catholic, an 82-yard interception return by Robert Archer gave St. Helena an early 14-point lead. Salesian has relied on its own big plays all season, so if the Saints can break one first, they’ll put early pressure on the Pride to respond.
CIF BOWL IMPLICATIONS: St. Helena was ranked eighth in the last Cal-HiSports.com, so the section final will serve as the Saints’ last stand. Salesian’s situation is far more vague. McClymonds’ appeal to overturn forfeits for using an ineligible player was denied, adding a win to a Pride squad that now has only a loss to an Inderkum-Sacramento team that has also emerged as a Division II bowl contender. Salesian entered semifinals weekend ranked fourth in Division IV behind Central Catholic-Modesto, McClymonds and Capital Christian-Sacramento though, and both Central Valley teams are in as section champs. So, while there remains an outside shot for Salesian based on strength of schedule, the Pride might be in the unenviable position of first team out come Selection Sunday.
PREDICTION: Salesian 31, St. Helena 24
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