- Christopher Lawlor, High School Basketball
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This is the second of a three part series chronicling the postseason for teams from the West Region in the ESPN HIGH Elite 25 high school football rankings. Other western states such as Utah, Oregon, and Nevada also are profiled. Previously, the East and Midwest were analyzed. Next up is the Southland, the Elite 25's power region. The nation's football postseason stretches until Dec. 21, when Texas' large schools (Class 5A) crown champions in Division I and II. The Elite 25 final rankings will be released Christmas Day.
Bob Ladouceur, head coach of California football powerhouse De La Salle High in Concord, never wants to experience that feeling again; ditto for his senior tight end/linebacker Brady Amack.
"I was disappointed," Amack said of De La Salle's loss in last year's inaugural California Interscholastic Federation Football Championship Bowl.
"We beat ourselves," Ladouceur lamented.
In a historical game, the nation's winningest high school coach by win-percentage -- Ladouceur has won 94% of his games (328-20-3) since 1979 at the all-male Roman Catholic college preparatory school -- couldn't find an edge. Inept play by the Spartans and an opportunistic Canyon (Canyon Country) offense equaled a 27-13 decision in the Division I (large school) final.
Canyon's victory gave Southern California a sweep of the three CIF bowl games or state championships against their Northern brethren.
"All the bad stuff that happened was self-inflicted," Ladouceur said.
De La Salle, No. 11 in the ESPN HIGH Elite 25 high school football rankings, is ready for redemption. First, the Spartans (9-0) must close out the regular season Friday night against Ygnacio Valley (Concord) and then capture the North Coast Section, Class 4A East Bay title. Another sectional title would be the school's 16th consecutive.
The CIF State Championship Bowl Games will be held at the Home Depot Center in Carson (near Los Angeles) on Dec. 15. Three bowl games pitting teams from the Northern and Southern California based on enrollment and other criteria serve as state championships.
Before the 2006 season, California crowned class or division winners from the CIF's 10 sections.
Northern teams drawn from member section schools from: Central Coast, North Coast, Northern, Oakland, San Francisco and Sac-Joaquin. Southern schools will be comprised of member schools of the: Central, Los Angeles, Southern and San Diego sections.
The three bowl game pairings in Division I, II, and III will be chosen on Dec. 9 by the 10 section commissioners.
Among the qualifying criteria the commissioners will consider are:
• Section champions can only qualify and will be placed in their respective enrollment divisions, regardless of what division they competed within sectional play
• Won-loss percentage in non-league, league, and playoffs
• Strength of schedule (point differentials in final scores of games do not factor)
• Head to head competition
• Common opponents
De La Salle will likely receive the top seed when the eight-team bracket is released Sunday, but Ladouceur expects James Logan (Union City), San Leandro, and California High (San Ramon) to be in the mix.
In Southern California, it's not so easy. Far too many permutations come into play as the regular season heads into the final weekend in the Southern and Los Angeles sections.
No. 17 Mater Dei High of Santa Ana held destiny in its hands a week ago, but an unexpected 31-12 loss to Orange Lutheran tightened the race in the Pac-5 Division and Trinity League standings.
"We were due for a semi-average performance," Mater Dei Coach Bruce Rollinson said. "We sat around for two weeks without a game and then the kids watched them (Orange Lutheran) get knocked by Servite."
Two weeks ago, then-No. 2 Mater Dei was cruising and atop the Southern California football landscape. The Monarchs' game with St. John Bosco on Oct. 26 was then cancelled by the wildfires, which ravaged the region and resulted in poor air quality.
Momentum left Mater Dei and sided with Orange Lutheran, who clamped down on the Monarchs' high-powered offense, led by high-profile junior quarterback Matt Barkley.
So, that's why Friday's game against Servite (Anaheim) at Angels Stadium of Anaheim is vital. A crowd of 30,000 is expected for a game which will decide the Trinity League champion and jostle the Pac-5 seedings (which will be released Sunday).
A Mater Dei win Friday creates a three-way tie for the league title (Orange Lutheran plays J. Serra of Capistrano on Friday and will likely win convincingly). In that case, a coin flip by the three principals of each school determines the final order for seeding purposes.
"My principal (Ms. Frances Clare) is Irish; maybe she'll bring us luck (in that scenario)," Rollinson said, smiling.
The Southern Section will likely send all three representatives from its 13 divisions to the bowl games for the second straight year. Oaks Christian-Westlake Village (Division III) and Orange Lutheran (Division II) joined Canyon as champions in the first-year final.
Depending on this weekend's results, the Southern Section seeding committee will look closely at Poly (Long Beach), Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks), Servite, Mater Dei, Orange Lutheran, Mission Viejo, Crespi (Encino), Esperanza (Anaheim) and San Clemente in the Pac-5's 16-team tournament, which kicks off Nov. 16.
In the Inland Division, No. 22 Centennial (Corona) is 8-1 and the favorite, but Redland East Valley and Vista Murietta, Miller (Fontana) and Norco are contenders. The Northern Division could boil down to St. Bonaventure (Ventura) and regionally-ranked Hart (Newhall). If St. Bonnies wins, it qualifies for Division III final. If Hart wins it would be in contention for the Division I bid.
Ed Croson, the head coach of Birmingham High in Lake Balboa, Calif., does not mince the words.
"We're ready," he said Thursday afternoon, the eve of Birmingham's final regular season football game against league rivals Taft (Woodland Hills).
The Patriots, the defending Los Angeles-City Section champion, are eyeing a fourth section crown in six years. If the Patriots take the city title, Croson's club would have a shot to represent SoCal in the Division I game.
"It would be vindication for the whole Los Angeles (City Section)," Croson said. "Not so much as what happens but what we will do with it (the opportunity)."
After an opening season 20-6 loss to Crespi (Encino), the Patriots are white-hot, winning eight straight. They've only surrendered two touchdowns in four West Valley League games. UCLA-bound running back Milton Knox has rushed for 1,226 yards and 23 TDs and owns all the section's rushing records.
"Milton's in great company," Croson said. "Charles White (a Heisman Trophy winner), Freeman McNeil (New York Jets), and Anthony Davis (NFL and USC) have played in the section, makes his accomplishment more significant."
In the West Region, California is the strongest state, but there are plenty of subplots in other states.
The state's large-school (Class 5A), like Texas, splits into two divisions (16 teams each, four rounds) to crown champions. No. 15 Hamilton (Chandler) was tabbed the top seed and opens with Mesquite (Gilbert) in the 5A, Division I tournament.
If history repeats, the Huskies will advance to their fifth consecutive 5A final. No one said it would be easy, though.
The road to University of Phoenix Stadium (home of this year's Super Bowl) on Dec. 8 is full of traps. The biggest obstacle is a potential meeting with fourth-seed Brophy Prep (Phoenix) in the semifinals. In 2005, Brophy beat the Huskies, 15-14, in the 5A final but they rebounded in 2006 to defeat Mountain View (Mesa), 34-15, claiming a third state championship in four years. This season, Hamilton thumped Brophy, 29-6.
The first two rounds are hosted by higher seeds, with the semifinals at a neutral site.
In the other Division I bracket, Hamilton has already beaten three teams -- Chandler, Red Mountain (Mesa), and Gilbert -- of the eight seeds. No. 2-seed Red Mountain (8-2) lost to the Huskies, 23-0, on Sept. 20 and enters the postseason following a 24-0 loss to Mesa. If the seeds hold, Mountain View and Mesa would meet in the semifinals.
The first postseason salvo was fired on the island of Oahu when perennial powerhouse Kahuku lost to Kapolei, 14-7, in Oahu Red (Division I) quarterfinals. Kapolei lost last weekend but plays Farrington in the Oahu third-place game, while Leilehua and Waianae play for the Oahu Red (public schools) title Friday at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. The top three Oahu finishers receive berths in the Division I six-team tournament.
Saint Louis (Honolulu), 10-0, already punched its ticket to the Division I state semifinals on Nov. 24 by winning the Interscholastic League of Honolulu (private schools) title. Saint Louis, which outscored opponents, 342-124, must wait 20 days for the remainder of the bracket to fill out.
Division I (large school) is comprised of 25 schools on the three most populated islands of Oahu, Hawaii and Maui. The ILH and Oahu Red champions receive automatic byes to the semifinals. The third-place Oahu winner plays the Maui champion, Baldwin (8-1), and Oahu runner-up plays the Big Island champion, either Waiakea or Kealakeha, in the two quarterfinals. The final is Nov. 30 at Aloha Stadium.
Most feel it's cut-and-dry in Class 5A, with regionally-ranked Mullen (Denver) and Columbine (Littleton) likely advancing to the final on Dec. 1 at Invesco Field at Mile High. Both teams advanced to the second round with easy victories last weekend. Top-ranked Columbine, the defending state champion, plays Pomona-Arvada (7-3), while Mullen (10-0) meets Chatfield-Littleton (7-3), both on Saturday.
Columbine's game with Pomona is a true barometer. Last month, the Rebels edged Pomona, 21-7, marking the team's closest margin of victory this season. Columbine, the Metro West champions, are run-oriented with running backs Orenzo Davis (1,231 yards rushing, 13 TDs) and Jeff Cicchinelli (910 yards, 10 TDs) bolstering the attack. The Rebels bracket also contains Heritage, Grandview and Cherry Creek. If Heritage (10-1) wins a second-round game, it faces Cherry Creek-Englewood Village (8-2) or Grandview (8-2) in the quarterfinals. Quarterback Jack Elway, the son of Hall of Famer John Elway, controls the Cherry Creek offense. Elway, an Arizona State recruit, has completed 56% of his passes (129 of 227) for 2,020 yards and 24 TDs and only four interceptions. Grandview-Aurora rallied to beat CC, 37-34, last month when it scored the game-winner with 12 seconds left in the fourth.
Mullen, coached by former Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos wide receiver Dave Logan, has won its last six games by an average of nearly 36 points. The Mustangs have a balanced attack with four runners -- Adonis Ameen Moore (893 yards), Josh Ford (436), Jonathan Gay (397) and Derron Harris (329) -- rushing for over 300 yards. The quartet has teamed for 30 TDs and quarterback Timmy Tancik has completed 79 of 312 passes for 1,218 yards and 13 scores.
Mullen's quest for the final could be met by the challenges of Thomas Jefferson-Denver (10-0), Legacy-Broomfield (8-2) and Douglas County-Castle Rock (8-2). If Mullen advances to the quarters, waiting would be Highlands Ranch (8-2) or Legacy. Jefferson and Douglas County would play in the bracket's other quarter.
Lakes (Lakewood), No. 6 in the West Region, is one of six 10-0 teams in the Class 3A tournament. It's a quick tournament with teams playing only four games. The championship game is Nov. 30 at the Tacoma Dome.
Despite a breakthrough season, Lakes, Washington's No. 1-ranked 3A team, faces a postseason pairing quirk Saturday at 4 p.m. ET. That's because Lakes travels to unbeaten Skyline (Sammamish) in a matchup of the state's top two 3A teams. The winner faces Camas (7-3) or Kennewick (8-2) in the quarterfinals. Lakes has won most of its games by lopsided scores, with the closest being 20 points. The Lancers average 43 points per game but have allowed 85 points in the regular season.
Skyline is defensive oriented. The Spartans have three shutouts, having allowed 54 points. Skyline opened with a 6-0 win over defending 3A champion Bellevue and then topped Mercer Island, 48-13. In the next eight games, the smothering defense surrendered a high of seven points on five occasions.
Elsewhere in 3A, undefeated O'Dea (Seattle), No. 4 in the state rankings, plays Auburn (8-2) Friday night at Seattle's Memorial Stadium in a battle of top-10 clubs.
In Class 4A, top-ranked Bothell (10-0) faces a similar plight with a rugged first-round opponent, Central Kitsap-Silverdale (9-1). Bothell closed the season in convincing fashion, blanking Gig Harbor, 35-0. If Bothell advances to the semifinals, it could face unbeaten Ferris (Spokane) on the road.
The 4A tournament features four unbeatens and three teams with one loss. The final is Dec. 1 in Tacoma. Other key first-round 4A matchups involving state-ranked teams are: Edmonds-Woodway vs. Snohomish and Oak Harbor vs. Olympia.
Now the real work begins for Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas), the top-ranked Class 4A team. After a finishing 10-0 in the regular season, it needs four more victories to complete perfection.
The Gaels dominance was most evident when coaches selected seven offensive players and six defenders to the Southwest League First Team, with three more on the second team. Additionally, lineman Justin Chaisson was named the Southwest defensive player of the year and running back Keola Antolin the top offensive player. Gorman has beaten teams from five different states (including Nevada), having racked up 434 points and yielding less than 10 per game.
Gorman plays Cimarron-Memorial (Las Vegas) Friday night but would likely play Cheyenne (North Las Vegas) in the region semifinals.
In the Sunrise Region, Canyon Springs (North Las Vegas) and Silverado (Las Vegas) are the favorites and rivals Reno and McQueen (Reno) look solid in the Northern.
Nevada's 4A state tournament is fueled by three regions -- Northern (Reno area schools) and two from the Sunset (Las Vegas area) and Sunrise (Las Vegas) -- with the semifinal matchups between Northern vs. Sunrise and the two Sunset teams squaring off. The final is Dec. 1 at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas.
Classes 1A, 2A, and 3A play their semifinals Saturday. The champions will be crowned on Nov. 17.
Top-ranked Lake Oswego (9-0) has not been challenged since September. The seeds for an undefeated Class 6A regular season were sown with wins over West Albany, 29-29; Southridge (Beaverton), 21-17; and Jesuit (Portland), 21-0. The Lakers defeated cross-town rivals Lakeridge, 38-9, last weekend. Lake Oswego plays Gresham in the 6A opening round Friday and will likely meet Jesuit or Canby in the second round. The Jesuit-Lake Oswego (provide both win) survivor would face Sheldon for a berth in the semifinals.
Jesuit (6-2) hurt its seeding in the season finale, dropping a 28-27 overtime decision by missing a point-after. Jesuit, the two-time reigning state champions, has quite a postseason history having won or tied for five state titles and having won nine straight playoff games.
West Salem, Sheldon, Westview (Portland) and Tualatin received byes and need four wins to claim the title. The semifinals are Nov. 30 at PGE Park in Portland and the final is Dec. 8 at Oregon State's Reser Stadium in Corvallis.
In 5A, the top four ranks according to state rankings are West Albany, Mountain View (Bend), Ashland and Glencoe (Hillsboro). Four games kick off the tournament this weekend with the remainder of the field starting Nov. 16. The final is Dec. 8 in Corvallis.
The large school (Class 5A) playoffs have gone according to chalk through the quarterfinals. All four region top-seeds have advanced to the Friday's semifinal doubleheader at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.
The opener pits upstart American Fork (9-4) and Layton (11-1), kicking off at 8 p.m. ET. American Fork crushed upset-minded Hunter (West Valley), 41-19, in the quarterfinals and has outscored two playoff opponents, 69-40.
Layton, the favorite and traditionally a Region 1 minnow, averages 35 points per game while allowing less than 10 this season. Last week, Layton wiped out Skyline (Salt Lake City), 42-7. Layton's defense is led by Chad Wilson and Haden Lomax. A pair of 11-1 teams, Bingham (South Jordan) and Alta meet in the other semifinal. Bingham enters having won eight straight and Alta's high-powered offense, featuring quarterback Ryan Rosenvall and running back Sausan Shakerin, scored at 42-point clip. The final is Nov. 16.
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also for worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, where he ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y. and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.