By Zach Cavanagh
After grinding from training camps in July through season finales on Nov. 1, the CIF-SS football playoffs have finally arrived.
Four San Juan Capistrano high school football teams earned their way into the CIF-SS postseason, with three playing on the opening Friday, Nov. 8, and two earning home games as league champions.
Let’s dive into the city’s CIF-SS playoff schedules and outlook for each playoff team:
San Juan Hills
The Stallions (7-3) won their second straight league title with another undefeated run through the Sea View League and host Murrieta Mesa (3-7) in the Division 4 first round on Friday, Nov. 8 at 7 p.m.
San Juan Hills earned the No. 4 seed in the Division 4 bracket with stout defensive play and an ever-improving offense.
“We’re excited,” Stallions coach Rob Frith said. “Any time you can be one of the top four seeds, you’ve put yourselves in a place to make a run. There’s some tough teams in the bracket, but we’ve known that all along. For six to eight teams in the bracket, they have a shot.”
San Juan Hills is fortified with senior leaders at every position, including leading tackler Bryce Crider (78 tackles), sacks leader Tyler Wegis (6.5 sacks), leading rusher Austin Hogan and leading receiver Joey Hobert.
Murrieta Mesa is one of 17 sub-.500 teams to make the CIF-SS postseason, but the Rams come from a league that saw all six of its teams make the playoffs. Division 7 Temecula Valley and Division 2 Vista Murrieta split the Southwestern League title; Murrieta Valley was also in Division 2 and Chaparral and Great Oak also slide into the Division 4 field.
San Juan Hills knows it’s a jump in competition from the Sea View League to Division 4, and the Stallions won’t take Murrieta Mesa lightly in spite of its record.
“For us, the motivation is easy,” Frith said. “You win or turn in your gear. You can’t have a hiccup. For seniors, your high school career would be over. We look at everybody like the ‘85 Bears.”
If the Stallions advance, San Juan Hills would either host Hart of Saugus or travel to Chaparral of Temecula on Nov. 15.
Though the Lions (6-4) finished fourth in the Trinity League, they still put together a resume strong enough to earn a selection into the elite eight-team Division 1 bracket. With the selection, all Division 1 teams earn a bye week before starting their postseason on Nov. 15, when JSerra will travel to No. 3 seed Centennial of Corona (8-2).
However, it’s not all good news for JSerra. The Lions lost their Cal-committed running back Chris Street to a broken fibula in the regular season finale loss to Mater Dei. Street, who also recently received an offer from USC, had 547 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.
Softening the blow for JSerra is that junior speedster Sammy Green has actually been the Lions’ leading rusher this season with 557 yards and seven touchdowns. Green gets yardage in chunks, with an average of 7.7 yards per carry.
Centennial is a beast, year in and year out. The Huskies are a top-five team in the state and a top-25 team in the nation. Centennial’s only two losses are to national No. 1 Mater Dei and San Diego Open Division No. 2 seed Cathedral Catholic. The Huskies blew out their league competition to the tune of a 52-point average margin of victory.
Division 1’s other first-round matchups on Nov. 15 are No. 1 Mater Dei against Bishop Amat, No. 2 St. John Bosco against Calabasas and No. 4 Mission Viejo against Servite.
If JSerra manages the upset, the Lions would likely get a league rematch against St. John Bosco in the Division 1 semifinals on Nov. 22.
The Tartans (9-1) captured the San Joaquin League championship and earned a first-round home game in Division 6 against a tough Los Altos of Hacienda Heights (8-2) on Friday, Nov. 8, at 7 p.m.
St. Margaret’s dominated its league of Division 12 and 14 schools by a combined score of 147-7 in three games, and the Tartans know it’s a steep climb back to Division 6 and larger public school competition.
The opener against Los Altos could end up as a shootout, with both teams leaning on their passing attack.
Senior quarterback Jake Carreon has led the Tartans all season with the help of one of the county’s most productive receivers in Cornell commit Will Kenner (866 yards, 14 TDs) and a reliable complement in sophomore Cooper Barkate (417 yards, six TDs).
Los Altos split time with two quarterbacks, but its unquestioned leading receiver is Zedekiah Rodriquez, who caught 19 passes for 703 yards and 10 TDs.
If St. Margaret’s advances, the Tartans will be on the road at La Serna or Warren on Nov. 15.
Capistrano Valley Christian
The Eagles (7-3) have made the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since a stretch of three in a row from 2012-2014.
CVC opens on the road in Division 14 in what will be the first-ever CIF-SS playoff game for No. 3 seed Portola of Irvine. Portola (9-1) captured the Pacific Coast League championship in the Bulldogs’ second season of varsity competition.
Portola features a strong balance on offense with 1,190 yards passing and 19 touchdowns from senior quarterback Brandon Yue and 791 yards rushing and 15 TDs from sophomore Nova Kebeli.
CVC has also been incredibly balanced with 1,358 yards passing and 20 TDs from senior Tyler Henry and 1,004 yards rushing and 13 TDs from senior Rome Demongin. Senior Simeon Marton has been the go-to receiver with 1,026 yards and 17 touchdowns.
But that’s where the equality stops. Portola has 55 players on its roster, and the Eagles, when healthy, have only 21.
Health is a major factor as well, as Henry took a shot to the head late in the regular season finale against St. Margaret’s.
If CVC can get past this opening test, the Eagles would host either Trinity Classical Academy or South Torrance on Nov. 15.
Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is a California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports.