November 4, 2012
Breaking down the Sac-Joaquin Section football playoff fields

Is it kickoff yet?

The Sac-Joaquin Section playoff scramble starts Thursday night with Vista del Lago playing host to Lincoln in a Division III opener. Folsom will use the home field on Friday in its D-II opener against Atwater, prompting Vista to either go with a Thursday or Saturday kickoff.

The intrigue game on Saturday at 1 p.m. is Grant at Burbank in a D-I opener between rivals. Burbank beat Grant earlier this season 36-27.

All other games kickoff at 7 p.m. on Friday, unless noted

Here's a closer look at each division, with comments
(The Bee will have more playoff previews with predictions later in the week).

Division I
No. 16 Nevada Union (5-5) vs. No. 1 Franklin (10-0)
No. 9 Merced (7-3) at No. 8 Lincoln (7-3)
No. 12 Napa (7-3) at No. 5 Granite Bay (7-3)
No. 13 Bethel (6-4) at No. 4 Downey (9-1)
No. 14 Enochs (6-4) at No. 3 Oak Ridge (9-1)
No. 11 Tokay (7-3) at No. 6 Pitman (8-2)
No. 10 Pleasant Grove (6-4) at No. 7 Stagg (9-1)
No. 15 Grant (5-5) at No. 2 Burbank (10-0), Saturday, 1 p.m.
Projected champion: Franklin (balanced, fast, healthy, eager)
Or it could be: Granite Bay (superbly coached, emerging QB, defensive stud in Beau Hershberger)
Capable of first-time D-I breakthrough: Burbank and Oak Ridge (played in thrilling opener last year, won by Oak Ridge)
Surprise champion could be: Grant (on the move again with playmaker in Trayvon Henderson, ground game - and a lot ot prove)
Defending champion: Granite Bay (won its last 6 playoff games in 2011, downing PG in finals).
Comment: Nevada Union, on the ropes down the stretch, has second life and a chance at payback, too. The Miners, one of the section's storied programs, lost to Franklin in a playoff opener in Grass Valley last season in the driving rain. It was Franklin's first-ever playoff win, and with 17 returning starters, the Wildcats have played the part of top dog this season, including a 17-7 win over then No. 1 Elk Grove, which rolled NU earlier in the season.
Also looming in that upper bracket is defending champion Granite Bay, which went unbeaten in the Sierra Foothill League by beating Del Oro, Rocklin and Nevada Union after getting off to a 1-3 start. Oak Ridge has the makings of a title team with balance, line play and defense, and it's only loss was Folsom, which is 10-0 and top seeded in D-II. Don't be the least bit surprised if Pleasant Grove upends Stagg as PG competed in a much stronger league with tougher nonleague foes. And the Grant-Burbank tilt is a scary draw for a 10-0 Titans team that beat Grant. Have the Pacers rediscovered themselves, and how many skill player burners are going to play from the team's dominant 10-0 junior varsity team?
A second round game could pit Grant or Burbank against Pleasant Grove. PG scrimmaged Burbank before the season, leaving Eagles coach Joe Cattolico to remark that Burbank is a top-tier team. And area fans have clamored for a Grant-Pleasant Grove game for years.

Division II
No. 16 Atwater (6-4) at No. 1 Folsom (10-0)
No. 8 Rio Linda (8-2) at No. 9 Vacaville (7-3)
No. 12 McNair (7-3) vs. Buhach Colony (8-2)
No. 13 Rocklin (5-5) at No. 4 Antelope (9-1)
No. 14 Ponderosa (6-4) at No. 3 Elk Grove (9-1)
No. 11 Whitney (8-2) at No. 6 Del Campo (8-2)
No. 10 Tracy (7-3) at No. 7 St. Mary's (8-2)
No. 15 Del Oro (5-5) at No. 2 Yuba City (9-1)
Projected champion: Folsom (playing beyond its years and playing really good D, too).
Or it could be: Elk Grove or Del Oro (storied programs both have superb lines and runners).
Capable of first-time D-II breakthrough: Del Campo, Yuba City, Whitney (none have won a D-II title but have won in other divisions).
Surprise champion could be: Antelope (ace in Tyler Winston with good lines, emerging QB)
Defending champion: Vacaville (Bulldogs beat Bulldogs of Folsom in finals; could meet in 2nd round)
Comment: Remember the days when D-I was clearly better, deeper, faster and more talented in every regard than D-II? That's no longer the case as these divisions can easily merge together with similar enrollments and equal skill sets and coaching. Folsom is on a roll with a young team and QB ace Jake Browning (43 touchdown passes as a sophomore), and looming in the second round is either Rio Linda with a ground-and-pound attack or defending champion Vacaville, which beat Folsom in the finals last season. And there's Buhach Colony, with one loss coming on a 35-34 loss to NorCal-ranked power Serra of San Mateo. In the lower bracket, No. 3 Elk Grove braces for a mauling, brawling Ponderosa team led by linebacker/fullback bruiser Jeff Camilli.
Interesting that Elk Grove draws a No. 3 seed with only a 17-7 loss to unbeaten Franklin, the No. 1 seed in D-I, over No. 2 Yuba City. One way to look at it is that the section selection committee viewed Yuba City's shootout loss to D-IV top seed Placer more impressive than Elk Grove's setback to Franklin. Regardless, the openers are brutal. Yuba City wins its first league title since 1987 and draws two-time defending D-III champion Del Oro, which has caught fire down the stretch behind tailback supreme Brandon Monroe.
Another curiosity: Del Oro beat Rocklin on Friday 38-35 and Rocklin wound up in third place in the SFL with a higher seed in this field at No. 13 than Del Oro's 15. Rocklin's reward: a game at Antelope, which is sky high after beating Whitney with a furious rally to win the Capital Athletic League.
And the real darkhorse could be St. Mary's, which has a 21-13 loss to De La Salle, which would beat every team in this section, from what I've seen. Come NorCal playoff time, maybe we change that tune a bit. Then again, DLS has gone unbeaten against NorCal foes since 1991, a remarkable run of 234 games.

Division III
No. 16 Pacheco (5-5) at No. 1 Oakdale (9-1)
No. 9 Benicia (7-3) at No. 8 Patterson (7-3)
No. 12 CBS (6-4) at No. 5 Cosumnes Oaks (8-2), Saturday
No. 13 River Valley (6-4) at No. 4 American Canyon (9-1)
No. 14 Rosemont (6-4) at No. 3 Sierra (9-1)
No. 11 Manteca (6-4) at No. 6 Inderkum (8-2)
No. 10 El Camino (7-3) at No. 7 Sacramento (8-2), Saturday
No. 15 Lincoln (5-5) at No. 2 Vista del Lago (9-1), Thursday
Projected champion: Oakdale (ground game, QB and line play, D; hungry for title after near misses).
Or it could be: Vista del Lago or Cosumnes Oaks (played to 35-34 thriller recently with a ton of skill players).
Capable of breakthrough: Sacramento (lost to Cosumnes Oaks and Burbank; dangerous QB, fast D).
Surprise champion could be: Inderkum or El Camino (Tigers have great run game and stopper in Dedric Allen; Eagles have skill players galore)
Defending champion: Del Oro (now in D-II, making for new blood here in wide-open field).
Comment: Oakdale is eager for another title shot, having lost the previous two seasons to Del Oro. The Mustangs lost only to San Diego power Oceanside. Cosumnes Oaks has a playmaker in receiver Alex Van Dyke and a tough runner in Kaelin Willhite, and it faces a hungry CBS team that went 1-9 last season. The El Camino-Sacramento opener is shaping up to be a thriller. And therer's Vista del Lago, growing and maturing by the week with a prolific offense and a win over Cosumnes Oaks. American Canyon and Sierra are a combined 18-2, but those teams played in so-so leagues.

Division IV
No. 16 Hilmar (6-4) at No. 1 Placer (10-0)
No. 9 Calaveras (8-2) at No. 8 Escalon (8-2)
No. 12 Summerville (8-2) at No. 5 Los Banos (9-1)
No. 13 Modesto Christian (6-4) at No. 4 Capital Christian (9-1)
No. 14 Amador (7-3) at No. 3 Ripon (10-0)
No. 11 Bear River (8-2) at No. 6 Central Catholic (8-2)
No. 10 Center (8-2) at No. 7 Dixon (9-1)
No. 15 Hughson (6-4) at No. 2 Argonaut (10-0)
Projected champion: Placer (wing-T runners and QB, dominating D headed by Eddie Vanderdoes on the line make for title team)
Or it could be: Argonaut (big, physical, ground control team is 10-0 for a reason)
Capable of breakthrough: Center or Bear River (Center scares all comers with speed; Bear River lost 14-7 to Placer)
Surprise champion could be: Capital Christian (improving by the week with a lot of speed and some defensive stoppers).
Defending champion: Hilmar (and guess who the champs get right away: Placer).
Comment: Placer is clear favorite here, particularly since it has an early 48-30 win over Central Catholic, a loaded team that beat St. Mary's, which fell to state-ranked No. 1 De La Salle 21-13. Of course, none of that matters now, but it does offer a glimpse at how close these teams are with the only data available: earlier results. The field is loaded with small-school heavies rooted in passionate communities. Center is a dangerous lot with its speed, and how high would the Cougars be seeded had they beaten Placer on Friday and not lost 15-14? Capital Christian has skill, speed and linemen, with its loss coming to Amador by 19 points. And what about Argonaut at 10-0? The section champion here could be a lock for a NorCal regional game.

Division V
No. 5 Bradshaw Christian (5-5) at No. 4 Highlands (6-4)
No. 6 Rio Vista (5-5) at No. 3 Le Grand (8-2)
Byes: No. 1 Waterford (8-2); No. 2 Golden Sierra (7-3)
Projected champion: Le Grand (bowl team resume with great tradition)
Or it could be: Golden Sierra, Waterford or Bradshaw Christian (GS had some miserable seasons before but also a lot of good ones; Bradshaw has won titles, too)
Capable of a breakthrough: Highlands (from large-school power in the 1980s to here, the Scots still play good football).
Defending champion: Le Grand (always a factor)
Comment: Highlands and Bradshaw Christian face off right away, and those teams have had some spirited showdowns in the past. Golden Sierra has surged this season with the smallest enrollment of any in the section's 197 schools. By Bradshaw's standards, it's been an off year, but what better way to make it another on season with another title?

Division VI
No. 5 Elliot Christian (6-3) vs. No. 4 Ripon Christian (8-2)
No. 6 Big Valley Christian at No. 3 Woodland Christian (8-2)
Byes: No. 1 Foresthill (9-1); No. 2 Brookside Christian (8-2)
Projected champion: Foresthill (cannot beat this school for mascot flavor: Wildfires; program came of age in a hurry).
Or it could be: Brookside Christian (has a bowl game to program's resume)
Capable of a breaktrhough: Woodland Christian (very prolific at times, well coached)
Surprise champion could be: Ripon Christian (battle tested from the 209)
Defending champion: Bradshaw (now in D-V, making for an open race here).
Comment: Foresthill emptied its foothill town to watch the title game a year ago, and expect the same as this is one passionate home following. Woodland Christian can score in bunches, and Brookside has had a bounce back season. And yes, the small schools never bore.

- Joe Davidson
- On Twitter: @SacBee_JoeD
- On Facebook: sacbeepreps
- On playoff preview podcasts: ESPN1320.net
- On cable: SureWestSports.com
- On TV: Fox 40's Final Quarter on Fox40.com



About the Prep blog

Bee staff writers Joe Davidson and Bill Paterson provide news, analysis and insight on the area high school sports scene in their Prep Blog. Have a question to ask them? Send them an email any time at jdavidson@sacbee.com or bpaterson@sacbee.com.

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