The North Coast Section football playoffs will have a new look next weekend. Gone is the four-team Open Division, which lived a short but productive life.
In its three years of existence, the runner-up to De La Salle moved on to a state regional, with Pittsburg reaching a final in 2017 and Liberty winning a state title last season.
But the California Interscholastic Federation took the air out of Open divisions, instituting a rule that no longer allows section runners-up to advance to a regional.
So the Open Division is no more in the NCS.
The section instead will have seven, eight-team divisions — those outdated 16-team brackets are gone, too — that will send each champion to a state regional.
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Sunday, two three-person committees met behind closed doors, one to choose Divisions I through IV and the other to select Divisions V through VII, plus a bracket for eight-man teams.
Here are five things we learned:
As expected, De La Salle received the top seed in Division I. Given what the Spartans have done this fall, beating the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 seeds in the bracket by a combined 171-21, anything less than a 28th consecutive section championship would be beyond comprehension.
But the fight for reaching the section final opposite DLS should be competitive.
Bay Valley Athletic League champion Pittsburg was seeded No. 2, followed by BVAL runner-up Liberty at No. 3. Standing in the way of a BVAL rematch in the semifinals are No. 7 seed James Logan, which travels to Pittsburg on Friday, and No. 6 seed California, which will play Friday at Liberty.
“A lot of coaches that I know are basically bringing back the phrase, ‘NCS public school champions,’” said a committee member, who requested anonymity. “It was like the phrase used all the years before the Open was created. I think there is honor in reaching the final against De La Salle. Putting NCS Division I finalists up there, you are making a legitimate claim to being the second-best team in the section.”
Monte Vista and San Ramon Valley will have to settle for reaching the semifinals against DLS.
For the second year in a row, the Danville rivals will meet in their first NCS game after playing each other on the final weekend of the regular season.
San Ramon Valley, the fourth seed, will play host to No. 5 seed Monte Vista on Friday.
The Wolves beat Monte Vista 17-16 in a double-overtime classic on Nov. 1. Last year, SRV edged Monte Vista 17-10 to close the regular season and 21-17 in the playoffs.
James Logan coach Ricky Rodriguez, whose team is 9-1, was on his way home from a family weekend at Disneyland when he got the news about playing Pittsburg in the first round.
“I’m fired up,” he said. “Probably starting around last week at this time, my staff and I met. We pretty much figured we were going to get the 7 seed. We were able to spend last week prepping a little for Liberty, but an overwhelming majority of the time already preparing for a matchup with Pittsburg.
“Just the historical aspect, Logan and Pittsburg used to battle early in the 2000s and back in the ’90s. To be able to have that opportunity to go out to Pitt, which in my opinion is the best high school venue in the Bay Area to play a football game, we’re excited.”
Clayton Valley vs. Campo?
The NCS would have looked silly had Campolindo received a better seed than Clayton Valley Charter in Division II.
Last winter, section administrators met several times trying to find a new league for Clayton Valley, which the section viewed as a “competitive anomaly” in the Diablo Athletic League’s Foothill Division — much too strong for teams such as Campolindo, Acalanes and Las Lomas.
Clayton Valley finished 5-5 this fall, with tight losses to Liberty, San Ramon Valley, Monte Vista and California.
Campolindo was 8-2.
The seeding committee did not discuss what unfolded last winter during its 90-minute session Sunday but awarded Clayton Valley the No. 1 seed, followed by No. 2 Vintage and No. 3 Campolindo.
“The big thing discussed with Clayton Valley was, yes, they’re a 5-5 team, but all five of their losses are to five of the Top 6 seeds in the Division I bracket,” the committee member interviewed for this story said. “The other thing is their win over Turlock, who smacked Del Oro in the Sac-Joaquin playoffs last night and was a league champ. That’s a big quality victory right there. They played up above their division in a large majority of their games.”
Clayton Valley coach Tim Murphy wasn’t sure what to expect Sunday.
“It was depending on how much they were going to look at the strength of schedule,” Murphy said. “I felt like it was a 1, 2 or 3. Obviously, we were vying for the 1, with the amount of D-I schools we played compared to the other two schools. We didn’t really have a bad loss.”
Clayton Valley spent this fall in the East Bay Athletic League.
When the coaches from that league met last week, Murphy said it dawned on him that a lot of teams were affected by the Ugly Eagles’ late move to the EBAL.
“I started realizing on the way home from the meeting out at Dougherty Valley, ‘Man, they really put a lot of teams in a bind,’” Murphy said. “All for what? So Campo didn’t have to play us in league? That’s what it felt like it really came down to.
“So after all that — not even three or four months ago — for us to all of a sudden be ranked below them, it would have been kind of crazy.”
The NCS kept Clayton Valley ahead of Campo on Sunday but could be looking at a potential championship clash between the old league rivals in a couple of weeks.
No O’Dowd in D-III
It obviously wasn’t the news Bishop O’Dowd coach Napoleon Kaufman wanted to hear as he exited church Sunday.
His Dragons were left out of the NCS playoffs for the first time since 2013 and the first time during Kaufman’s tenure as coach. Bishop O’Dowd was a candidate for the Division III playoffs.
“I’m not surprised,” Kaufman said. “I’ve been telling people it would be nice to get in. We had strength of schedule on our side. But I think for us, we had to have a signature win, and we didn’t have one.”
Bishop O’Dowd went 3-7 during the regular season and 3-2 in West Alameda County Conference-Foothill games. But the Dragons lost to San Leandro and Encinal, the two teams that finished ahead of them in their six-team WACC division.
“Bishop O’Dowd was considered,” the committee member said. “It came down to them and Windsor. Santa Rosa beating Piner was a big blow to Bishop O’Dowd.”
Santa Rosa shocked Piner 31-27 on Friday night. That earned the North Bay Redwood team an automatic berth in the playoffs despite a 4-5 record. Santa Rosa was 3-0 in league play, finishing a half-game ahead of Piner, 9-1 overall and 3-1 in league.
Santa Rosa was seeded eighth and will face No. 1 Las Lomas in the first round Friday night. Windsor (7-3) made the field as the No. 7 seed and will visit No. 2 Rancho Cotate.
Bishop O’Dowd played a brutally tough non-league schedule and went 0-5. The Dragons played road games at Los Lomas, Pittsburg and Placer. They hosted Monte Vista. They suffered an upset loss to Seaside, also on the road.
“As long as I’m coaching, we will always schedule three tough teams,” Kaufman said. “That will never change.”
Kaufman was asked if he might trade in a Las Lomas, Pittsburg, Monte Vista or Placer for a softer opponent.
“As long as I’m there, we will schedule tough opponents,” he said. “This year we were young at certain positions. It happens to everybody.”
Acalanes’ D-IV path
When Acalanes’ quarterback quit a few days before the first practice to pursue baseball, it forced coach Floyd Burnsed to find a new signal-caller less than a month before the first game.
No worries. Burnsed is an old hand at developing quarterbacks, and he eventually gave the job to junior Brady Huchingson over Mike O’Donnell, who was deemed too valuable at linebacker.
With O’Donnell leading the defense and Huchingson firing darts to a host of solid receivers, the Dons went 8-2, upset Campolindo, and finished in a three-way tie for first in the Diablo Athletic League.
Huchingson passed for 2,244 yards and 25 touchdowns. O’Donnell had 51 tackles.
Acalanes comes in as the No. 3 seed in Division IV, behind Cardinal Newman and Marin Catholic. It would likely take a Herculean effort for Acalanes to beat either of those teams, which easily could play up a division or two.
The Calpreps.com computer rates Marin Catholic behind only De La Salle, Liberty and Pittsburg in the North Coast Section. Cardinal Newman is No. 7. Acalanes is 14th.
But after what the Dons overcame when the season began, it might not be wise to count them out.
Collision course in D-V
Encinal and De Anza would play in the Division V semifinals if both teams win in the first round, and this is a matchup that would have some intrigue.
No. 1 seed Encinal (9-1) hosts No. 8 Fortuna (4-6) and No. 4 seed De Anza (9-1) is at home against No. 5 San Marin (6-4).
Both games are on Friday night.
Obviously, De Anza has a much tougher first-round game. But the Dons also have two of the best players in the tournament in wide receiver Jalen Henderson and running back JoJo Vaughn.
Henderson is a three-star recruit (247sports.com) with offers from UC-Davis and William and Mary. He has caught seven touchdown passes, made 78 tackles and picked off three passes. Vaughn has rushed for 1,047 yards and nine TDs.
Encinal is a defensive power that has yielded just 31 points in its nine victories, with six shutouts.
The Jets would be a solid favorite if the teams play, but both have performed under the radar this season. It would be a fun matchup.
Source: East Bay NCS football playoffs: Five things we learned from seeding meeting