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Valley Teams Are All Over The (Playoff) Map PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Terry   
Thursday, 08 November 2012 06:23

Arleta, Birmingham, San Fernando, Verdugo Hills And Van Nuys Are Among Those Chasing City Section Titles While Alemany, Notre Dame and Sierra Canyon Seek Southern Section Crowns

M. TERRY/SFVS

It's Winnin' Time - Valley area football players are ready to take a shot at Los Angeles City Section and Southern Section football titles, including Birmingham's Aaron Martin-Mack, Trae Smith and Isaiah Hastings; Sierra Canyon's Brian Tucker and Xavier Manifield; San Fernando's Cris Solano and Johnny Nunez; and Alemany's Steven Mitchell, Devon Dunn, and Cory McManus.

Ten weeks of dress rehearsal are done. No more "finding an identity," or "going through a process." All tickets to the dance have been punched.

Beginning Friday night, Nov. 9, both the Los Angeles City and Southern sections will be in full "beast mode" over the next month as the 2012 football season winds down and championships are won.

Valley area teams will have their chance for rings. How good that chance is depends on what Section you play in. City Preview Since September, the City Division I title has been Harbor City Narbonne's to lose, according to conventional wisdom. The Gauchos (10-0), the only undefeated team left in City, are not only the top seed; they have looked every inch a dominant team after roaring through an incredibly difficult schedule.

But so has Los Angeles Crenshaw (9-1), the second seed, whose sole loss was by three points to Westlake Village Westlake. Include Birmingham (8-2) among the remaining Division I challengers. The Patriots are the highest-seeded Valley team at No.5, and open the playoffs at home against Gardena (7-3), seeded 12th and a fourth place finisher in the Marine League – the only league to qualify four teams in the round of 16.

Birmingham Coach Jim Rose, whose team won a second straight West Valley League title, thought the Pats could have been placed ahead of Carson, seeded fourth despite a 4-6 overall record.

"I'm sure [the Marine League] was, again, voted toughest league in the City," said Rose, speaking after the playoff committee's deliberations. "And if Carson is better than us, then, it is what it is. But I don't know if a team with a losing record should be a [Top Four] seeded team. I think you should be at least 6-4 to get two home games, because that's a big deal in the playoffs.

"I know their schedule was one of the hardest in the country. But if you want to play the Green Bay Packers, well then finish 6-4."

This could mean an intriguing quarterfinal meeting between Birmingham and Carson if both teams win their first round games. But Rose is definitely not looking beyond the Gardena game. And he said the Patriots' defense must play with the same intensity it showed during in league.

"We didn't give up a touchdown defensively in league. I think that's something," Rose said. "Taft scored twice against us, but on a blocked field goal and a kickoff return. So I think we're ready. We won't back down just because [Gardena is] from the Marine League." Taft (4-6) worked around a tumultuous year, which included a pair of forfeits for using an ineligible player, to finish second in the West Valley.

Nonetheless the best seed the Toreadors could get was No.9, so they start the playoffs on the road against Los Angeles Garfield (5-5), seeded eighth. "I thought we should have been an 'eight' seed, taking nothing away from Garfield," Taft Coach Chris Rizzo said.

"You look at common opponents: we beat South East, and South East beat them. And going into the [final] week we were ranked eighth and Garfield ninth. We both won, but they jumped us. But it is what it is.

"You want to win the City, you have to beat the good teams. We're happy to be in." Sylmar (7-3), which won six of its last seven games including a momentous 47-40 victory against San Fernando to take second place in the Mission Valley League, was seeded 14th and gets a return trip with Venice. The Western League champion Gondoliers (8-2) beat the Spartans 34-6 in the season opener way back in August; like Narbonne and Crenshaw, they have not lost to a City team so far this season.

Arleta (8-2) got an even worse consolation prize. The Mustangs, who also lost to Sylmar, finished second in the East Valley League. They were seeded 15th and now travel to Crenshaw. "We always strive to win the league championship but it didn't go our way this year," Arleta Coach Dan Kelley said. "And when you don't win the league championship, this is what happens to you.

"We're honored to be in the playoffs; we're honored to be one of the top 16 teams, and we're looking forward to it. I think the kids will embrace the challenge. We've talked about it already, so it's not something we're dreading or worried about. We will accept the challenge and work hard."

The odds of a Valley team winning a City title improve in Division II.

Van Nuys (9-1), winners of the Valley Mission League, was seeded third behind South Gate South East and Eagle Rock. The Wolves' only loss came in the season opener to Los Angeles Lincoln; they are riding a nine-game winning streak on a stout running game and opportunistic defense that either shuts teams down or hangs tough in shootouts. They take on North Hollywood (6-4), seeded 14th, which enjoyed its first winning season since 2007.

"It's a great situation, especially for our kids for all the hard work they did this season. We're ecstatic to be in the playoffs," Huskies Coach Doug Bledsoe said.

"Van Nuys is an excellent team. I've seen a little bit of them on film; it's a great matchup for us. They're a tough team but we think we're a tough team, too. We think we come from a quality [league]. Arleta is a very good team. Verdugo Hills is a very good team. And we had great matchups with them. And that's what we wanted to do this year, compete and show people we could play." Another neighborhood first round meeting brings together San Fernando (8-2), the fifth seed, against visiting Cleveland (4-6), seeded 12th.

Like North Hollywood, San Fernando has rebounded after some hard times. First year head coach Robert Garcia brought a new zest and commitment for the game to the Tigers. Even though they dropped two of their last three games to finish third in the Valley Mission League, the Tigers are capable of a deep playoff run.

"We'll take the [five] seed," Garcia said. "I thought we might be a number 'four,' but we'll take 'five and roll with it. We've got Cleveland; we'll see how it goes.

"Like I told them, we took a hard loss (against Sylmar). But we have another life, going into the playoffs. We've got to win four more games to win the championship. And it's do-ordie now."

Two other Valley teams competing in Division II are Canoga Park (6-4), seeded sixth and hosting 11th seed Los Angeles University (3-7), and Verdugo Hills (7-3), seeded fourth and hosting South Gate (6-4), seeded 13th.

The Dons were the surprising winners of the East Valley League, and now Coach John Wallace has to keep his players from being satisfied with that accomplishment.

"Basically I told them to celebrate on the weekend, and on Monday we have to be ready to go for the next game," Wallace said. "I was surprised we jumped all the way to fourth [in the bracket]. But I'm happy with that. And we're going to play who we've got. I told them, our goal is four more games. So that's what we're going to aim for."

Southern Preview There are 13 11-man football divisional championships in the Southern Section. And Valley teams will have their chances in four of them – the Pac-5, Mid- Valley, Northwest, and Western divisions.

In the Pac-5, Alemany (8-2) will host Moorpark (8-2) and Notre Dame (7-3) hosts Westlake Village Oaks Christian (8-2); In the Western Division, Chaminade (9-1) hosts Oxnard Pacifica (4-6) and Harvard-Westlake (6-4) travels to Camarillo (9-1); In the Mid- Valley Division, Sierra Canyon (9-1) hosts Covina Northview (7-3); and in the Northwest Division, Village Christian (6- 4) travels to Torrance Bishop Montgomery (7-2). All are first round games.

Pac-5 is perhaps the toughest division of the four to handicap. It is loaded with quality teams, slots 1-16. When Alemany Coach Dean Herrington first saw the bracket, his reaction was, "Everywhere you look, wow. This is going to be tough; you just have to try to survive and advance each week."

He added that while Moorpark may have been the second place team from the Marmonte-West Division and the league's third overall team, the Musketeers certainly are not a "walkover" opponent. "When my brothers coached at Hart, they played Moorpark in the playoffs a few years," Herrington said. "Ted Lins does a good job coaching over there. I don't know a whole lot about them this year, but I see (by the stats) they're throwing the ball a whole lot. You know they're always going to be wellcoached and play real hard."

Notre Dame, which shared the Serra League title with Alemany, also has better-thanusual first round matchup. Oaks Christian won the Marmonte-West Division, and lost a hotly contested league title game to Ventura St. Bonaventure – which also happens to be the bracket's top seed. Only the top four teams in each bracket are seeded. "They're a great program and, obviously, quite a challenge," Notre Dame Coach Kevin Rooney said of Oaks Christian. "We'll have to contain their passing game; they have a really good quarterback (Brandon Dawkins) and an excellent receiver (Francis Owusu). We actually scrimmaged them at the beginning of the [season], so we know each other a little bit. It's nice the game will be local, so it should be fun." Like Herrington, Rooney admired the depth of the bracket. "Everybody on there is good, so you have to go and play," he said. Chaminade, winners of the Mission League, were seeded second in the Western Division and host Pacifica. The Eagles have waited a long time for such a prime playoff position, but Coach Ed Croson said this is not the time for his team to be content.

"We must continue to improve so each week to meet the challenge," Croson said. "At any level, a good team at Week Four that doesn't continue to improve isn't good at Week Eight. You want to be the best Week 10 team, best Week 11 team and so on, because each week the challenge gets greater. "As far as Pacifica, I don't know much about them right now. But anybody who makes the playoffs is a quality team. All three teams in that [Pacific View] league are comparable."

Sierra Canyon Coach Jon Ellinghouse faces a different challenge. The defending Division IV State Bowl champions had their 24-game winning streak stopped by Lancaster Paraclete in the Alpha League title game last week. Now the Trailblazers, seeded second in the Mid-Valley Division, must shake off any lingering disappointment and bring a restored vigor and confidence into their playoff game.

There was a little hangover (from Paraclete loss) and we're trying to get rid of it," said Ellinghouse, after Monday's practice. "We've got to recover. It was a tough thing to have our first loss in a long time and we're a little beat up. But we're going to rally. We have to play a good game against Northview. "I think I've got a good team.

We just have to find a way to perform at high level again. I think we are close. We just have to adjust and go forward. It is not about last year, it is about this year."

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Last Updated on Thursday, 08 November 2012 06:52
 




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