NCS football brackets released

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A handful of Empire prep football teams gained high seeds for the North Coast Section playoffs, with Healdsburg on top in its bracket and Cardinal Newman a No. 2 when the second season starts Friday.

North Bay League champion Rancho Cotate is poised to make a run, with both Casa Grande and Middletown also in position to play at home for a couple of rounds.

“I told our kids, it’s a new season. It’s one and done,” said Rancho Cotate coach Ed Conroy.

Opening with an unfamiliar team is exciting for Casa Grande, said coach Trent Herzog.

“It’s a challenge. You have to prepare more,” Herzog said. “It’s a new season. Anything can happen.”

Healdsburg nabbed the highest seed for an Empire team — the top spot in Division 4 — despite two losses in its past three games. The Greyhounds get a bye and don’t play until Nov. 26, the day after Thanksgiving.

“I’d like to be playing. But obviously we will take it and hopefully take advantage of it,” said Healdsburg coach Tom Kirkpatrick.

Losing to Casa Grande in the Sonoma County League finale didn’t hurt Healdsburg’s seeding, but it did leave Greyhounds quarterback Max Opperman injured and needing the week off to get ready for playoff action. Carson Seanor, the Empire’s top running back, is ready to go.

“He really prepped in the offseason. He’s shown flashes of really being something,” Kirkpatrick said.

Defense — led by Adam Hendrickson and Travis Arreguin — has often been the difference for Healdsburg in winning games against  schools that typically are larger and have deeper rosters. Healdsburg wants to show it is worthy of the top seed in the smaller school division.

“We’re just small and real aggressive and good tacklers,” Kirkpatrick said. “This time of year, it really comes down to playing great defense.”

Rancho Cotate faces an interesting playoff scenario from the No. 3 spot in Division 2. If the Cougars beat Arroyo, they could face Windsor in the second round. A win there and Rancho Cotate might get second-seeded Pinole Valley, the same team that beat the Cougars to open the season.

“We’re happy to win the league and we feel we’ve been tested. We’ll see in the playoffs,” Conroy said.

To win the NBL, the Cougars needed a pair of overtime victories over Cardinal Newman and Maria Carrillo. Those contests revealed a team that worked hard to prepare for the season and should be ready for playoff action.

“In both those games I felt we just had a little more in the tank. We still had some energy left,” Conroy said.

Disciplined line play, the dynamic duo of quarterback Poueu Peleti-Gore and running back Brian Dworkin, and no significant injuries has Rancho Cotate primed for perhaps a memorable playoff campaign.

“Everybody’s healthy and everybody made grades, so we’re in good shape,” Conroy said.

Right behind Rancho Cotate is Casa Grande, and the Empire’s two other Division 2 teams — Windsor and Maria Carrillo — also get home games to open the playoffs.

With the region’s top quarterback in Nick Sherry and one of the best two-way players in  Makana Garrigan, the Gauchos are aiming to reach the NCS title game after falling just short a year ago. Eight all-league players are back for another playoff run.

“Our kids know what it’s like and they want it pretty bad,” Herzog said.

Win two games and Casa Grande could face a prime test at Concord, should the top seed survive and advance.

“We’re winning football games and we’re getting better,” Herzog said.

What the Gauchos do well is control the ball with a running game to complement Sherry and his top targets Garrigan and Anthony Poole. They also limit turnovers. An active corps of linebackers leads a defense that is unheralded but very good.

“We can’t make mistakes. When you play tough defense and run the ball, that’s key,” Herzog said. “We’ve been playing really good football.”

How good is what the section playoffs measure.

NCS FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS
Note:
For divisions 1, 2, 3 and 4, the quarterfinals will take place Nov. 26 or 27, the semifinals Dec. 3 or 4 and the finals Dec. 10 or 11.

DIVISION 1
First round
Bye
(1) De La Salle
Friday’s games
(9) Heritage at (8) Pittsburg, 7 p.m.
(13) College Park at (4) Foothill, 7 p.m.
(15) Castro Valley at (2) California, 7 p.m.
(14) San Leandro at (3) Monte Vista, 7 p.m.
Saturday’s games
(12) Freedom at (5) Granada, 7 p.m.
(7) Berkeley at (10) James Logan, 7 p.m.
(11) Deer Valley at (6) San Ramon Valley, 7 p.m.

DIVISION 2
First round
Friday’s games
(16) Tennyson at (1) Concord, 7 p.m.
(12) Hayward vs. (5) Northgate at Diablo Valley College, 7 p.m.
(10) Las Lomas vs. (7) Washington at Tak Fudenna Stadium, Fremont, 7 p.m.
(14) Arroyo at (3) Rancho Cotate, 7 p.m.
Saturday’s games
(9) Dougherty Valley at (8) Maria Carrillo, 7 p.m.
(13) American at (4) Casa Grande, 7 p.m.
(15) Alameda at (2) Pinole Valley, 7 p.m.
(11) Clayton Valley at (6) Windsor, 7 p.m.

DIVISION 3
First round
Friday’s games
(9) Acalanes at (8) San Rafael, 7 p.m.
(13) Novato at (4) Encinal, 7 p.m.
(15) Campolindo at (2) Cardinal Newman, 7 p.m.
(14) Analy at (3) Miramonte, 7 p.m.
Saturday’s games
(16) Del Norte at (1) Marin Catholic, 1 p.m.
(12) Petaluma at (5) Eureka, 7 p.m.
(10) Ygnacio Valley at (7) Bishop O’Dowd, 1 p.m.
(11) San Marin at (6) Alhambra, 7 p.m.

DIVISION 4
First round
Bye

(1) Healdsburg
(2) St Patrick/St. Vincent
(3) Salesian
Friday’s games
(13) St. Helena at (4) Middletown, 7 p.m.
(11) Valley Christian at (6) Fortuna, 7 p.m.
Saturday’s games
(9) Berean Christian at (8) Fort Bragg, 7 p.m.
(12) Kelseyville at (5) El Molino, 7 p.m.
(10) St. Mary’s at (7) Ferndale, 1 p.m.

DIVISION 5
Quarterfinals
Bye
(1) Hoopa Valley
Friday’s game
(6) Upper Lake at (3) Tomales, 7 p.m.
Saturday’s games
(5) Calif. School for the Deaf at (4) St. Bernard, 1 p.m.
(7) Calistoga at (2) St. Vincent, 1 p.m.
Note: The Division 5 semifinals will be Nov. 26 or 27 and the finals will be Dec. 3 or 4.