NCS Football Playoffs: Day 2 of the first round

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Kelseyville had a big rebound season under first-year coach Rob Ishihara, going 7-3 and securing a No.12 seed in the North Coast Section Division 4 bracket. The Knights’ reward? A Saturday trip to El Molino, which put together one of its best seasons in years and enters with a No.4 seed.
“It will definitely be a challenge for us,” Ishihara said. “Even though they’re 6-4, that’s a very respectable record versus the competition they play.”

El Mo defeated three NCS playoff team in 2010: Windsor (No.6 seed in Division 2), Analy (No.14 in Division 3) and Fortuna (No.6 in Division 4). The Lions have an improved defense and one of the region’s best quarterbacks in senior Mike Pierson, who passed for 1,554 yards and 16 touchdowns this season.
“The last two weeks we faced two spread teams,” Ishihara noted. “The St. Vincent quarterback was a pretty good passer and a good runner. The Fort Bragg quarterback was a little better passer and not quite the runner. But I don’t think either is the equal of El Molino’s quarterback. He’s got a big body, good feet, and he doesn’t seem to make a bad decision.”
Ishihara knows that the best way to limit Pierson is to keep the ball out of his hands. Kelseyville may have the tools to do that. The Knights ran for 308.7 yards per game in 2010, paced by Nick Rodrigues (113) and Geno Poloni (93.6). Those two combined for 23 rushing touchdowns.
Other games Saturday involving Redwood Empire teams:

DIV. 2: DOUGHERTY VALLEY AT MARIA CARRILLO
Both teams lost last weekend, but with very different ramifications. Dougherty Valley almost certainly would have hosted a playoff game had it not fallen to Dublin in overtime. Maria Carrillo, on the other hand, probably gained some legitimacy by taking powerful Rancho Cotate into overtime before falling 20-14.
Now the eighth-seeded Pumas (6-4) are looking for their first NCS victory since 2005, the year they made it to the Redwood Empire Class 3A championship game — a game they lost to Cardinal Newman. Leading the way, as always, is senior Sam Atoe. He’s sometimes at quarterback, sometimes at running on offense, and always in the middle of the action on defense.
No.9 Dougherty Valley (5-5), a run-oriented team in the pass-happy Diablo Foothill Athletic League, earned a playoff spot in only its third year with varsity football. The Wildcats were 0-5 in league just a year ago.

DIV. 2: CLAYTON VALLEY AT WINDSOR
For a while, sixth-seeded Windsor looked like it would never lose under first-year coach Dustin Davis. Now the Jaguars must prove they remember how to win. They started 7-0 in 2010 but dropped their final three games — including a puzzling 27-0 loss to Petaluma in the regular-season finale.
If Windsor is to win its first NCS playoff games since 2006, it will almost certainly do it with defense. Behind sideline-to-sideline linebackers Kevin Brown, Darrian Roman and Brady Stibi, the Jaguars allowed just 12.8 points per game this year.
No. 11 Clayton Valley (5-5) is a dangerous opponent. The Eagles had a mediocre season in a very tough conference (the Diablo Valley Athletic League), and bring playoff experience, with three NCS victories over the past two seasons.

DIV. 2: AMERICAN AT CASA GRANDE
Casa Grande (9-1) is one of the local powers, a team with strong coaching, shut-down defense (opponents averaged just 12.3 points a game this year), a true three-unit star in Makana Garrigan and a quarterback, Nick Sherry, who appears headed to Colorado after passing for 2,043 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior.
But don’t expect American (5-5) to be intimidated. The Eagles were in Division 1 last year, and their playoff opener was against the almost mythic De La Salle.
No. 13 American can run — Roderick Johnson and Shawn Wong combined for 2,008 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns — and put points on the board. The Mission Valley Athletic League team averaged 30.6 points a game. Or at least it can against most teams. The fourth-seeded Gauchos are on a five-game winning streak and looking to improve upon last year’s run to the Division 2 semifinals.

DIV. 3: PETALUMA AT EUREKA
What does Petaluma have to do to get away from Eureka? The Trojans were the top seed in Division 2 last year, but were steamrolled 39-7 by the Loggers in a semifinal game. It wasn’t considered an upset, because star running back Soma Vainuku had Eureka on a roll.
Petaluma is playing in Division 3 this year — and here come the Loggers (6-2) again. Vainuku is gone, but they still ran for 351.3 yards and scored 43.6 points a game while claiming the Humboldt Del Norte League championship in 2010. Senior Jeff Faulk led the way with 903 rushing yards and 13 TDs in eight games.
Twelfth-seeded Petaluma, of course, is just happy to be here. The Trojans (4-6) looked destined for a short season after starting 0-5, then caught fire under first-year coach Rich Krist and won their final three SCL games, including victories over playoff-bound Analy and Windsor.

DIV. 4: BEREAN CHRISTIAN AT FORT BRAGG
Fort Bragg’s No.8 seed isn’t particularly impressive, but you can bet the rest of the bracket will be taking the Timberwolves seriously. They entered the playoffs as a No.7 last year, then powered to the Division 4 championship. Fort Bragg lost several of its best players from that team, including workhorse back Jake Cimolino and quarterback Brent Moyer — son of coach Jack Moyer — but surprised a lot of people by going 9-1 this year. The only loss was to Middletown.
No. 9 Berean Christian is no slouch. The Eagles went 7-3, and two of their losses were to opponents (St. Patrick/St. Vincent and Salesian) that wound up getting first-round byes in Division 4. Their biggest disadvantage Saturday might be the 366-mile round trip from Walnut Creek to Fort Bragg.

DIV. 5: CALISTOGA AT ST. VINCENT
Let’s be clear: This is not the St. Vincent team that played for the Division 5 or Class B championship each of the past three years, and won it all in 2008. Gary Galloway’s team spent most of its season trying to recapture the efficiency it showed in a 35-8 opening-week win over Tomales. The Mustangs (3-7) never really got there, despite some nice work by QB Conor Brown, who passed for 1,338 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Don’t sell second-seeded St. Vincent short to No.7 Calistoga, though. The Wildcats remember the 46-0 pasting they took from the Mustangs in last year’s first-round NCS game. They started this season 0-3, then found some rhythm behind 1,000-yard runner Jose Sanchez. Calistoga will be playing hard for coach Mike Ervin, who has announced this will be his final season at the school.
You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.