After section champs crowned, debate will begin

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Three Redwood Empire teams will be playing for a North Coast Section championship this weekend. The question is whether any of them will have a chance to keep playing after that.
During the section playoffs, a team’s status is determined strictly by objective performance. You win, you move on. You lose, you go home. After section winners are crowned, though, the subjectivity begins.

The various section commissioners will convene this Sunday to choose five Northern California representatives to play for state titles — one each in Divisions 1 through 4, plus an open division for the best of the best.
The votes are secret, the exact counts never released.

Rancho Cotate (Division 2), Cardinal Newman (Division 3) and Middletown (Division 4) all will be playing for titles on Friday or Saturday. Should one of them win, the waiting game will begin.
Only section champions are eligible to play for the state title. Beyond that, the criteria include won-lost record, strength of schedule, head-to-head competition, record vs. common opponents and a sportsmanship standard laid out in the 2010 state football handbook.
Commissioners can also use resources like media rankings to help in their decisions, but those are further down the priority list.

It will be up to each section commissioner to present his teams for debate. For the North Coast, that’s Gil Lemmon. He is currently researching Rancho, Newman and Middletown to gauge their worthiness.

“Sometimes you’ll lobby more for your team because you honestly believe they’re the best team in Northern California, and you want the best school going forward,” Lemmon said. “If you believe in your school, you’ll push hard. But to be honest, if one of our schools is a champion, and the research I do says the best team is from, say, the Sac-Joaquin Section, I’d present my school but I’d have to vote for the Sac-Joaquin team.”
Quwan Spears, the California Interscholastic Federation’s sports information director, isn’t in position to comment on the chances of individual teams. But he has witnessed the state selection process from close proximity since it began in 2006.

“Historically, the teams that have represented the North in past years had either one loss or two,” Spears noted. “Two, they have either played a tough schedule within the state, or some schools have even taken the competition outside state and played perennial nationally ranked teams in other states.”

Rancho Cotate, at 12-1, should at least be considered for state if it bumps off top-seeded Concord on Saturday at the Oakland Coliseum. That result, by itself, would be impressive. The Cougars started the season with a tough game at Pinole Valley, a team that finished 11-1-1 (losing again to Rancho in the Division 2 semifinals), but also played preseason games against 1-8 Castlemont and 4-7 Petaluma.

The Cougars’ toughest competition for NorCal honors could be 12-0 McClymonds, winner of the Oakland Section. Folsom (13-1), Willow Glen of San Jose (11-2) and Washington of San Francisco (10-2) also could be in the mix.

Cardinal Newman, no stranger to the state championship game, could be on thinner ice. Preparing for just this moment, the Cardinals annually play a fierce preseason schedule. If they can emerge unscathed, they know they could be in position for a run to state.

Of course, the tough scheduling makes it harder to maintain a good record. This year, Newman lost to powerhouses Valley Christian of San Jose (11-3) and Palma of Salinas (10-1-1). After falling to Rancho Cotate in the North Bay League regular season, the Cardinals will be 11-3 if they beat Encinal at Rancho on Friday night.

Escalon (13-1) or Lassen (10-2) could be in better shape to represent the North.
Middletown, which quietly had another stellar season, opened the Division 4 playoffs as the No. 4 seed, but has only to beat Salesian at Alhambra High on Saturday to qualify. The Mustangs would then be 13-1.

They have steamrolled the competition this year, outscoring their opponents 572-98. Unfortunately for Middletown, the commissioners aren’t supposed to include scoring margin in their considerations.
Division 4 Brookside Christian of Stockton is 12-0, but got there playing smaller schools. Maxwell (12-1) and Sacred Heart Prep of Atherton (11-2) are other contenders.
Spears has no idea which teams will be chosen to represent NorCal at the Home Depot Center in Carson on Dec. 17-18. But he’s pretty sure they will be the right teams.

“I can tell you the commissioners have been dead-on,” Spears said. “Last year we had four of five championship games decided by five points or less. And the De La Salle-Crenshaw game, though it wound up 28-14 De La Salle, was not decided until the fourth quarter. So the commissioners are very dead-on.”

You can reach Staff Writer
Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.