NCS football playoffs: Preview of Friday's games

SONOMA VALLEY (7-3) at
CARDINAL NEWMAN (9-1)

Kickoff: 7 p.m.

Last week: Sonoma Valley edged Petaluma, 17-14. Cardinal Newman defeated Casa Grande, 25-7.

Notable: Mick O’Meara is wrapping up a 29-year career at Sonoma. He took his team to the playoffs 18 times … After scouting Newman, he didn’t hesitate in calling the Cardinals the best team the Dragons will have played this year. “They are extremely sound in every phase of the game,” he said. “People talk a lot about their offense and for some reason, the defense doesn’t get enough credit. They do a lot of things well.” … Dan Deely has had an outstanding year for the Dragons, completing 87 passes for 1,543 yards and running for 538. As a defensive back, he’s made 45 tackles and intercepted two passes … Dustin Sloane is Deely’s go-to receiver with 12 TD passes and 966 yards … Skyler Marciel (102 tackles) and Jonny Amandoli (79) are the team’s defensive stalwarts … Newman’s Philip Wright (mild concussion) and Kenny Carter (strained knee) missed the Casa game, but have been cleared to play tonight … Coach Paul Cronin praised the job turned in by replacements Michael Mitchell (running back) and Zach Schreeder (linebacker) … This is the first time since 2007 that the two teams have played … Cardinal Newman is the No. 3 seed in Division 3 while Sonoma is rated No. 14.

The pick: Cardinal Newman 55,
Sonoma Valley 7

HEALDSBURG (4-6) at
ST. HELENA (9-1)

Kickoff: 7 p.m.

Last week: Healdsburg defeated El Molino, 41-0. St. Helena beat Willits, 20-0.

Notable: A rematch of last year’s NCS playoff game won by Healdsburg, 27-24 … Like last year, St. Helena has homefield advantage … The Saints look as good as they did last November. Going by its record, Healdsburg isn’t as strong. The Greyhounds were 8-3 a year ago at this time … “We’ve got a young team,” coach Todd Beth said. “We’re practicing and playing better the past few weeks. I think we’re peaking at the right time. The kids are excited about this game.” … The Hounds got into the playoffs because they were 3-1 against other Division 4 schools … Healdsburg will get a boost with the return from injuries of left guard Wyatt Hoagland and defensive back Adrian Lopez … Saints coach Brandon Farrell: “There are three things we need to do. Protect the ball, don’t miss opportunities and score when we get the opportunity.” … His QB Richard Hoppe has thrown for 1,525 yards, 24 TDs and only two interceptions … Joey Brink has caught a dozen scoring passes … Sebastian Segura is the team’s leading rusher with seven yards per touch … Coach Beth said for Healdsburg to win, the defense must pressure Hoppe and get to Segura quickly. “Our goal on offense is to put together long drives and keep their offense off the field.” … St. Helena is the No. 6 seed in the Division 4 bracket while Healdsburg is No. 11.

The pick: St. Helena 35, Healdsburg 14

PIEDMONT (5-5) at
FORT BRAGG (9-1)

Kickoff: 7 p.m.

Last week: Piedmont lost to Mt. Eden, 31-0. Fort Bragg won at Cloverdale, 48-15.

Notable: Coach Roy Perkins is hoping for a wet field, the messier the better. “We’re used to it,” he said. “Piedmont plays on a turf field, so the conditions would be an advantage for us.” … Another edge for the Timberwolves is playing in front of friendly fans. They’re 6-0 at home while the Highlanders are 1-2 on the road … The visitors were 1-4 in the West Alameda-Shoreline League. “Most of the schools in their league have much larger enrollments than Piedmont,” Perkins pointed out. “Had they played in a league with schools their own size, their record would be better.” … Piedmont’s enrollment is 827 while Fort Bragg’s is 524 … The Highlanders lost to Healdsburg, 21-17, in the first game of the season … Fort Bragg runs the veer option offense with Zach Smith getting a majority of the touches. The junior has eight runs of more than 70 yards. “He’s small for a running back, but is extremely fast and strong,” Perkins said … The coach believes the key to a successful NCS playoff run will be the play of his defense and special teams. The defense allows just under 13 points per game … The T’wolves are the North Central League I champs and en route to the crown notched a pair of one-point wins over Willits (33-32) and St. Helena (22-21). Both of those games were at Fort Bragg … The lone loss was in the second week of the season at St. Bernard’s (18-6) … Piedmont has lost three straight by a combined score of 90-21 … In this Division 4 matchup, Fort Bragg is the No. 5 seed while Piedmont is No. 12.

The pick: Fort Bragg 28, Piedmont 14

ST. MARY’S (5-5) at
MIDDLETOWN (7-3)

Kickoff: 7 p.m.

Last week: St. Mary’s won at Pinole Valley, 28-17. Middletown defeated Clear Lake, 27-6.

Notable: Middletown won’t be at full strength as three starters (Anthony Guzman, Wyatt Hall and Logan Smith) will miss the game because of injuries … “We’re coming into the game pretty banged up,” coach Bill Foltmer said. “We’ve lacked depth all season and now we’re down three starters.” … The young Mustangs began the year with 27 players on the roster, only 10 of them seniors … Engineering the Panthers’ offense is quarterback Kevin Flemer. He’s passed for 1,914 yards and 23 TDs. His favorite receiver is Caleb Coleman (34 catches, eight scores) … Leading the ground attack is Aiden Shockley with 865 yards … St. Mary’s defense surrenders an average of 29 points per game which means quarterback Ben Pike should find himself with plenty of options … Middletown’s strength has been its defense, holding opponents to a 10-point average … The offense has averaged 30 points … “This will be a difficult game for us,” Foltmer said. “St. Mary’s likes to spread the ball out and with our injuries, that is going to cause problems for us. Playing at home is an advantage, but we’re going to have our hands full.” … Middletown is the No. 8 seed in the Division 4 bracket and St. Mary’s, from the Tri-County League, is No. 9.

The pick: St. Mary’s 21, Middletown 14

— Howard Senzell,
for The Press Democrat