By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Heading into this weekend’s quarterfinals, Rancho Cotate, Casa Grande, Cardinal Newman, Analy, Fort Bragg, St. Helena and St. Vincent all are alive and kicking (and passing and blocking) in the North Coast Section football playoffs, but one of these teams is not like the others.
Rancho, Newman, Fort Bragg, St. Helena and St. Vincent all have NCS championships to their credit, and Casa has been a frequent contender of late, with four trips to the semifinals in the past six years.
And then there is Analy.
The Sebastopol school is admired on many fronts, including a rich athletic heritage. But football has not been a traditional strength. The Tigers have been to the playoffs each of the past eight years, it’s true, but usually as a lower seed. Entering the 2012 season, their postseason record during that stretch was 1-7. Now, after an impressive 35-7 victory over Tamalpais in the first round of the Division 3 bracket, Analy is one win away from advancing to the semis for the second time in school history, after the 2003 team that played in an eight-team bracket.
“I don’t believe we’ve turned away from being a basketball-soccer school yet, but maybe we’re getting there,” Tigers football coach Daniel Bourdon said. “We really haven’t had time to stop and realize what we’ve accomplished. This time of year, you get a big win on Friday or Saturday, and next Monday it’s watching film and getting ready for the next opponent. Recognizing what we’ve done, that’s for when the road’s over. But it’s great for Analy football.”
The Tigers, seeded fifth in Division 3, travel to No. 4 Campolindo for one of three Friday night games involving Redwood Empire teams. Elsewhere, No. 2 Rancho Cotate hosts No. 7 Las Lomas in Division 2, and No. 3 Cardinal Newman hosts No. 11 Encinal in D3. Saturday, No. 4 Casa Grande hosts No. 5 Concord in D2, No. 5 Fort Bragg plays No. 4 Arcata at Humboldt State University in D4, No. 6 St. Helena travels to No. 3 Salesian in D4 and No. 3 St. Vincent plays at No. 2 California School for the Deaf in D5.
The Analy-Campolindo battle is an interesting one, not least because these teams haven’t squared off in years — certainly not in the past decade.
Campolindo isn’t much of a mystery, though. The Cougars are defending NCS Division 3 champions, and don’t seem to have fallen off much from last year’s campaign. They captured the Diablo Foothill Athletic League title and took a 9-1 record into the playoffs. Their only loss was 16-14 to El Cerrito, which won on a successful 2-point conversion combined with a late missed field goal by Campolindo. El Cerrito is the top seed in D3.
In the opening round last week, the Cougars downed Terra Linda 38-19, helped by Matt Yoklavich’s 95-yard kickoff return. Terra Linda actually outgained Campolindo 303-260 but was thwarted by five turnovers.
Bourdon thinks his Tigers can move the ball on Campolindo. He also believes that flurry of turnovers was no coincidence.
“I think good teams make other teams look sloppy,” he said. “When you’re putting pressure and heat on, teams turn the ball over. Watching them on film, guys are where they’re supposed to be. Anytime a ball is tipped, it’s going the other way.”
Analy, in contrast to Campolindo, is something of an unknown quantity (out of the Empire, anyway), and a lot of that has to do with league realignment. The two biggest threats to the Tigers’ dominance, Casa Grande and Windsor, moved from the Sonoma County League to the North Bay League this year, leaving the Tigers a fairly easy path to the SCL title. Analy won its six league games by an average score of 55-12.
Some would say the Tigers’ league schedule failed to fully prepare them for the playoffs. Bourdon would agree.
“Absolutely. We haven’t had to play four quarters of football, really since Miramonte (a 41-37 victory on Sept. 7),” he said. “The Piner game (41-26 on Sept. 29) was pretty close at times. Our starters had to play most of the game. But it was kind of in hand. So that is a concern. Against quality teams like this, we’re not scoring 60 anymore. We’re not shutting these teams out.”
Which is not to say the Tigers aren’t potent. Bourdon acknowledges that his pass coverage has struggled at times. But Analy’s run defense is stout. And the offensive line is a major strength, helping to balance the offense as a whole. Darin Newman has passed for 2,198 yards and 33 touchdowns, with just six interceptions; fellow senior Aaron Maher caught 14 of those scoring passes. In the backfield, senior Kyle Lewis (806 yards) and sophomore Ja’narrick “Skittles” James (557) both average better than 7.5 yards per carry.
In other words, the Tigers didn’t beat a lot of good teams this year, because frankly the SCL didn’t have a lot of good teams. But perhaps they could have.
As Bourdon said: “We’re not necessarily getting the credit this team and this group deserves. You look at the schedule and you can see why, but this is a group that can play with some of the big dogs. I would have loved to have some of these guys in the old SCL. I keep telling guys, now is the time to go earn the respect we feel we deserve.”
That task starts tonight, which begins with a drive to Moraga and could well end with a long-awaited trip back to the semifinals.
You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.