By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
CONCORD (9-2) at CASA GRANDE (7-3)
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
Last week: Concord defeated Mt. Eden, 50-6. Casa Grande had a bye.
Notable: The key to this game likely rests on the Gauchos’ defense. That unit must contain Olito Thompson, owner of the Northern California record for most rushing yards (3,488) in a season. The running back did that last year. En route to that mark, he gained 1,387 yards in four North Coast Section playoff games. He ran for 275 against Rancho Cotate in the semifinals and 285 vs. Windsor in the championship game the Minutemen lost … This season, Thompson has been held to under 100 yards twice and those games were the only two his team lost. The 210-pounder gained 35 yards in 10 carries against Clayton Valley (a 49-6 loss) and 62 vs. Northgate (a 28-20 defeat) … In the win last Friday over Mt. Eden, he gained 200 yards … “We’ve got to slow Olito down and limit Concord’s explosive plays,” Casa coach Trent Herzog said. “In order to win, we must also hold onto the ball, limit our mistakes and win the turnover battle.” … This will be the third time in five years the schools have met in NCS. Casa won in 2008, 38-12, and the Minutemen prevailed, 26-21, in 2010, the year they won the Division 2 championship … Herzog’s scouting report shows Concord tries an onside kick on every kickoff and goes for two-point conversions after touchdowns … If the Casa defense is able to contain Thompson, look for Jake Ielmorini, Jimmy Johnson, Elijah Qualls and Jarred Roberts to get a majority of the tackles … Junior quarterback JaJuan Lawson is having an excellent season, completing 69 percent of his passes for 1,820 yards … A muddy field would help the Casa defense stop the shifty Thompson.
The pick: Casa Grande 33, Concord 22
ST. HELENA (10-1) at SALESIAN (9-2)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
Last week: St. Helena beat Healdsburg, 35-14. Salesian defeated Kennedy, 16-8.
Notable: Salesian is going for a Division 4 three-peat … To get past St. Helena, the Pride must play better than they did against Kennedy which came into the game with a 5-5 record … “This Salesian team isn’t as good as last year’s extra special group, but they’re still solid,” Saints coach Brandon Farrell said. “They have more team speed than anybody we’ve played. I think they’re more dangerous running the ball than passing.” … Farrell predicted the outcome will be determined by how well his team executes and passes … .The Saints have a balanced attack. QB Richard Hoppe has thrown for 1,764 yards while completing 87 passes. He and wide receiver Joey Brink have teamed up for a dozen TDs … St. Helena running back Sebastian Segura needs 130 yards to reach 1,000.
The pick: Salesian 21, St. Helena 13
FORT BRAGG (10-1) at ARCATA (10-1)
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
Last week: Fort Bragg defeated Piedmont, 14-0. Arcata trounced Moreau Catholic, 65-27.
Notable: This game figures to be old-school, smash-mouth football. Both teams run out of the wing-T and rarely put the ball in the air … Aleric Stone, a 215-pound fullback, does most of the running for Arcata while the Timberwolves’ go-to guy is Zach Smith … “I don’t know if Arcata has gone up against a runner with the speed of Smith,” Fort Bragg coach Roy Perkins said. “Once he gets past the line of scrimmage, he’s tough to catch.” In the opening-round win over Piedmont, the junior gained 255 yards on 35 carries … Both teams are on nine-game winning streaks. The Timberwolves haven’t played a team as physical as the Tigers … This figures to be a low-scoring game as Fort Bragg allows under 12 points per game while Arcata yields 16 … “This group of kids is special,” Perkins added. “They’re relaxed and confident and have already exceeded everyone’s expectations by winning league (NCL I).”
The pick: Arcata 21, Fort Bragg 14
ST. VINCENT (9-2) at CSD (10-1)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
Last week: St. Vincent beat Calistoga, 34-6. California School for the Deaf defeated Tomales, 25-6.
Notable: These teams met Sept. 29 at St. Vincent with CSD winning, 44-17 … “We’re much improved since then, especially on the line,” Mustangs coach Gary Galloway said. “We were banged up that game and had only six healthy linemen. Now, we have 11 and can keep everyone fresh.” … The two schools tied for the NCL II title … St. Vincent has won six straight and during the streak has outscored opponents, 247-65 … The line is shutting down rival offenses and giving its offensive backfield time to run and throw … Linemen include: Jason and Jordan Pech, Aidan Lynch, Gio Gonzalez, Sean-Carlo Afre, Nick Braun, Yazen Atallah, Max Brennan, Danny Rodriguez, Marco Ricci and Alexander Jacamo … QB Mitch Sheppard has passed for 2,116 yards, the second year in a row he’s been over the 2,000 plateau … Derek Murphy is the top rusher with 1,009 yards … For CSD of Fremont, the main offensive weapons are QB Carlos Lopez (1,354 passing yards, 19 TDs) and running back Brian Freeman (1,442 rushing yards, 15 TDs).
The pick: St. Vincent 28, CSD 21