By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A closer look at Saturday's NCS playoff games:
NORTHGATE (10-2) at RANCHO COTATE (12-0)
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
Last week: Northgate defeated Newark Memorial, 30-6. Rancho Cotate downed Las Lomas, 21-14.
Notable: Rancho coach Ed Conroy has a good feeling about the outcome. “We’ll be fine as long as we don’t fumble,” he said. Last week in the rain, the Cougars put the ball on the ground nine times … A major reason for Conroy’s confidence is that Northgate’s strength is running the ball and his Cougars have an iron curtain defense. Rancho allows eight points per game, led by Fono Misi (87 solo tackles), Ty Brantley (68) and Carlos Soto (61) … Northgate utilizes multiple offensive sets, so the Rancho defense has spent its practice time identifying player responsibility on the different schemes … The Broncos average 312 yards on the ground and 103 through the air … Quarterback Joe Pelletier completes 60 percent of his passes, mostly short routes … Fisi Tavake is the leading ground gainer for the Walnut Creek school with 911 yards (8 per touch) … In Jalon Luque, Rancho has one of the premier running backs in the Bay Area. The 160-pound senior gained 184 in slippery conditions last Friday … QB Michael Courchaine has thrown 19 TD passes, a school record. He spreads the ball around and four receivers have caught more than 10 passes: Luque, Thomas Sory, Carlos Soto and Chris Taylor-Yamanoha … Rancho lineman Steven De Souza will miss the game because of a knee injury … The teams have both played Las Lomas. Northgate won its game, 29-19, while Rancho prevailed last Friday, 21-14 … The Cougars are the No. 2 seed in the Division 2 bracket and Northgate is No. 3 … The winner will play for the championship next weekend.
The pick: Rancho Cotate 21, Northgate 7
CARDINAL NEWMAN (11-1) at MARIN CATHOLIC (11-1)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
Last week: Cardinal Newman defeated Encinal, 40-14. Marin Catholic beat Miramonte, 59-6.
Notable: The two schools have won two of the last three Division 3 championships. Marin Catholic earned the title in 2009 and Cardinal Newman did it a year later. Last year, Campolindo beat both teams on its way to the crown … This is the first time in coach Paul Cronin’s 11 years at Newman that one of his teams has played Marin Catholic … “The keys for us are carrying and protecting the football and putting pressure on their quarterback (Jared Goff),” Cronin said. “I’m expecting big plays from both teams and the winner will be the team that is able to focus throughout the game.” … Goff, who is 6 foot-5 and weighs 190 pounds, has committed to play for Cal next year … In the Miramonte win, he played just over three quarters and threw for 286 yards and four TDs … The Wildcats also have an excellent running attack led by Akili Terry. The 205-pound running back has rushed for more than 1,400 yards and scored 21 touchdowns … The Cardinals also have positives. Junior QB Keaton Dunsford has been developed as the season progressed. Last Friday against Encinal in rainy conditions, he completed 10-of-13 passes for 164 yards and two TDs. Also, Kenny Carter is one of best running backs in the North Bay and the Cardinal Newman defense is just plain stingy. That unit gives up only 10 points per game and has recorded three shutouts.
The pick: Marin Catholic 21, Cardinal Newman 14
SAN MARIN (6-6) at ST. HELENA (11-1)
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
Last week: San Marin beat Drake, 43-22. St. Helena won at Salesian, 29-25.
Notable: The outcome of this Division 4 matchup likely hinges on whether Saints’ quarterback Richard Hoppe plays. He suffered a concussion in the third quarter of the Salesian game and coach Brandon Farrell said his status will be determined today … His replacement last week was Jack Preston, a sophomore who spent the first two months of the season with the junior varsity team. Playing a third round Division 4 game would be a tough task … A healthy Hoppe would give his team an edge. The senior has thrown 24 touchdowns while only being intercepted three times. Preston completed 1-of-3 vs. Salesian for seven yards … If Hoppe can’t make the start, another option is receiver Joey Brink. He has played the position this year, completing 14-of-17 with two interceptions. Brink is the team’s leading pass catcher with 799 yards … Saints running back Sebastian Segura needs 67 yards to reach 1,000 … It’s been a tale of two seasons for San Marin. The Mustangs began the season with four straight losses and are now on a four-game win streak.
The pick: San Marin 28, St. Helena 20
ST. VINCENT (10-2) at FERNDALE (11-1)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
Last week: St. Vincent edged California School for the Deaf, 13-12. Ferndale beat St. Bernard’s, 20-13.
Notable: This is for the Division 5 title … Ferndale has six players over 200 pounds, the Mustangs have three … Another edge for the top-seeded home team is the strength of schedule. The Wildcats have beaten two Division 3 schools (Eureka and Del Norte) … St. Vincent comes into the game riding a seven-game win streak … The defense, led by linebackers Michael Carroll, Zach Stichler and Derek Murphy, have held opponents to an average of seven points during the current streak … Mustangs’ QB Mitch Sheppard has thrown a TD pass in 21 straight games and is over the 2,000 mark for the second year in a row … Junior Derek Murphy gets the bulk of the carries and has run for 1,100 yards … Sophomore George Sammon (571) gives coach Gary Galloway a solid rushing tandem.
The pick: Ferndale 35, St. Vincent 14