By Michael Coit
The Press Democrat
In the wake of Sunday’s announcement of the North Coast Section football playoff seedings, it would appear that the team with the biggest chance at making it to a CIF bowl game in December might be one of the smallest.
With just one loss — and that coming by forfeit for using an ineligible player — the Middletown Mustangs are seeded first in North Coast Section Division 5. In the forecast of likely contenders for the small-school regional championship, Middletown is ranked third.
Ahead of the Mustangs are McClymonds, from Oakland, and Central Catholic, out of Modesto. If those teams win out in section play they could face one another in the Northern California regional championship with the winner advancing to the CIF small school bowl. Central Catholic won that same matchup last season, going on to capture the CIF bowl.
But if either stumble, Middletown waits in the wings.
“It’s going to be tough. Those schools are real powerful,” said Middletown coach Bill Foltmer.
Give the team from Lake County a chance, though, and Middletown could surprise. Strong linebackers anchor a defense yielding less than a touchdown per contest. The offense is balanced and deep, scoring more than 40 points a game.
“We’re a good football team,” Foltmer said.
Gauchos earn top spot
Going undefeated and running the table in the tough North Bay League earned Casa Grande the top seed in NCS Division 2.
“We’re really excited about that and feel it’s well deserved,” said Casa Grande coach Trent Herzog. “To go undefeated in that league says a lot.”
Now the Gauchos have to stay hot to win the section and improve their chances of reaching the Northern California regional championship.
If the prospect of an undefeated Casa Grande season in NCS Division 2 sounds familiar, that’s because Windsor accomplished the feat two seasons back.
Casa Grande would like to match their North Bay League rival by staying perfect through the month of section playoffs.
One outcome the Gauchos would like to change is the chance at a CIF bowl game. Windsor was down the list of teams considered to represent Northern California in the same division in 2011. Casa Grande is third in the latest regional ranking for Northern California Division 2, but an undefeated season would be difficult to ignore come regional playoff selection time.
Challenge ahead for Analy
Opening the season with a win against Pittsburg was noticed by the section selection committee as one-loss Analy is seeded higher than a year ago when the Tigers entered the playoffs undefeated.
Taking down Pittsburg, a large school power expected to contend in NCS Division 1, showed Analy could be every bit as good as last season’s team. Those Tigers were seeded fifth in NCS Division 3 and reached the section semifinals.
Making another deep playoff run, though, will be challenging.
Defending section champion Marin Catholic is back in the top spot. Last year’s runner up El Cerrito is seeded third, with powerful Campolindo second.
Then consider Analy’s potential second-round opponent.
Analy should get by Sonoma County League rival Petaluma in the playoff opener. Looming in the second round could be Cardinal Newman. Seeded fifth, the Cardinals open at home with Sir Francis Drake.
Both teams are perennial section playoff contenders led by coaches with Empire prep football pedigree. Analy coach Dan Bourdon was a standout for the Tigers. Cardinal Newman coach Paul Cronin was a Piner great.
Empire teams largely were awarded high seeds across most of the North Coast Section divisions.
In addition to top seeds Casa Grande and Middletown:
…Healdsburg is the No. 3 seed in Division 4.
…Montgomery is the No. 4 seed in Division 2, Analy the No. 4 in Division 3, St. Helena the No. 4 in Division 4, and St. Vincent the No. 4 in Division 5.
The North Bay League has four of the league’s five playoff teams opening at home, a clear sign of respect from the selection committee. A year ago the NBL only placed three teams in the playoffs.
One result of the high seeding, though, is potential matchups with league rivals.
Rancho Cotate hosts Windsor in the first round. The Cougars are seeded eighth and the Jaguars ninth. The winner likely gets Casa Grande. Also on that side of the NCS Division 2 bracket is Montgomery.
As noted, Analy and Cardinal Newman would meet if both win first-round games.
In the same half of the NCS Division 4 bracket are St. Helena, Piner, Fort Bragg and Kelseyville.
Longtime playoff rivals Middletown and Salesian could meet — in the NCS Division 5 semifinals.
The longtime small school powers dropped a level from NCS Division 4. Also going down a division is Valley Christian.
Division placement is based on school enrollment.
That the Division 5 playoffs will be particularly competitive is also clear when considering that defending champion Ferndale is the third seed.
The eight-team field features a pair of great first round matchups.
Fourth seed St. Vincent hosts Salesian. And in the lower half of the division bracket one-loss Calistoga goes to Ferndale.
That one Wildcats defeat was to St. Vincent on Saturday. Calistoga, seeded sixth, will need top efforts from its run-first offense and typically stout defense to keep alive what has been a special season for the resurgent program.
You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.