By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Man the switches. Friday night lights are back.
The Redwood Empire high school football season kicks off Friday with some eagerly anticipated matchups, like Casa Grande vs. Analy among the large schools and South Fork at Fort Bragg among the small campuses. Finally, some prep football to sate our appetites.
The real grudge matches will come when our local kids get into league games, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some intriguing nonleague contests to set the table. Here are a few to watch for:
ANALY AT MARIA CARRILLO
FRIDAY, SEPT. 4
The Tigers begin their 2015 campaign with three consecutive games against North Bay League schools. We’ll know more about them after they face Casa tonight. And we should get a pretty good reckoning when Analy takes on Maria Carrillo at Santa Rosa High School (The Tigers will take to the road while their new field is being installed this fall). Both were playoff teams last year.
CASA GRANDE AT NAPA
FRIDAY, SEPT. 4
Playing Napa has become something of a preseason tradition for the Gauchos. These teams have faced off each of the past three years and, strangely, the home team hasn’t won any of them. The Indians won at Casa Grande in 2012 and 2014 (a 31-0 drubbing), while Casa won at Napa in 2013. The Gauchos want form to hold, but it won’t be easy. Napa High is a big school, and the Indians were 5-0 in the Monticello Empire League last year.
ST. VINCENT AT CLOVERDALE
FRIDAY, SEPT. 4
St. Vincent is moving to the Bay Football League this year, which means it won’t be playing any Empire teams outside of preseason. The Mustangs played in the same league at Cloverdale as recently as 2010. They have faced off in the preseason ever since, with St. Vincent winning three of four. The Eagles broke the streak last year with a 28-7 win at St. Vincent.
MIDDLETOWN AT SALESIAN
SATURDAY, SEPT. 5
Here’s another nonleague ritual: the Middletown Mustangs vs. the Salesian Pride. These are small schools with big football traditions. Year after year, Salesian is the toughest game on Middletown’s schedule and a solid early-season barometer for the Mustangs. The Pride won 33-7 at Middletown last year en route to a North Coast Section championship — their fourth in five years.
CARDINAL NEWMAN AT
CLAYTON VALLEY CHARTER
FRIDAY, SEPT. 11
Here’s the heavyweight bout of the preseason. Cardinal Newman likes to schedule top opponents, hoping it could result in the Cardinals being selected to play for a state title later in the year. But they have a heck of a challenge in Clayton Valley of Concord, where coach Tim Murphy is building a dynasty. The Ugly Eagles missed winning the Division 2 state championship by a point last year, falling 34-33 to Redlands East Valley.
SANTA ROSA AT PETALUMA
FRIDAY, SEPT. 18
This is one of the oldest rivalries in the Redwood Empire. Every preseason Santa Rosa and Petaluma play for The Axe, a brightly colored wooden club that looks like it would be lethal in the hands of a caveman. It should be a competitive game, too — as it was last year when the Trojans pulled out a 13-12 win on the road.
FRIDAY, AUG. 28 GAMES:
South Fork at Fort Bragg 7:30 p.m.
Willits vs. El Molino* 7 p.m.
Berean Christian at Cloverdale 7 p.m.
Cardinal Newman at Del Norte 7:30 p.m.
Casa Grande vs. Analy** 7:30 p.m.
Napa at Montgomery 7:30 p.m.
Ukiah at McKinleyville 7:30 p.m.
Windsor at Petaluma 7:30 p.m.
Fremont at Sonoma Valley 7:30 p.m.
De Anza at Kelseyville 7:30 p.m.
* at Windsor High School
** at Santa Rosa High School
SATURDAY, AUG. 29 GAMES
St. Helena at St. Vincent 2 p.m.
Maria Carrillo at Redwood 2 p.m.
Healdsburg at Drake 2 p.m.
Emery at Piner 2 p.m.