The East Bay Athletic League and Bay Valley Athletic League make up seven of the eight teams in the North Coast Section Division 1 playoff field, with four of the teams coming from the EBAL-Mountain Division. That means we are guaranteed of a league rematch in the quarterfinals, and at least one league rematch in the semifinals, with a strong likelihood of two league rematches occurring during the second weekend of play.
Of course, the narrative surrounding this division is the fact that the runner-up will again see its season end, after the Open Division had created an opportunity for the second-best Division 1 team at the CIF level over the past few years. So while teams like Freedom, Pittsburg and Liberty each got to play on the big state stage during the Open era, that path goes back to what it used to be, meaning that a win over De La Salle is now required for advancement. And since no one in Northern California has done that in 28 years, it’s safe to say that the Spartans are the favorite to receive a state berth out of this division.
With all that said, let’s take a closer look at the entire field.
No. 1 De La Salle, No. 2 Pittsburg, No. 3 Liberty, No. 4 San Ramon Valley, No. 5 Monte Vista, No. 6 California, No. 7 James Logan, No. 8 Amador Valley
The seeding for this division went as expected, with everyone lining up for their shot at De La Salle. What really stands out among the rest of the teams in this division is the separation, or rather the lack thereof, when comparing seeds two through eight.
Pittsburg ended up 9-1 and champions of the BVAL by virtue of an overtime victory at Liberty, one in which the Pirates trailed in the fourth quarter. That’s how close Liberty was to a second straight unbeaten regular season, but the Lions also had close calls of their own, including a three-point win over five-seed Monte Vista where the Mustangs had a field goal attempt bounce off the crossbar on the final play of the game.
Speaking of close games, the trio of teams in the four, five and six seeds seemed to make a living out of those games this season. San Ramon Valley is in the four spot based on a one-point overtime victory against Monte Vista in the regular season finale, while Monte Vista is over California based on a one-point win over the Grizzlies, a win in which the Mustangs scored with 25 seconds remaining and then won the game on a two-point conversion. Oh, and San Ramon Valley beat California with a late field goal.
James Logan is the curious team in this bunch, as the Colts have won nine straight games after losing their season opener. If scores were allowed to be on the playoff applications, or considered by the committee, then Logan could have ended up with a higher seed, having beaten Heritage by 41 points, one week before that same Heritage team beat Amador Valley and two weeks before it gave California a battle in a game decided by single digits.
Half of this field is comprised of league champions, including both Logan and Amador Valley. The Dons won the EBAL-Valley, the second-tier of the EBAL’s competitive equity split. Like Logan, they did not play any of the teams in this field during the regular season.
San Ramon Valley and Monte Vista will play in back-to-back games, after having the same thing last year. SRV won both meetings last year, and will go for an unprecedented four wins in two years against its district rival. Liberty and Pittsburg could be headed for an epic rematch in the semifinals, but first the Lions will have to notch their first-ever win over Cal. Five years ago, the Grizzlies ended Liberty’s season in the Division 1 quarterfinals.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
DLS RB/DB Shamar Garrett, DLS OL/DL Ben Roe, DLS QB Dorian Hale, DLS WR Grant Daley, Pitt QB Jerry Johnson, Pitt RB/DB Avant Muldrow, Pitt OL/DL Samiuela Fonongaloa, Pitt WR/DB Brian Andre Pierce, Jr., Liberty QB Jay Butterfield, Liberty RB/LB Darrion Bartley, Liberty WR/DB Justice Jackson, Liberty OL/DL Payton Zdroik, SRV RB Jacob Himan, SRV TE/DE JP Murphy, SRV WR/DB Jered Kenny, SRV FB/LB Noah Thomas
MV QB Jack Stewardson, MV WR/DB Nate Rutchena, MV LB Connor Shay, MV WR/KR Jacob Oliphant, Cal RB Belal Alatasi, Cal OL/DL Austin Anderson, Cal RB/LB Daniel DeSoto, Cal RB/KR Hasani Savage, Logan RB/DB Chase Sims, Logan QB Shamoun ‘V’ Duncan-Niusulu, Logan WR/DB Jeremiah Johnson, Logan WR/DB Jamon Taylor, AV QB Kannon Dote, AB RB/DB Eric Hunter III, AV WR/DB Cal Ewanich, AV WR/DB Josh Heverly
THEY SAID IT
“This is an opportunity not just for our team, but for our community to make a statement,” said James Logan senior Chase Sims. “Our preparation for this week will determine our ability to continue in the playoffs. We have recently opened up our passing game and that could be a big factor for us.”
“We’re in the same scenario as last year, and I would be lying if I said that losing to your rival doesn’t hurt extra, especially three times in the last two years,” said Monte Vista quarterback Jack Stewardson. “We are very excited to get another chance. It’s not too often you get a chance to redeem yourself one week later.”
“Most of our games this season could have gone either way, so we want a similar opportunity with Liberty on Friday night,” said California coach Eric Billeci. “My team knows what it’s like to be in dog fights, so we’ll be hoping for another one this week.”
If we are all honest with ourselves, every team outside of De La Salle is a sleeper for the title, and even then, we can’t imagine that scenario coming to fruition. But if we are looking for a sleeper team to reach the title game, sixth-seeded California is an intriguing option. The Grizzlies run a ball-control offense, slowing down the game, limiting the number of possessions for each team and wearing down opposing fronts. Furthermore, they are used to close games and were a late two-point conversion and field goal away from being a 9-1 team.
De La Salle