Division IV is an extremely diverse variety of teams, ranging in size from 718 students (Monte Vista Christian) all the way to 3,170 (Milpitas). With representation from as far north as San Mateo and as far south as Carmel, teams will largely be taking long road trips to face opponents with which they don’t have much past history. Of all the divisions, this may be the most open-ended of all of them, with teams that like to ground and pound such as Overfelt as well as air raid offenses like Carmel and Saratoga.
No. 1 Milpitas, No. 2 Branham, No. 3 Carmel, No. 4 Hillsdale, No. 5 Soquel, No. 6 Saratoga, No. 7 Monte Vista Christian, No. 8 Overfelt
Just a few weeks ago, it would have been bold to predict Milpitas would even make the playoffs after a loss to Mountain View to drop to 1-5. The Trojans followed that up by losing to Wilcox, then took care of both Santa Clara and Fremont as expected. What really turned heads, though, was their season-ending victory over Palo Alto, in which they held a loaded, albeit injury-saddled, Viking offense to just seven points. Suddenly, the Trojans have gone from an afterthought to a serious contender in a division with just one other ‘A’ league team (Carmel). Milpitas is by far the most battle-tested of the bunch, having not only played in the SCVAL De Anza but also facing Amador Valley, Las Lomas and Salinas in nonleague play. If the Trojans can limit turnovers – they threw 17 interceptions, tied for most in the section – they can run with the best of them.
Carmel also faced Salinas, losing to the Cowboys in an Oct. 19 league matchup. Like the Trojans, the Padres have an impressive win on their resume, trouncing San Benito 41-14 the following week, but there could be concerns that they peaked too early. In their regular season finale, the Padres blew a 13-point fourth-quarter lead in a surprising 28-27 loss to Alvarez. Still, the Carmel offense is among the best in the section, excelling even when quarterback Kai Lee went down with an injury, giving way to J.T. Byrne. Lee returned last Saturday, to throw for 317 yards, including 123 to Benicio Cristofalo. Between Cristofalo and Dakota Mornhinweg, the Padres have a serious array of skill players that can be trusted to carry them through high-scoring affairs.
Points should be aplenty in the Padres’ quarterfinal against Saratoga, another team that loves to air it out. Payton Stokes has thrown for 3,020 yards on the season to lead an offense averaging 43.1 points per game, and it’s not like the Falcons have fattened up on soft competition. They put up 38 in a loss to rival Los Gatos, their best showing against the Wildcats since beating them in 2010. George Bian (44 catches-733 yards) and Max Muilenburg (41 catches-714 yards) are both able to make big plays in the receiving game, and though the Falcons don’t run the ball often, Tyler Chaffin-Price averaged 8.5 yards per carry in the regular season.
Running back Cameron Rynhard and quarterback Nick Bandanza also put up big numbers for Branham as head coach Stephen Johnson’s team was able to adapt to pick apart opponents’ weaknesses, whether those were by ground or by air. Rynhard ran for 1,481 yards in the regular season, breaking the century mark in all 10 games. The Bruins will have the challenge of bouncing back from last week’s loss to Silver Creek, which deprived them of an outright league title. Their opponent, Monte Vista Christian, is in the exact same boat after losing to Seaside in three overtimes. Running back Brendan Doyle, a transfer who sat out the first four games this year, has provided a huge lift for the Mustang offense.
Hillsdale also has an excellent running back in Nathan Iskander, known to his friends and teammates as ‘Rabbit’. He racked up 1,749 yards on the season and found the end zone 22 times, including back-to-back five-touchdown performances against Sequoia and Carlmont. In the 56-41 win over the Scots, the latter of those games, he also threw for a touchdown on a trick play. He’ll have one of his stiffest tests on Friday as his Fighting Knights welcome the Soquel Knights, a team that has allowed just 11.8 points per game. Like Branham and MVC, Soquel suffered a disappointing loss to end the regular season, though it was for a share of the league crown rather than an outright one. The Knights last took the field on Nov. 1, losing 25-14 to rival Santa Cruz in the Stump Game. They’ll look to counter Iskander with Darryl Williams II leading the ground attack.
That leaves eighth-seeded Overfelt, and while the Royals will be fighting an uphill battle, they’re certainly well-equipped to do it with Melvon Bellard, who stars both out of the backfield and in the secondary. The 6-foot-1 senior is not only the team’s top rusher; he’s also one of Overfelt’s best receivers alongside Luther Dunn III. The Royals’ three losses are by a combined 142 points, but two of those came to the likes of Clayton Valley and Palo Alto.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Milpitas QB Jovin Becerra, Milpitas S Jared Cabanilla, Milpitas WR/CB Isaiah Dwelle, Milpitas FB/OLB Aneterea Lealao, Milpitas WR/CB Curtis Price, Milpitas RB/OLB Josue Torres, Milpitas G/DT CJ Ulibas, Branham QB Nick Bandanza, Branham WR/CB Matt Cordova, Branham T/DT Frank Poso, Branham RB Cameron Rynhard, Branham MLB Jack Sanfilippo, Branham RB/MLB Pati Wolfgramm, Carmel DE Amir Brown, Carmel WR/MLB J.T. Byrne, Carmel WR/CB Benicio Cristofalo, Carmel QB Kai Lee, Carmel RB/CB Dakota Mornhinweg, Carmel WR/CB Nico Staehle, Hillsdale RB/SS Xavier Andrade, Hillsdale WR/CB John Catanzarita, Hillsdale WR Parker Crouse, Hillsdale OLB Tyler Dehoff, Hillsdale RB Nathan Iskander, Hillsdale QB Dylan Loftus, Hillsdale RB/MLB Kasimili Tongamoa
Soquel RB/FS Darius Bedford, Soquel QB Tanner Jones, Soquel WR/CB Max Mendoza, Soquel RB/DE Darryl Williams II, Saratoga WR George Bian, Saratoga RB/SS Hayden Cranz, Saratoga RB/CB Tyler Chaffin-Price, Saratoga WR/CB Max Muilenburg, Saratoga DE Tyler Ouchida, Saratoga WR/SS Tyler Prowse, Saratoga MLB Talon Sisco, Saratoga QB Payton Stokes, Monte Vista Christian C/NG Derek Brown, Monte Vista Christian RB/MLB Brendan Doyle, Monte Vista Christian T/DT Nolan Lukin, Monte Vista Christian QB/CB Anthony Montoya, Monte Vista Christian T/DE Anthony Shepherd, Overfelt RB/DB Melvon Bellard, Overfelt WR/MLB Luther Dunn III, Overfelt RB/LB Damian Herena, Overfelt FB/MLB Tristan Maningo, Overfelt FB/OLB Isaiah Olivieri, Overfelt FB/MLB Austin Payne, Overfelt QB Paul Renteria
THEY SAID IT
“They’re playing really well right now, but I also think we are,” Overfelt head coach Carlo Maningo said of the challenge of facing top-seeded Milpitas. We’re just going to be who we are and play physical football. That’s what we know, and that’s what we do.”
“We have to limit big plays and get off the field on third down. I know it’s coach-speak, but that’s the reality,” said Saratoga head coach Tim Lugo. His team lost a 54-48 thriller to Gonzales in the first round last year and is heading into what should be another shootout this week against Carmel. “There’s no doubt the playoff experience helps. We were happy to get there (last year), and we played a great game, but I don’t think the moment will be too big for us.”
“We’ve got to put the past in the past,” said Branham head coach Stephen Johnson of his team’s failure to finish the regular season unbeaten. “Last week was last week. We have a great opportunity to go out and show what we are about on our home field.”
Similarly, Monte Vista Christian head coach Jubenal Rodriguez said, “Last week’s loss hurt, but the boys have learned many lessons from it and are ready for the postseason.”
In a division that’s heavy on ‘B’ league teams, the Saratoga Falcons showed that upper-division teams weren’t out of their league, hanging with Los Gatos in a 52-38 loss on Sept. 20. Whoever comes out of Friday’s battle with Carmel will emerge with one of the best remaining offenses in the entirety of Northern California, but since the Falcons are the lower seed and will take to the road, they’ve earned the “sleeper” distinction.