Division V has three representatives of one-bid ‘C’ leagues (Mills, Mt. Pleasant and Pacific Grove) but also has two ‘A’ league teams in Leland and Santa Teresa. The Saints are one of the most interesting teams in the field as they only got in by virtue of Lincoln forgoing the playoffs to play in the Big Bone Game on Thanksgiving, making them the ultimate dark horses. Leland had been projected for higher divisions throughout much of the season, but an injury to quarterback Carson Yates that led to the Chargers dropping their final three games may have been a blessing in disguise as they find themselves as the top seed in Division V now, the proverbial biggest fish in the smallest pond.
No. 1 Leland, No. 2 Santa Cruz, No. 3 Alisal, No. 4 Homestead, No. 5 Mills, No. 6 Santa Teresa, No. 7 Pacific Grove, No. 8 Mt. Pleasant
Leland stands out in the crowd, having one of the best wins in the field by taking down Lincoln in a 42-35 thriller on Oct. 3. However, the Chargers also ran into a few buzz saws against competition, with three of their five losses coming by at least 35 points. Alisal also boasts a strong win, responsible for Seaside’s lone loss this season courtesy of an outstanding defensive effort. Friday should be a special one for the Trojans as they host just their second home playoff game in school history; the other was in 2012. It’s been a waiting game for many of the teams in the field. Homestead and Santa Teresa are ending two-year playoff droughts and Pacific Grove is in the dance for the first time since 2015, but their plight pales in comparison to Mills. The Vikings are playing postseason football for the first time since 2006.
In terms of numbers, most of the teams are thin, relying heavily on two-way players. Alisal stands out with 54 on the roster, followed by Homestead’s 43-man squad. Mt. Pleasant has 39, but none of the other teams are above the mid-30s.
The Cardinals are the lowest-ranked of any of the CCS playoff teams, coming from the BVAL West Valley Division, but they’re certainly more refined than a typical ‘C’ league team. Seven of their players are in their third year of varsity football, and running back Marco Herrera has been on an absolutely torrid pace as of late, putting up a 308-yard performance against Lick to clinch an outright league title. He’s one of the top big-play threats in a field that also features Homestead’s Harold Rucker III, who’s over 1,000 all-purpose yards on the season and torched Gunn last week, running for two touchdowns and finding the end zone a third time on a kickoff return.
Of all the standout talents, though, Leland QB Carson Yates stands out. In just eight games, he’s accounted for 2,270 yards. Many of his top targets are underclassmen, including sophomores Mark Eby and Noor Haroon and juniors Garrison Nakaji, Siddhant Thadani and Corbin Yates. Mills also has strong underclassmen, including junior running back Tevita Fifita, but the Vikings lost their regular season finale 33-0 to Capuchino as they played without three key linemen. Their status moving forward will be imperative in order to go on a deep playoff run.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Leland WR/RB/DB Mark Eby, Leland WR/DB Noor Haroon, Leland WR/DB Garrison Nakaji, Leland FB/LB Andrew Thorne, Leland WR/DB Siddhant Thadani, Leland QB/DB Carson Yates, Leland WR/DB Corbin Yates, Santa Cruz WR/DB Kobe Bailey, Santa Cruz RB/DB Qwentin Brown, Santa Cruz WR/FS Henry Campion, Santa Cruz QB Dillon Danner, Santa Cruz RB/ILB Makai Norman, Santa Cruz WR/DB Caleb Womack, Alisal QB Benny Chuca, Alisal WR/CB Nicholas Enriquez, Alisal T/DT Jerome Navarro, Alisal FS Andrei Rayas, Alisal FB/MLB Ezequiel Rodriguez, Homestead OL/MLB Chuck Rak, Homestead WR/CB Harold Rucker III, Homestead RB/SS Ryan Scudder, Homestead QB/OLB Gabe Solorio, Homestead WR/OLB Greg Tsao, Homestead FB/MLB Jared Wade, Homestead QB/SS Nadim Zarzour
Mills RB/SS Tevita Fifita, Mills WR/CB Ibrahim Masri, Mills FB/LB Tupou Netane, Mills QB Dominic Piefer, Mills WR/DB Clayton Plattner, Mills RB/FS Nuku Vahai, Santa Teresa WR/CB Giovanni Aguirre, Santa Teresa QB Gabriel Lopez, Santa Teresa TE/OLB Joseph Robledo, Santa Teresa OL/DL Carlos Padilla, Pacific Grove RB/LB Chianti Charter, Pacific Grove RB/DB Anthony DaSilva, Pacific Grove WR/DB Parker McAnally, Pacific Grove QB Ben Minik, Pacific Grove RB/DB Blake Moore, Pacific Grove OL/DL Mae Tulua, Mt. Pleasant WR/CB Alfredo Hernandez, Mt. Pleasant T/DE Luciano Floressaenz, Mt. Pleasant QB Ethan Hernandez, Mt. Pleasant RB/DE Joshua Hernandez, Mt. Pleasant RB/DB Marco Herrera, Mt. Pleasant WR/DB Luke Landeros, Mt. Pleasant RB/LB Joshua Romero
THEY SAID IT
“Our whole thing has been day-by-day, let’s get back in it,” Homestead head coach Milo Lewis said of the Mustangs’ mentality through his team’s current five-game winning streak.
“We’ve had this mantra, ‘We’re happy to be in the dance,’” Mt. Pleasant coach Frank Lopez Jr. said of his team’s outlook against Leland. “We’re the 40th team out of 40. We have to play a perfect game and eliminate mistakes. Against a lower-league team, you can have that, but against upper-echelon teams, you can’t.”
Having already beaten Santa Cruz once and having played a competitive game against Carmel, Pacific Grove shouldn’t be counted out, even as the representative of the PCAL Santa Lucia Division. The Breakers may have just 22 on their roster, but it hasn’t stopped them. With Leland as a heavy favorite, Homestead could also be seen as a sleeper team, with a rushing attack that can rival the best of them and a defense that’s found itself over the past four games.