Just four teams remain in each bracket, so the cream has certainly risen to the top by this point of the season. We break down each of the semifinal games to be played this weekend. This features focuses on Divisions 5 and 6 in the North Coast Section.
No. 4 De Anza (10-1) at No. 1 Encinal (10-1), Friday, 7 pm
Simply put, both these teams have been dominant throughout the season, outscoring opponents by large margins and carving a path on which neither team will be pleased unless a section title is the end result.
De Anza romped uncontested through the TCAL-Stone this season, and has outscored opponents 389-104 this year. That includes a 41-21 win over San Marin in the quarterfinals, a game in which standout senior JoJo Vaughn ran for 177 yards and two touchdowns on just six carries, giving him 1,224 rushing yards for the season, and a whopping 16.1 yards per carry.
As dangerous as Vaughn is, he is hardly the only weapon for the Dons. Quarterback Darrion Davis is a true dual-threat, having rushed for 580 yards and eight touchdowns while completing 65 percent of his passes for 881 yards and 17 touchdowns, with just one interception. Jalen Henderson rounds out a dangerous trio, and is one of the top two-way players in the section. Henderson enters the game with 19 catches for 465 yards and nine touchdowns, has scored twice on punt returns and has four interceptions to go with his 85 tackles on defense.
Encinal, meanwhile, has outscored opponents 333-83 so far this year, winning six games by shutout. The Jets were challenged, however, by two-time defending section champion Fortuna last week before turning back the Huskies, 35-24. Having played in front of its opponents for a large majority of the season, Encinal’s defensive secondary has seen plenty of action, which plays into a big strength of the Jets’ defense. Vince Nunley, Keirr Stewart, Isaiah Smith and Teddy Oliver are a collective nightmare for opposing quarterbacks if they are in a situation where they need to throw.
“Vince and Teddy are definitely key factors for us going into this game, on both sides of the ball,” said Encinal linebacker Jezaiah Naigulevu, who anchors the middle of the Jets’ defense.
Smith and Archie Cole also form an efficient offensive backfield, while Stewart and Oliver have been favorite targets of quarterback David Romero-Reinholz.
These teams met early last season, when De Anza defeated Encinal, 22-7, holding the Jets to 150 yards of total offense in that game.
Encinal is seeking its first NCS title since beating Novato for the Division 3 crown back in 2008. The Jets last reached the title game in 2010.
De Anza is seeking its first NCS title since 1987, when the Dons beat Marin Catholic for the 2A title.
No. 3 Moreau Catholic (8-3) at No. 2 Del Norte (10-1), Saturday, 7 pm
One only needed to look at the rushing yardage totals from this year’s season opener between Moreau Catholic and Del Norte to know who won that game. Back on Aug. 23, Del Norte racked up 282 yards on the ground in a 20-19 win over the Mariners, while holding Moreau to 80 rushing yards. Since then, Del Norte has continued to use its run game to take down one opponent after another, but this week will face a Moreau team that will sport a slightly different look than the team the Warriors saw in August.
Kobe Mitchell, Levi Cox Cooley and Chase Blackburn have formed the nucleus for a Del Norte attack which has compiled over 3,400 yards on the ground. And the defense has also been stout, allowing just 119 points all season while the offense has put up over 400 points. But they will face their biggest challenge of the season this Saturday night.
In this year’s season opener, Moreau played without senior Fresh Ison and junior Devin Arnold. Ison did not return from shoulder surgery until near the end of the regular season, but was turned loose in a quarterfinal win over Miramonte. Ison and Arnold each broke loose for multiple long touchdown runs in last week’s victory, signaling a return to full strength for the Mariners.
Moreau is seeking a return to the title game after getting there for the first time in school history last season, while Del Norte is looking to reach the section title game for the first time in program history.
No. 4 Justin-Siena (8-3) at No. 1 Kennedy-Richmond (10-1), Friday, 7 pm
Host Kennedy proved itself against larger schools all season long, and captured a share of the TCAL-Rock title with a thrilling win over Salesian at the end of the regular season. The Eagles then coasted past Arcata in the quarterfinals to create an opportunity to reach the section final for the first time since defeating Healdsburg for the 1988 NCS 2A title.
Across the field will be six-time section champion Justin-Siena, who last won the crown in 2014, when the Braves beat St. Mary’s-Albany in the title game. With junior Hudson Beers at quarterback, Justin-Siena has expanded its passing game this season, with Beers completing 62 percent of his passes for 2,762 yards and 28 touchdowns. Tight end Miles Williams has been the top target for the Braves, with 1,004 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Blake Hoban and Solomone Anitoni have been effective as well. Anitoni and Williams are also tied for the team lead in interceptions.
“We can’t get in our own way and make costly mistakes because Justin-Siena will make us pay. Last week we played the worst I have seen in a while and another performance like that will send us packing,” said Kennedy coach Greg Marshall. “We have to find a way to slow down their high-powered offense. Their quarterback does a great leading the offense, they have a deep core of receivers, and Noah Young is a force out of the backfield. They don’t make a lot of mistakes, so we have to be disciplined. Brandon (LaRocco) will have his guys ready to play, and play they will.”
Marshall referenced what he considered to be a subpar performance last week for the Eagles, who were carried by four touchdowns from multi-dimensional weapon Camron Young, who scored three times on receptions and another time on a punt return. The run game for Kennedy, meanwhile, is led by senior Trey Baker, who scored the thrilling game-winner in the regular season finale against Salesian. Junior Jermaine Terry is another two-way weapon for the Eagles, as the Division I recruit shines at tight end and defensive end.
No. 3 Middletown (8-2) at No. 2 St. Bernard’s Academy (8-3), Saturday, 1 pm
Two programs with a rich history of success in the post-season clash in this Division 6 semifinal, as the defending NCS champion Mustangs travel to Eureka for a Saturday afternoon affair.
After going unbeaten in the North Central League this season, Middletown raced past Pinole Valley in the quarterfinals, scoring 33 first-half points on their way to a 40-6 victory. Standout back Nico Barrio had a pair of first-half touchdown runs to pace the Mustangs, who will look to control the ball against St. Bernard’s’ high-flying attack.
St. Bernard’s had no trouble with Ygnacio Valley in the first round, getting 316 yards and six touchdowns passing from Will Omey in the 58-18 victory. For the season, Omey has 2,689 yards and 33 touchdowns passing, while adding 954 yards and 10 scores on the ground. Omey’s top target this season has been two-way standout Lane Thrap, who has 53 catches for 1,206 yards and 22 touchdowns, while standout linebacker Justin Hagler has added 46 catches on the offensive side of the ball.
“This is as tough a game as we could face in the post-season. It is a definite contrast in styles, and they are very good at what they do,” said St. Bernard’s coach Matt Tomlin. “The respect we have for Coach Foltmer and that program is great.”
Middletown, which won three section titles from 1997-2001, snapped a drought with its Division 5 title game win over Salesian last year. St. Bernard’s, which last won a title in 2015, is looking for its first trip back to the title game since falling to Cardinal Newman in the 2016 Division 4 championship.