Semifinal week is upon us in the Central Coast Section, and of the 10 games, almost all of them have the potential to go down to the final play. The matchups include rematches, clashes between league champions and all sorts of games that will leave fans wishing they were spread out on the schedule instead of clustered together.
No. 5 Wilcox (9-2) @ No. 1 Serra (10-1), Saturday, 1 p.m.
After their thrilling overtime win against Menlo-Atherton, the expectation was that Serra would be next up for the Chargers. That did indeed turn out to be the case, but the Padres had a much tougher time than expected with Half Moon Bay, which should be an encouraging sign for the SCVAL De Anza champions. While the Cougars stymied Serra with the triple option throughout the first half, Wilcox relies on the veer offense, which teams throughout the Bay Area have struggled to stop. Serra defensive coordinator Steven Monsef is known to innovate, so it’ll be fascinating to see what sorts of packages he throws out to try to slow down Paul Rosa, who ran for 235 yards on 37 carries in Wilcox’s quarterfinal win.
No. 3 St. Ignatius (9-2) @ No. 2 Valley Christian (10-1), Friday, 7 p.m.
As the final seconds of a quarterfinal win over Mitty ticked off, the St. Ignatius student section chanted, “We want Valley.” The Wildcats will get Valley on Friday night with hopes of avenging their lone WCAL loss this season in a battle of two of the league’s tri-champions. The first meeting saw St. Ignatius take the lead into the fourth before the Warrior offense finally woke up, with two long Cory Taylor passes setting up three-yard Michael Corini touchdowns to give the visitors a 17-7 win. That game did show people what SI is capable of, and the Wildcats have hardly slowed down since then. They’ll try to avenge their lone home loss by trying to hand a home defeat to a Valley team that’s won all seven of its home games this year.
No. 4 Sacred Heart Prep (8-3) @ No. 1 Los Gatos (10-1), Friday, 7 p.m.
Traditionally, a battle between Los Gatos and Sacred Heart Prep would be a game in which the two teams combined for 10 attempted passes, but both the Wildcats and Gators enter Friday night with confidence in their quarterbacks. Yes, both teams do have the ability to control the clock and pick up solid chunks of yardage by running the ball, breaking their opponents’ wills in the process, but they can also do damage through the air as needed. SHP’s Teddy Purcell has exceeded expectations throughout the year, posting a 65.5 completion percentage and throwing 14 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Yost Girvan has put up similar numbers for Los Gatos, connecting on 62.9% of his passes and throwing 16 touchdowns to just five picks, with three of those interceptions coming in a loss to Wilcox, the Wildcats’ only defeat on the season.
It’ll be the first time the two teams meet since the 2014 Open Division Semifinals, and some of the stars from that game are still making waves on the gridiron now. Ben Burr-Kirven, now a Seattle Seahawk, ran for two touchdowns and racked up 13 tackles in SHP’s 28-21 win, while Dru Brown, who will be taking over as starting QB at Oklahoma State this week, threw for 157 yards and a pair of scores in the losing effort.
No. 7 Oak Grove (8-3) @ No. 6 Palo Alto (7-4), Friday, 7 p.m.
The rivalry game between Salinas and Palma never came to be as both the Eagles and Vikings played spoiler on the road last week, opening up big leads and holding on late to stun the top two teams from the PCAL. Oak Grove allowed 512 yards but managed to hold the Cowboys to a season-low 20 points, while the Vikings had given up just six points until a frantic late push by the hosts at Rabobank Stadium. When brackets were released, few would have expected Palo Alto to have another home game, but the lights will be on at Ray Field come Friday night, where the home side is 10-1 under head coach Nelson Gifford. Considering that the Eagles did just win at The Pit and have played at St. Francis, they’ll likely be unfazed by the atmosphere.
No. 4 Aptos (6-5) @ No. 1 King’s Academy (8-3), Friday, 7 p.m.
Two of the region’s most highly-regarded coaches will be on opposite sidelines on Friday night as Randy Blankenship takes his squad north to battle a team led by Pete Lavorato. Both teams won section titles last year, but there was no NorCal playoff game for Lavorato’s Knights as they played in Division V, and under the old system, only teams from the top three divisions were allowed to advance. That’s changed in this year’s format, meaning that both teams are two wins away from a regional playoff game.
If Friday’s game goes down to the wire, which it most likely will, expect both coaches to have no hesitation in pulling out trick plays in critical moments. Last year, Aptos called one of the most daring plays anyone’s seen in years, a skip pass lateral to set up a wide receiver pass that went for a touchdown on a fourth-and-11. This season, Lavorato had the moxie to call a double reverse on a third-and-7 that went for a 77-yard score against Burlingame, and in 2015, when coaching Sacred Heart Prep, called a double-reverse flea-flicker that went for the winning score in a section title game.
No. 6 Burlingame (6-5) @ No. 2 Terra Nova (7-4), Friday, 7 p.m.
Every trip to face Terra Nova means a chance for Burlingame head coach John Philipopoulos, an Oceana graduate, to win in his hometown. He’s got just a 2-5 mark in games played in Pacifica, though, including a 29-25 loss back on Oct. 18, a game that turned into an incredible battle between two of the region’s best running backs. Lucas Meredith ran for 199 yards and four touchdowns for the Panthers, but Jalen Camp tore up Burlingame’s defense for 311 yards and a pair of scores. The difference in that game ultimately came on special teams as Burlingame had a botched snap on an extra point and a pair of failed two-point conversions to try to make up that gap. Execution has improved for the Panthers in recent weeks, and they’ll need to be smooth on Friday to take down a Tigers team that’s peaked at the right time, bouncing back from a loss to Half Moon Bay to end the regular season by trouncing Seaside in the quarterfinals.
No. 4 Hillsdale (8-3) @ No. 1 Milpitas (5-6), Friday, 7 p.m.
Fans up and down the Central Coast balked at the idea of Milpitas, one of the section’s largest schools and a traditional football power, being placed in Division IV, but after eighth-seeded Overfelt gave the Trojans a game, it seems like they’re in the right place. Hillsdale will make the trek down south on Friday with hopes of reaching a section title game for the second time this decade, a goal that would have sounded like a pipe dream just a few years ago. The Fighting Knights have made tremendous growth under Mike Parodi, and a win on Friday would be one of their biggest yet as they ride this wave of success.
No. 3 Carmel (6-5) @ No. 2 Branham (10-1), Friday, 7 p.m.
True to form, Carmel lit up the scoreboard in a 62-43 quarterfinal win over Saratoga, but the degree of difficulty will take a step up this week as the Padres head to San Jose. Branham authored a convincing 40-13 win over Monte Vista Christian last Friday as Nick Bandanza racked up 257 total yards, throwing for three touchdowns and running for a fourth while Cameron Rynhard ran for an even 100 yards and two more scores. All three of the passing touchdowns went to Matt Cordova, who had six receptions for 75 yards. As many weapons as the Bruins have on offense, their defense also put together an exceptional game, allowing fewer points to MVC than any other opponent, save for King’s Academy. Carmel’s defense hasn’t been so reliable, though the Padres did hold San Benito to just 14 points in their penultimate regular season game. They allowed 599 total yards to Saratoga QB Payton Stokes last week but managed to do enough offensively to make it a non-factor, with Benicio Cristofalo, typically an outstanding wide receiver, rushing for 170 yards and three touchdowns on just eight carries.
No. 4 Homestead (8-3) @ No. 1 Leland (6-5), Friday, 7 p.m.
While it would be unfair to call this game the unofficial championship, it would be reasonable to anoint the winner as a heavy favorite entering next week. Homestead had two 100-yard rushers last week in Harold Rucker III and Ryan Scudder, with Jared Wade right behind as a near third. Wade, who received a Cal Poly offer this week, gained 88 on 12 carries as the Mustang offense averaged nine yards per run. Leland, meanwhile, continued to struggle offensively with quarterback Carson Yates out injured but had a huge night from sophomore running back Mark Eby, who’s developed brilliantly as the season has progressed. He ran for 269 yards and all three Charger touchdowns in a closer-than-expected 21-14 win over Mt. Pleasant.
No. 6 Santa Teresa (5-6) @ No. 2 Santa Cruz (8-3), Friday, 7 p.m.
Written off by many after only receiving a playoff berth because Lincoln was forgoing the postseason for the Big Bone Game, Santa Teresa turned heads last week with a convincing 41-14 win at Alisal, the Saints’ second-highest point total of the year and by far their largest margin of victory. The Saints have largely been a feast-or-famine offense, scoring just 11.2 points per game in losses but averaging 30.4 in wins. Santa Cruz was also impressive, avenging an early-season loss by trouncing Pacific Grove, a trendy upset pick, 37-14. In all but one of their wins, the Cardinals have scored at least 25, while they’ve been held to 15 or fewer in two of their three losses.