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PITTSBURG: PLAYERS WANTED SAN RAMON VALLEY
Pittsburg is the defending North Coast Section Division I champion. But thanks to the section’s playoff seeding, its players feel as if they have something to prove Friday night when they play San Ramon Valley for the D-I title at Dublin High.
The Pirates were unbeaten during the regular season but were slotted as the No. 3 seed behind No. 1 De La Salle and No. 2 SRV in the Open/Division I bracket.
“It’s personal. That should’ve been our No. 2 seed,” Pittsburg quarterback Marley Alcantara said. “We went 10-0 in the regular season, and they just got put up in Division I this season. We’ve got to prove what we already know. We’re 12-0 and are about to be 13-0.”
SRV lost to De La Salle 17-7 on Friday in the Open Division final, dropping the Wolves into the Division I title game, a playoff format that Pittsburg took advantage of the past two seasons as the Open/Division I bracket’s No. 2 seed.
Pittsburg lost to DLS in the Open final in 2021 and 2022, then beat Clayton Valley Charter for the Division I championship in both years.
Friday, Pittsburg played a physical brand of football in a 35-14 victory over California, rushing for more than 350 yards and attempting just 12 passes.
“All of the championship games are won up front,” Pittsburg coach Charlie Ramirez said. “In every big game we haven’t been able to come through, we were losing the battle on the line of scrimmage.”
Pittsburg has a big offensive line and highly productive running backs Elijah Bow and Jamar Searcy, whom Ramirez compared to USC’s legendary duo of Reggie Bush and LenDale White.
SRV’s only two losses were to DLS, one in overtime, the other tight from start to finish.
“They’re a hell of a good team,” Bow said about SRV, “but we’re even more of a hell of a team.”
– Joseph Dycus
SAN RAMON VALLEY: THE JONES FACTOR
The last San Ramon Valley player to leave the Dublin High field on Friday night after the Open title game was its most dominant player, middle linebacker Marco Jones.
Jones always meets with his family after each game, on the track.
The Bay Area News Group interviewed the 6-foot-4, 225-pound junior on the walk back to the locker room. The Wolves fell short of ending De La Salle’s 32-year unbeaten streak against NCS opponents, losing 33-27 in overtime last month and 17-7 on Friday.
But Jones was even better in the rematch than he had been in the first game against DLS. He finished with 22 tackles (11 solo) and made an incredible interception in which he covered half the field to reel in the ball.
“We knew what we did the first time and we knew we had to change a little bit up because they’re going to game plan against us,” said Jones, who had 19 tackles (eight solo) and a forced fumble against DLS last month. “They’re a really well-coached team, a really good team. But why not lay it all out there? It doesn’t hurt.”
The championship game loss was obviously painful, given that SRV led 7-3 going to the fourth quarter, but Jones believes his team will be ready to bounce back for the Pittsburg game.
“I think mentally we’ll be ready,” Jones said. “We’ll be fired up coming off of this loss. This one there is no guaranteed game after. We should be all right. Play our type of football.”
– Darren Sabedra
LOS GATOS, WILCOX: FAMILIAR FOES MEET AGAIN
Wilcox and Los Gatos will add another chapter to their intense rivalry on Friday night. But this time, it’s not the league championship on the line.
No, the two premier public school programs in the South Bay will play for the Central Coast Section Division I title at San Jose City College.
“It’s a storied rivalry, and it’s going to be fun,” Los Gatos coach Mark Krail said. “They’ve beaten us their share in the past 10 to 12 years, and we’ve gotten in our wins as well.
“In terms of knowing each other, I think they know us better than we know us, and you know what, the opposite is probably true as well.”
Wilcox stunned St. Francis 52-28 in the first round of the Open/Division I playoffs, setting up a blowout loss on Friday to juggernaut Serra in the Open Division title game. Like in the NCS, the Open runner-up plays for the section’s D-I title.
Los Gatos reached the Division I final by beating Archbishop Riordan in the first round and St. Ignatius 21-17 on Friday.
Last month, Los Gatos beat Wilcox 24-21 on the road with a go-ahead touchdown in the final 30 seconds. Krail expects a similar game on Friday.
“The respect we have for them, and the rivalry we have for them is so healthy,” Krail said. “It’s what high school is all about.”
– Joseph Dycus
SERRA, DE LA SALLE: THE WAITING GAME
The Bay Area’s top two teams, Serra and De La Salle, will have this weekend off after winning Open Division section championships Friday.
In Serra’s case, it will likely have two weekends off.
The San Mateo powerhouse, having beaten DLS and Folsom this season, is all but a lock to face Mater Dei or St. John Bosco for the Open Division state championship on Dec. 9 in Southern California.
It would be Serra’s third consecutive appearance in the state’s top game.
The Padres lost to Mater Dei 44-7 in 2021 and Bosco 45-0 last season, the latter leading to Serra coach Patrick Walsh telling reporters on the field afterward that it felt as if his undefeated team had no chance.
Serra is sixth in calpreps.com’s latest computer ratings, two spots ahead of Clovis North, the only other possibility to be chosen to represent the North in the Open game.
Clovis North (12-0) plays Central-Fresno for the Central Section Division I championship on Friday night.
If Clovis North wins, the more likely scenario is the Fresno-area school playing DLS in one regional and Folsom, provided it beats Oak Ridge on Friday for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship, playing the San Ramon Valley-Pittsburg winner in another regional.
DLS won at Folsom 14-7 on Sept. 22, the fifth meeting between the teams since 2021. They have met in each of the past two regionals, with both sides winning once.
A less likely scenario, but a juicy one locally, would be De La Salle playing Pittsburg in a NorCal title game. Pittsburg obviously would have to beat SRV.
If that happens, the undefeated Pirates would get their chance to become the first team from the NCS to beat DLS since Pittsburg’s 1991 squad did it.
Maybe that possibility isn’t so far-fetched.
Last season, SRV and Marin Catholic from the NCS played in a regional, as did Palo Alto and Santa Teresa from the CCS.
The CIF will announce the matchups on Sunday.
– Darren Sabedra
CHRISTOPHER: STORYBOOK ENDING FOR COACH?
Christopher coach Darren Yafai told his staff at the beginning of the season that he would not be returning next year.
He waited until just before the playoffs started to tell his players.
Through two rounds, they have created some magical moments for Yafai, who has coached football for three decades and has led the Christopher varsity program since 2021 after coaching the school’s JV team when this year’s seniors were freshmen.
The eighth-seeded Cougars overcame a 17-point deficit in the third quarter on Saturday to win on the road over Menlo School 21-17. The previous week, they rallied from nine down with about five minutes left to beat top-seeded Archbishop Mitty 33-28.
Saturday night at San Jose City College, they will play second-seeded Soquel for the CCS Division II championship and a spot in the regionals.
Amari Bluford, whose 79-yard touchdown reception from Jaxen Robinson on Saturday ignited the rally, just as his 95-yard kickoff return led the comeback against Mitty, said the team wants to send Yafai out on top.
“He’s been here since my freshman year,” the senior said. “He was my freshman coach, my sophomore coach, my junior year coach. I want to pay him back. He means everything. I have known him since I was 5. He’s like my uncle.”
Yafai called Bluford one of the team’s MVPs.
“I’m buddies with his dad,” Yafai said. “I’ve known him since he was a little boy. He’s an amazing football player.”
– Darren Sabedra
ARAGON: COACH STEPS DOWN
After two decades leading the Aragon football program, Steve Sell said last week that he won’t be back on the sideline next season.
He will continue as the school’s athletic director and remain involved with the CCS.
The San Mateo Daily Journal first reported the news.
“You start to assess every year and see where you are,” Sell told the Bay Area News Group. “The litmus test is am I ready to give and do I want to give everything that the kids deserve. As long as that answer is yes, keep going.
“I don’t feel like I can give and want to give everything this job requires, time-wise and emotionally. Twenty, that’s a long time.”
Now Sell and the school will go through the process of selecting the next coach.
“There’s some good people out there and some support pieces on our campus,” Sell said. “As I told the kids when I talked to them, I care way too much about this program just to leave anything to chance. I wanted to make sure there were some people here on campus who could make up a staff.
“Obviously, this position is open. There is going to be an interview process. But in terms of people who want to work with kids and are good with kids and are good football coaches, we have some good people on campus that I feel good about it and that whoever the next head coach is can really put together a good staff.”
Sell said it would be great to have a new coach in place by the holidays.
– Darren Sabedra
– According to Cal-Hi Sports, DLS on Friday broke the state record for most section championships. The Spartans have 38, one more than Bakersfield.
– The NCS website lists DLS with 40 section titles, counting this year’s. But in two of those years (1984 and ‘85), the Spartans won a South 2A title and 2A title in the same season.
– Los Gatos will be aiming for its 16th CCS title on Friday, its third under coach Mark Krail.
– Pittsburg is 4-1 against SRV in the MaxPreps era (2004-present). The teams have not played since 2017, a 16-7 win by Pittsburg.
– Friday’s NCS Division II final at Diablo Valley College will be a rubber match between El Cerrito and Windsor. El Cerrito beat Winsdor 34-27 in the D-III final last season. In 2021, Windsor beat El Cerrito 33-32 in the D-III semifinals.
– In the five CCS finals this weekend, eight of the 10 teams come from the section’s “A” leagues. Alisal (B league) and South San Francisco (C league) also reached a final.
— Darren Sabedra