By Jeremy Balan
The two City Catholic high schools in the Central Coast Section football playoffs have outlooks and circumstances that could not be more different.
St. Ignatius, following its winningest season since 2006, is in the elite Open Division for the second time in school history, while Riordan, after going winless in West Catholic Athletic League for the second straight year, snuck into the Division III playoffs by winning a coin flip.
The sixth-seeded Wildcats (7-3) will head down to Salinas on Friday night to take on Monterey-area power Palma, the No. 3 seed and the owner of 11 CCS titles, including a Division IV championship in 2011.
The Chieftains (8-2) beat WCAL foe St. Francis in non-league play, lost to currently undefeated Seaside, then went undefeated in the Monterey Bay League’s Gabilan Division to get into the Open Division playoffs.
Palma features at least two Division I college commits on its offensive and defensive lines, and junior running back Brandon Olivares has rushed for 1,037 yards and 16 touchdowns.
“They’re a very good team,” said St. Ignatius head coach John Regalia. “They’re playing championship football and went undefeated in their league, which is a good league. They’re good up front, especially, and they get off the ball well. That’s their strength.”
Riordan (3-7), the No. 7 seed in the Division III tournament, will also face a run-heavy attack in second-seeded Sobrato of Morgan Hill, which operates in a Wing-T formation, on Saturday night at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill.
The Bulldogs (7-3) have rushed for 2,652 yards and 26 touchdowns this season, led by senior Miguel Redmond’s 1,135 yards, but also feature an efficient quarterback in senior Michael Bocksnick, who has averaged nearly 20 yards per completion this season, has totaled 1,386 yards and has a 15-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
“They’re trying to run the football – well, they are running the football,” Riordan head coach Richard Sweeney said of Sobrato. “They are explosive on offense.”
Sweeney said that he has no qualms about the Crusaders backing into the playoffs on the strength of an undefeated non-league season and the section’s new, weighted system that favors playoff entries for WCAL teams, but was most relieved to play a non-league opponent in the playoffs, even though third-seeded Valley Christian likely looms if they get to the second round. Sweeney has also brought up 12 junior varsity players to increase the Riordan roster size to 36.
“I just know the last seven weeks have been a meat-grinder,” Sweeney said. “I’m happy we have a chance to play another game, against a team outside of our league. I’m excited about coaching these kids another week and maybe more.”
While it would be hard to see Riordan advance past Valley Christian in the second round (especially without standout junior quarterback Zach Masoli, who won’t play again this week due to a hand injury), the Wildcats may have the best draw possible in the Open Division.
Palma is far from a pushover and defeated the Wildcats 41-21 in their last meeting in 2006, but Bellarmine and Serra, which handed St. Ignatius its only WCAL losses this season, are on the other side of the bracket. The Wildcats would not have to face either until the potential championship game and with Mitty as the No. 7 seed, there could be an all-WCAL tournament in the second round.
“We didn’t really have a lot of expectations going in and that’s just how it played out,” Regalia said of the Open Division setup. “The WCAL has been pretty well represented in the Open in the past and there are a lot of possibilities there.”