The release of the Southern Section Division 1 football playoff pairings on Sunday offered little suspense. It's still coming down to whether there's any team in Southern California capable of defeating No. 1-seeded Santa Ana Mater Dei (10-0).
During the regular season, Mater Dei was unstoppable. Of course, last season, the Monarchs also went 10-0 before losing a rematch in the championship game to Trinity League rival Bellflower St. John Bosco. This season, though, veteran coach Bruce Rollinson believes he has learned his lesson.
"We approach this whole thing trying to emphasize one day at a time, one period at a time, one game at a time," he said. "We tried to keep our focus out of the newspapers, the rankings, the social media and tried to get them to focus on winning. It all goes to hell in a handbasket if you get your eyes too far down the road."
Even more important, Rollinson decided to abandon his old-school mentality, such as, "I don't care, we're going full gear no matter what." In fact, the Monarchs have been taking Thursdays off from pads.
"I think we hit too much, too long," he said of 2016. "We might not have been as fresh."
The heavily favored Monarchs will begin the playoffs on Friday night against Vista Murrieta at Orange Coast College. They're expected to face the winner of the likely semifinal game between No. 2 Corona Centennial (8-1) and No. 3 St. John Bosco (8-2) in the Dec. 2 final. Angel Stadium is unavailable (renovations), so the final is expected to be at Cerritos College.
Rollinson will remind his players, "you have to take it one game at a time." So will the other coaches. But Mater Dei, Centennial and St. John Bosco are pretty much at a different level. Mission Viejo (10-0) and West Hills Chaminade (9-1) will fight it out for the right to face Mater Dei in the upper bracket semifinals, and a dangerous Santa Margarita (7-3) will be the team to challenge Centennial in the bottom bracket.
Chaminade, though, faces a tough opener at home against high-scoring Orange Lutheran and quarterback Ryan Hilinski, whose older brothers once played quarterback for Sherman Oaks Notre Dame. He'll be able to tell the bus driver how to get to West Hills.
St. John Bosco has lost running back Demetrious Flowers for the season because of an injury, and no one seems to know when quarterback Re-Al Mitchell will be returning from an "undisclosed injury." The Braves do get back two linemen from injuries.
In Division 2, Upland (10-0) was seeded No. 1. The Highlanders have performed well all season, led by junior quarterback David Baldwin, but the seeding people did them no favors by matching them up against Tesoro in the opening round. Upland and Tesoro are both former Division 1 teams. That means an upset is possible.
Like the City Section, which gave automatic berths to Hawkins (0-10) and Los Angeles (1-9) in their playoffs, the Southern Section had its own quirks. Encino Crespi (1-9) made the Division 3 playoffs as an at-large team because of strength of schedule. Oxnard Pacifica (2-8) made Division 7 after Oxnard had to forfeit seven games because of an ineligible player.
In what has become an annual playoff ritual (turning in transfers for not living at the address on file), someone sent photographs to the Southern Section office on Friday alleging a player didn't make a legitimate move. Oxnard was given a deadline but couldn't refute the information in time. The team went from 8-2 to 1-9.