There has been a shift in power in Southern California high school football, with seven of the eight teams selected on Sunday to play in CIF state championship regional playoff games making their first appearance.
The only returning school is Corona Centennial (12-2), and the Huskies will be facing the toughest road of all when they play unbeaten Bellflower St. John Bosco (14-0), the Southland's top-ranked team, in the Open Division regional game on Saturday night at Cerritos College.
The winner would play either Concord De La Salle (13-0), the state's top-ranked team, or Folsom (14-0) and quarterback Jake Browning, the Gatorade state player of the year.
"They have an extremely talented team," Centennial Coach Matt Logan said of St. John Bosco, the champion of the Southland's top-tier Pac-5 Division. "We have our work cut out for us."
In Division I, San Marcos Mission Hills (12-1) will take on Bakersfield (11-2) at Mission Hills.
Division II will feature a rematch between West Hills Chaminade (12-2) and Newhall Hart (12-2) from 13 weeks ago, when Hart won in overtime, 55-54. The game, which will be played on Saturday night at College of the Canyons, will give Coach Ed Croson a second opportunity to knock off a team the Eagles lost to in the regular season. They already avenged a Mission League defeat by Gardena Serra on Friday to win the Western Division title.
In Division III, Newport Beach Corona del Mar (14-0) will meet Ojai Nordhoff (13-1) in a game Friday at Orange Coast College between two neighborhood schools enjoying unprecedented success.
The committee in charge of selecting teams did not announce the pairings for Division IV, because El Cajon Christian (12-1) in the San Diego Section is suing to be considered a Division IV team and a judge is scheduled to rule on Monday. If El Cajon Christian succeeds, it will likely face Bakersfield Christian (13-1). View Park Prep (13-0), the City Section Division III champion, would likely be matched against Bakersfield Christian if the judge rules against El Cajon Christian.
The CIF state bowl games will be held Dec. 20 and 21 at StubHub Center in Carson and revert to a grass field from an all-weather surface the last two years.
St. John Bosco, which won its first Pac-5 title on Saturday night with a 34-7 win over Santa Ana Mater Dei, is focused on fulfilling goals and ambitions.
"We want to keep improving until we're No. 1 in the nation," defensive back and receiver Jaleel Wadood said. "Now it's on to the regionals."
There are some big-time offensive players in the regional playoffs. Browning, a junior quarterback at Folsom, has passed for an extraordinary 5,393 yards and 74 touchdowns in 14 games.
Tre Watson of Centennial has scored 48 touchdowns and rushed for more than 3,400 yards. Chaminade has Miami-bound quarterback Brad Kaaya and St. John Bosco has heavily recruited junior quarterback Josh Rosen. El Cerrito has the Northern California version of Serra offensive-defensive standout Adoree' Jackson in UCLA-bound Adarius Pickett.
St. John Bosco, with its stellar defense in the postseason, is clearly Southern California's best prospect for challenging state power De La Salle for an Open Division championship.
"Swarm and punish is our motto, and that's what we did," St. John Bosco defense back Nas Anesi said after the Mater Dei victory. "We're always strong against the run, but the key was stopping [receiver] Jonathan Lockett. They're a great passing team, but we were able to shut him down."
As for facing Centennial, Wadood said, "Our defense is stacked with athletes from the secondary to the linebackers and up front. Centennial is a great team, but for us it's about executing on defense. We're a great second-half team, and we believe in ourselves and our teammates."