Welcome to the Southern Section Division IX football playoffs. Now pack your bags.
The road to the championship game is going to be a long one . Consider that two of the high schools, Boron and Trona, are about 70 miles apart, and they’re from the same league (Desert-Inyo Large League).
Along the way, teams might have to deal with conditions ranging from snow (Big Bear) to rain (Carpinteria) to wind (Tehachapi) to smog (Montclair Prep).
“The home field plays a big part in our conference,” Whittier Christian Coach Phil Bravo said. “We could be playing in Tehachapi, Kern Valley or Guam.”
He’s kidding about Guam. But whichever team wins the Division IX title will qualify for many frequent-driver miles.
In the first-round games Friday:
--Desert, located at Edwards Air Force Base, will travel almost 4 hours to Leffingwell Christian in Norwalk.
--Trona, which is a mere 40 miles from Death Valley, will be on the road 4 to 5 hours to play at Big Bear.
--Southern California Christian heads up the coast to play Carpinteria, a 3-hour trip from Orange.
“So much depends on how far you have to travel,” Southern California Christian Coach Rick Hayes said.
“We plan to leave at 1:30 p.m. That will give us time to eat and rest before the game. You don’t want to leave too early and have the kids sitting around all day.
“The only thing I’m worried about is if it rains. I understands it rains a lot there this time of year. Still, it’s better than the last time we were in the playoffs.”
In 1983, the Flames had to play Bishop, near Mammoth Lake, in the first round. Southern California Christian lost the game, which was played in the snow.
“Some of my kids had never seen snow before,” Hayes said.
The Flames have one other problem this year, and that’s the Carpinteria Warriors, who won the title last season when it was the Inland Conference.
Carpinteria (8-2) is seeded second after winning the Tri-Valley League. The Warriors are considered one of the favorites, along with No. 1 Valley Christian, which plays host to California School for the Deaf (Riverside) in the first round.
Carpinteria and Valley Christian have a history of success. Carpinteria has appeared in the playoffs 8 consecutive years; Valley Christian has qualified 14 consecutive years and won the title in 1986.
“I think Carpinteria and Valley are guaranteed making it to the quarterfinals,” Bravo said.
Valley Christian (Cerritos) is seeded first, a position it earned by defeating Whittier Christian, 19-12, in an Olympic League game 2 weeks ago. At the time, Whittier Christian was the division’s No. 1 ranked team in the Southern Section poll.
Whittier Christian is No. 3 and Oak Park, the second-place team from the Tri-Valley League, is seeded fourth. However, both face tough first-round games.
Whittier Christian plays Marshall Fundamental at Whittier College, and Oak Park travels to Montclair Prep.
“It’s a pretty tough draw for a seeded team,” Bravo said. “Marshall is a good team, and if we don’t play a perfect game we may be watching other teams play in the quarterfinals. And Oak Park . . . how many times does a seeded team have to go on the road in the first round.”
Tehachapi, ranked No. 1 most of the season before losing to Desert (19-7), also will be on the road in the first round. The Warriors, an at-large team, are at Boron, the first-place team from the Desert-Inyo Small League.
The winner of that game probably will play Valley Christian in the quarterfinals.
“Once you get to the quarterfinals it gets rough for everybody,” said Bravo, who led Whittier Christian to Inland Conference championships in 1983 and 1984. “Everyone is good at that point or they wouldn’t be there.”
Most of the division’s top teams have built their offense around one running back.
Randy Mayfield of Desert, John Stein of Oak Park, Mark Kortenhoven of Valley Christian and Ron Papazian of Whittier Christian are runners who can dominated a game.
“We have 3 guys with 500 or more yards rushing,” Bravo said. “But you can use that to help your passing game. We use a lot of play-action and average 15 yards per reception.”
But it will take more than talent to win.
“You’ve got to find a little continuity, develop a little momentum,” Bravo said. “It’s hard to describe, but there’s a feeling you get that you can’t be beat. And (after the first round) you have to be lucky enough to win the coin toss and stay at home.”
DIVISION IX IN A BOX
Formerly known as: Small Schools Conference.
Defending champion: Carpinteria.
Top teams: Carpinteria and Valley Christian.
Dark Horse Teams: Whittier Christian and Tehachapi.
Best Draw: Carpinteria plays Southern California Christian in the first round and would play the winner of Big Bear-Trona. Should advance to the semifinals before being tested.
Worst Draw: Oak Park is 9-1 but must play at Montclair Prep (6-4) in the first round.
Key Players: Running backs Ron Papazian (Whittier Christian), Mark Kortenhoven (Valley Christian), John Stein (Oak Park) and Randy Mayfield (Desert).
Noteworthy: Long trips are ahead for some teams in the division, which stretches from Death Valley to Santa Barbara and from Lake Isabella to Orange County.