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Sage Hill qualifies for CIF 8-man football playoffs

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Sage Hill’s Ben Romeo scores a touchdown against Avalon in the first half of the Express League title game on Nov. 1 at Ramer Field in Newport Beach.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The Sage Hill School 8-man football team is back in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs.

The Lightning learned of their first-round game on Monday, when the section released the brackets. Sage Hill (8-1) will host San Jacinto Valley Academy (6-2) on Friday at 7 p.m.

In its second year as part of the Express League, Sage Hill repeated as the undefeated league champion. The Lightning will carry a seven-game winning streak into the postseason.

San Jacinto Valley Academy earned an at-large berth with a runner-up finish in the Victory League.

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Last season, Sage Hill picked up its first playoff victory under BJ Crabtree, who took over as the head coach of the program when it joined the ranks of 8-man football in 2016.

Sage Hill edged La Cañada Flintridge Prep 28-26 in the first round at home last season, before falling to Canoga Park Faith Baptist 56-7 in the quarterfinals on the road.

A one-sided loss to Flintridge Prep by a score of 55-8 on Sept. 6 sparked changes for the better from the Lightning, who have not lost since.

“I made a lot of changes,” Crabtree said. “Tough decisions based on different personnel, but it seemed to be the right combination, and players really did well.

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“We’re heading into these playoffs with a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence. I definitely have my biggest playbook that I’ve had in four years. Our kids just have a great ability to take these plays and execute them at a high level, so that’s great.”

Finn McClintock throws for three touchdowns and runs for two scores, leading the Lightning to a 40-28 victory and a CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoff berth.

Sage Hill has been led by junior wide receiver and cornerback Ben Romeo, whom Crabtree said was named the Express League Offensive Player of the Year.

Junior quarterback Finn McClintock has thrown for 16 touchdowns with only one interception, while junior Christo Karahalios and senior Jake Nadelman have played prominent roles in the running game.

The travel in 8-man football can be significant, so Crabtree is thankful to have a home game to open the playoffs.

“That’s a big deal,” Crabtree said. “We had a great turnout two weeks ago at our homecoming game [against San Pedro Rolling Hills Prep]. We had a weird, unique game last week for the league championship at 2:30 [versus Avalon].

“We had a lot of the parents come out. We’re definitely hoping for a nice turnout again at home.”

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