We’re halfway through the high school football season and here is what we’ve learned so far.
* Surprises: The three biggest surprises this year appear to be North Monterey County, Alisal and Palma. Yes, Palma.
Alisal may not be that much of a surprise. The Trojans figured to be good. But 4-1 good with a great chance to be 5-1 should they beat Pajaro Valley at home Friday?
The Trojans aren’t off to the best start in school history, but they’re close. In 1994 Alisal started 6-0.
It opened with wins against Soquel (14-0), Terra Nova (35-7), Seaside (15-14), King City (33-24), Gonzales (42-35) and Carmel (34-7).
But despite such a grand start the Trojans lost their last four games, including a pair of heart-breakers (6-0 to Aptos, 32-31 to Pacific Grove), and missed the Central Coast Section playoffs.
Alisal still has a chance at the best record in school history through eight games (excuse me if we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves here), but would have to beat Pajaro Valley, North County and Seaside to do it.
Palma a surprise?
Only because we’re so used to seeing Palma win with ease that we take it for granted. Anything less than a two-touchdown victory has always been cause for pause.
Palma’s three wins this year have been by five, 10 and 16 points, and combine that with two losses — one to a team from Monterey County for only the second time since 1989 — and it has been a surprisingly different season for the Chieftains.
Years like this have been few and far between for Palma. In 2009, the Chieftains beat Salinas by eight points, tied Seaside and beat North Salinas by 14 in a game much closer than the 21-7 final score.
Before that you have to go back to 2002 when Palma beat North County and North Salinas by eight points and lost to Salinas.
This from a team that has beaten Monterey County area schools by three touchdowns or more 92 times between 1989 and this season.
North Monterey County might be more than just a surprise — it might be the Cinderella team of the year. Not only were the Condors undergoing an overhaul — new coach, new league, new quarterback halfway through the second game of the year — but so was the school with a new principal, new athletic director and a couple of dozen new teachers.
But the Condors nearly pulled off the upset of the year two weeks ago against Seaside, and their mettle will be heavily tested again Saturday when they host Palma at 2 p.m.
After that comes an Oct. 19 clash at Alisal, that will most certainly determine the playoff fate and fortunes of both teams.
* Top teams: Seaside, Carmel and on the outside here come the Cowboys.
Seaside and Carmel have done nothing to harm their pre-season picks as MBL Pacific Division and MTAL champions, respectively.
The full-throttle Padres have won 28 straight league games (league record is 59 by Palma from 1988 to 1997) with no end in sight.
Everything seems to falling into place for Seaside this year. It got a couple of key transfers, was placed in the lower level of the MBL equity league and is playing its most high-profile games of the season — Palma, North County, Monte Vista Christian and Alisal — all at home.
The Spartans have already beat Palma and North County. They have unbeaten MVC at home Friday and Alisal at home Oct. 26.
Salinas has arrived right on schedule.
After being shredded on defense for the better part of September the Cowboys have flipped the switch and are playing playoff-caliber football on both sides of the ball. Happens every October.
The Cowboy defense will be tested again Friday when they travel to Gilroy High to face Christopher and it’s no-huddle, pass-crazy offense. Then comes back-to-back games with Monterey and Palma.
* Playoff bound teams: As we make the turn at the halfway mark teams that seem a cinch to reach the playoffs (warning: Alisal may have thought the same thing in 1994 so beware): Seaside, Carmel, Monte Vista Christian.
* Teams that seem a natural to reach the playoffs: Palma, Salinas, Monterey.
* Teams living on the edge: Soledad, King City, Stevenson, Pacific Grove, Alisal, North County, Hollister.
* George Watkins is a sports writer for the Salinas Californian. He can be reached at gwatkins@thecalifornian or 831-754-4264.