George Watkins: Cowboys may be best team in town

George Watkins: Cowboys may be best team in town

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George Watkins: Cowboys may be best team in town

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If you can’t judge a book by its cover, then you can’t judge a football team by its school enrollment.

The Salinas High football team has a roster the size of a small city, and with a school enrollment of about 2,600, classrooms are close to being standing-room only.

But large numbers don’t always translate into winning programs. If that were the case Independence High in San Jose — with an enrollment of about 3,500 — would be the most feared school in the Central Coast Section.

Besides, there are four schools in the Salinas Union High School District that are bunched so close to each other you can practically put goal posts at any two and have a football game.

Such a situation may at least partly explain why neither Salinas, Alisal, Alvarez or North Salinas has reached a CCS championship football game in 12 years (Salinas in 2001).

We’ve seen what happens to an area with two or more high schools and how it can weaken an athletic program by diluting the talent. South Monterey County, Watsonville and Gilroy are prime examples.

Salinas High, however, appears capable of breaking away from the pack and not only making a serious bid to win the Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division title, but take on the rich and powerful private school programs in the San Jose area come playoff time.

The Cowboys, from all indications, could be that good. In fact, they may be the best team in town.

They’ve got their traditional big and brawny linemen, a sturdy defense, a deep stable of running backs and here’s the kicker — they have a passing game. OMG.

Junior quarterback Zach McDermott showed poise and smarts in his first varsity start three weeks ago against North Salinas, and has already thrown for 242 yards in two games.

The Cowboys have managed to reach the playoffs five years in a row playing 1920s football. Imagine what they’re capable of doing now. Here are the number of yards they’ve passed for in each of the last five years during the 10-game regular season: 2012 – 800 yards, 2011 – 650 yards, 2010 – 322, 2009 – 350, 2008 – 550.

Of course, Salinas will probably never stray far from their traditional ground-and-pound running game, but now that they have a legitimate option there’s no telling what they’re capable of doing.

And we won’t have to wait long to find out.

The Cowboys next two opponents will test the mettle of almost any team in the CCS. This week it’s Sacred Heart Prep of Atherton, which has won the CCS D-IV title twice in the past three years, reached title game three times in the last five years and went to the semifinals in 2009 and 2011. In the last five seasons the Gators are a combined 50-12-1.

Sacred Heart Prep allowed an average of nine points per game last season and has yet to allow a point this year after registering back-to-back 48-0 shutouts. It has one of the hardest hitters in the CCS in junior linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven — No. 25. Wise to keep an eye on him.

Terra Nova follows SHP to town Sept. 27 and all it did last week was whip East Bay power Bishop O’Dowd 45-7 behind an air attack that generated 362 yards and three touchdowns.

The Cowboys have put together a non-league schedule fit for teams thinking CCS Open Division.

And as for now, there’s no reason to think they can’t play with the best.

So make it Salinas 23, Sacred Heart Prep 17.

Last week’s record, 6-2. Season record, 13-5.

Here are the predictions for the remaining games this weekend involving teams from Monterey County.

Who: Alvarez (2-0) at Hillsdale (2-0)

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Prediction: Hillsdale 27, Alvarez 23

Fact: Alvarez tries for first 3-0 start in 12 years.

Who: Soledad (2-0) vs. North Salinas (0-2) at Rabobank Stadium

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Prediction: North Salinas 28, Soledad 20

Fact: Soledad is 2-7 lifetime against teams from Salinas.

Who: Pacific Grove (2-0) at Monterey (1-0)

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Prediction: Monterey 32, Pacific Grove 24

Fact: Teams have met 10 times in the past 30 years. Monterey is 8-2. P.G. won in 2009 and 1983.

Who: Palma (0-2) at St. Joseph’s-Santa Maria (2-0)

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Prediction: Palma 17, St. Joseph’s 14

Fact: Palma is 13-7-1 in pre-season games on the road with Jeff Carnazzo as coach.

Who: Sacred Heart Prep (2-0) at Salinas (2-0)

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Prediction: Salinas 23, Sacred Heart Prep 17

Fact: Salinas needs to win its next two games for first 4-0 start since 1983.

Who: Seaside (1-1) at Wilcox (2-0)

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Prediction: Wilcox 31, Seaside 22

Fact: Seaside is 13-8 against CCS teams from San Jose to San Francisco since Al Avila became head coach in 1993.

Who: Carmel (2-0) vs. Christopher (2-0) at Gilroy High

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Prediction: Carmel 38, Christopher 34

Fact: First meeting. Teams combined to throw more than 500 passes last year.

Who: Alisal (0-2) at King City (0-1)

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Prediction: King City 24, Alisal 18

Fact: First meeting since 1997, Alisal won, 14-6. King City’s last win against Alisal was 1995, 28-12.

Who: Pajaro Valley (1-1) at Gonzales (0-1)

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Prediction: Pajaro Valley 32, Gonzales 26

Fact: Parajo Valley’s only win last year came against Gonzales.

Who: Thurgood Marshall (0-1) vs. Marina (0-1) at MPC

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Prediction: Marshall 24, Marina 21

Fact: This is the best chance yet for Marina’s first ever victory.

Who: Cupertino (2-0) at North County (0-2)

When: Saturday, 2 p.m.

Prediction: Cupertino 26, N. County 23

Fact: North County trying to avoid first 0-3 on-field start since its first year of 1978. Note: They went 0-3 in 2002 but won two of first three only to forfeit them both.

Who: Stevenson (0-0) at Harbor (0-2)

When: Saturday, 2 p.m.

Prediction: Stevenson 20, Harbor 14.

Fact: Teams have been playing each other every year since 1987. Stevenson leads series, 16-9. They’ve split the last four games.

George Watkins is a sports writer for The Salinas Californian. He can be reached at gwatkins@thecalifornian.com and at 754-4264. He can also be followed on Twitter at watkins_salnews.

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