The 2013 campaign turned out to be quite a season for the state of Tulare County high school football.
After three straight seasons without a CIF Central Section title, three teams from Tulare County captured Central Section championships — El Diamante (Division II), Dinuba (Division III) and Farmersville (Division VI).
Dinuba quarterback Marcus McMaryion received an official scholarship offer from Oregon State, and he is slated to sign with the Beavers on Feb. 5, the national letter of intent day for college football. He is the first Tulare County quarterback to land a scholarship to a Pac-12 school in over a generation.
Farmersville junior quarterback Sam Metcalf set new single-season and career records for touchdown passes with his remarkable season.
Mission Oak was on the brink of being awarded a CIF Southern California regional bowl game bid before suffering a heartbreaking 35-34 loss to Bakersfield Christian in Friday’s Division IV title game.
Still, three Tulare County teams earned spots in the final CalHiSports.com CIF Southern California bowl polls:
* El Diamante (12-1) finished No. 15 in Division II, and eighth amongst eligible section champions.
* Mission Oak (12-1) was No. 8 in Division III.
* Central Valley Christian (8-4) was No. 9 in Division IV.
Now it’s a case of trying to maintain this high level of play.
There will be quite a list of key graduation losses throughout the county, but there are several teams who should be considered Central Section title contenders in 2014 — a lot will depend on how the section revamps its divisions.
If the 2014 season is going to resemble or surpass the accomplishments of the 2013 season, here’s what a few of the area programs need from Santa Claus in a couple of weeks:
CVC: A quick reload. The Cavaliers will return several key pieces to their game-controlling running attack, most notably running back Macintyre Garbani , but they’ve got some holes to fill up front and they need to break in a new starting quarterback.
El Diamante: High-profile win. El Diamante could have a slim, but realistic chance of contending for a Southern California regional bowl bid if it remains in Division II. The Miners flirted with a bowl bid back in 2007, and probably would have obtained it if they had defeated Clovis West that season (30-17 defeat). If the Miners are able to retain their Division II crown in 2014, they need a win over a top Central Section Division I team to strengthen their argument in front of the state’s section commissioners.
Exeter: Another great coach. The Monarchs will return several key players from this year’s squad that advanced to the Division IV semifinals, and scored a 34-21 regular-season win over Division III champion Dinuba. But it’s difficult to expect that same level of success without Ben White as head coach. If White opts to stay in coaching in this area, there should be some serious interest in trying to lure White. White did a tremendous job at Exeter.
Mission Oak: A new standout defensive line. Losing Elijah Porchia may turn out to be a crippling blow to the Hawk offense, but replacing Porchia isn’t the No. 1 item on the offseason agenda. The Hawks have to introduce four new starters on the defensive line. There are some talented players in line to help fill those starting slots, but it’s going to take some time before you expect those players to play with the same type of intensity and discipline that this year’s d-line played with all season.
Porterville: Improved defense. Even with a new starting quarterback and trying to find a new go-to wide receiver, still expecting the Panthers to have one of the area’s more prolific offenses with running back Isaiah Jones leading the way (1,407 yards and 17 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2013). But for the Panthers to contend for a league and section championships, they need better defensive play. Porterville surrendered 93 points over its three losses. Points-allowed average was over 30 points per game overall.
Redwood: Top defensive playmaker. The Rangers had a well-rounded defensive unit in 2013, but they could really use one player that can wreak havoc all over the place (forcing turnovers, poor decisions by opposing quarterbacks) — someone who opposing offensive coordinators have to specifically game plan for.
Tulare Western: A viable running game. Rocha stated when he took over Tulare Western earlier this year that the Mustangs would employ an offensive attack similar to that of El Diamante. But the Mustangs were unable to produce the kind of rushing totals that would allow them to dictate games. The core of Tulare Western’s vastly-improved passing attack will return in 2014, but without a productive ground game, the Mustangs will face tough times against formidable foes.
New CIF uniform number rule: This has to come from the state level, and not just the section, but a common-sense decision is needed for the CIF to adopt a similar rule as college football when it comes to uniform numbers where the number must be of a color that clearly contrasts from the color of the uniform. It is extremely frustrating when grandparents have to go to their grandson’s parents, and ask them what number he’s wearing and still have no idea where he is on the field because they can’t distinguish the numbers. If you don’t think those conversations happen in the stands, you better think again. It’s bad business to frustrate your fan base. Get rid of the illegible uniform numbers.
Don’t understand some of the resentment some people had about Mission Oak’s quest for a Southern California regional bowl game bid and their rejoicing when the Hawks lost on Friday (the majority of the county wasn’t like this, though). Don’t know if it was just jealousy or if they actually felt Misson Oak wasn’t deserving of such an accomplishment.
Those people aren’t seeing the big picture here.
If Mission Oak had advanced to the CIF Division III Southern California regional bowl game, and had a solid showing at that level — which I believed they would have — it bodes well for all of Tulare County football. It helps garner attention from college coaches, open doors for other section-title teams from Tulare County who are deserving of a regional bowl-game invite in the future, and inspires current and future Tulare County high school football teams that anything is possible.
The jealousy should stop now.
Mission Oak’s two-year window for this fling with a regional bowl game bid just closed.
The Hawks should be promoted to Division III in the Central Section next year based on their two straight East Yosemite League titles and this year’s Division IV runner-up finish. And a Central Section Division III team is up for Division II regional bowl game consideration, and that pool of teams is much more formidable than the pool of teams eligible for the Division III regional bowl game. Not saying it’s impossible, but the road to Carson (state bowl game site) just got a lot tougher.
Selecting teams for these regional bowl games is not an exact science either.
Watched a few Southern Section championship games on Saturday, and I can’t believe that Salesian-Los Angeles (12-2) wasn’t named to the Divisoin III regional game. Salesian trounced Mission Prep 34-0 for the Southern Section Division XIII title. Salesian is loaded with elite talent — the kind that Pac-12 coaches covet — but the two blemishes on its record (a lopsided loss to Venice, a top Division I team from the Los Angeles city section and a narrow loss to Muir-Pasadena, a team that reached the semfinals of the Southern Section Division VII bracket) was too much for the state’s section commissioners. But in terms of talent and prowess, they should have been in that game. Don’t think there’s another team in our section outside of Bakersfield that wanted a piece of that team.
Nordhoff-Ojai (13-1), the team that gained the most with Mission Oak’s loss, was a worthy selection for the Division III Southern California regional bowl game. Nordhoff looked like a Central Section Division I top playoff team in its 49-21 win over El Segundo in the Southern Section Division X final. Nordhoff will face Corona del Mar-Newport Beach (14-0), the Southern Section Division IX champion. Both teams have won back-to-back Southern Section titles.
As far as future regional bowl game aspirations for a Tulare County team, I strongly believe that CVC has the best chance to do it.
The Cavaliers will be a CIF Division IV eligible team for the foreseeable future (school enrollment must be 500 students or less), and they have a nonleague series set up for the long term with Bakersfield Christian. Anytime CVC defeats Bakersfield Christian and wins a section title, they should be included in that regional bowl game conversation. That forecast would change if the Central Section moves to the Northern California region, because there are more private small schools in the Bay Area that have top-flight football programs and the enrollments of most of those schools are under 500.
It wouldn’t hurt CVC to begin a series with the San Luis Obispo-based Mission Prep. Mission Prep has had a constant presence in the CIF state bowl polls in recent years.
The 2003 and 2004 CVC teams that went 13-0 under Mark Gambini would have been selected if there was a regional bowl game system around then.
In the Central Section, it’s better to be small when you’re unable to have the kind of nonleague games that most of the Southern Section’s top teams are able to put together.
Just the Stats
A look at the statistical leaders in Tulare County this season:
Passing: 1. Sam Metcalf, Farmersville, 3,637 yards; 2. Alex Jara, Lindsay, 2,678 yards, 3. Marcus McMaryion, Dinuba, 2,659 yards, 4. Trey McJunkin, Mission Oak, 2,126 yards; 5. Adam Vance, Redwood, 2,084 yards.
Rushing: 1. Elijah Porchia, Mission Oak, 2,357 yards; 2. Austin Cardoza, Exeter, 1,884 yards; 3. Michael Wright, Dinuba, 1,863 yards, 4. Romello Harris, Tulare Union, 1,860 yards; 5. Macintyre Garbani, CVC, 1,509 yards.
Receiving: 1. Joseph DeLaCruz, Farmersville, 1,276 yards (67 receptions), 2. Gaven Mann, Lindsay, 1,140 yards (60 receptions), 3. Jose Solis, Farmersville, 1,053 yards (70 receptions), 4. Rickie Garcia, Redwood, 948 yards (52 receptions), 5. Lalo Nevarez, 941 yards (39 receptions).
Scoring: 1. E. Porchia, Mission Oak, 246 points (41 touchdowns); 2. Wright, Dinuba, 216 points (36 touchdowns), 3. Jacob Hernandez, Lindsay, 162 points (27 touchdowns), 4. DeLaCruz, Farmersville, 146 points (24 touchdowns), 5. Jose Solis, Farmersville, 134 points (22 touchdowns).
A look at this season’s top developments:
Turnarounds at CVC and Tulare Western: Kudos to CVC head coach Mason Hughes and Tulare Western head coach Ryan Rocha for two of the better coaching jobs in the state this season. The Cavaliers went from being a Central Sequoia League doormat to a serious CIF Southern California bowl contender, and the Mustangs went from the edge of oblivion (0-10 in 2012) into a top threat in the East Yosemite League and obtaining the No. 1 seed in the Division III playoff bracket. There weren’t too many from outside those programs who thought those teams were capable of the seasons they put together. If you’re looking for next year’s possible Cinderella story, keep an eye on Golden West.
Raising the Bar: It might be 20 years before Tulare County experiences another season in which three teams won section titles, four teams received No. 1 playoff seeds, and eight teams reached the penultimate week of the section’s season. But we know it’s possible. Don’t know if Tulare County has had a better collection of head coaches than it had this season, and if these coaches stay in their current spots, seasons like 2013 could be commonplace.
Young Guns: More and more schools are becoming comfortable starting sophomores and freshmen in key positions. Tulare Union’s starting lineup in the Bell Game was littered with sophomores and freshmen (Redskins’ starting quarterback was freshman John Chamalbide), and Ridgeview started freshman Ja’Mar Moya at running back in the Division IV title game. Two of the top five rushers in Tulare County were sophomores (Harris and Jones). Mission Oak sophomore quarterback Trey McJunkin ranked among county leaders in yards passing, touchdown passes (28) and passer rating (101.9). The long-term goal of adopting this type of philosophy is to produce championship seasons by the time those players are juniors and seniors. It’s worked out very well for Farmersville (Sam Metcalf has started at quarterback since his first day as a high school student).
Cream of the Crop
One final view of the top five teams in Tulare County in 2013:
1. El Diamante (12-1): Miners opened the season as the top team in Tulare County and end the season as the top team in Tulare County. This marks the third time since this space started this column (in 2007) that El Diamante can claim rights as Tulare County’s mythical champion (2007, 2012 were the previous two seasons), tying the Miners with Tulare Union (2008, 2009, 2011).
2. Mission Oak (12-1): Friday’s loss was obviously disappointing, but the Hawks continued to cement their status as one of the top programs in Tulare County. Like head coach Mark Gambini said after Friday’s game, there’s just one more hump to clear. Still would have loved to have seen what this team could have done against El Diamante.
3. Dinuba (10-3): The Emperors played their best football when you want to be playing your best football. Great two-year run under McMaryion, who will go down as one of the top quarterbacks in Tulare County history.
4. Redwood (8-3): Rangers aren’t satisfied being on the bottom end of this poll. They would love nothing better than to unseat El Diamante in 2014 — and they may have enough to pull it off.
5. Tulare Western (7-4): The Mustangs’ turnaround will go down as one of the best in Tulare County history — it’s probably No. 1. Just an unbelievable job by first-year head coach Ryan Rocha. His plan to relaunch the program’s image couldn’t have gotten off to a better start.
Next in line: CVC. Seeing how well the Cavaliers competed against Bakersfield Christian this season (a 34-33 season-opening win, a tough 21-14 Division IV semifinal loss), you can’t help but think that the Cavaliers could have been hosting a Southern California regional bowl game this Friday night if a couple of plays had gone their way.
Another view: El Diamante tops all 18 Tulare County teams in the final check of Calpreps’ Central Section rankings, followed by (in ranking order) Mission Oak, Dinuba, Porterville, Redwood, CVC, Tulare Western, Exeter, Lindsay, Tulare Union, Mt. Whitney, Monache, Golden West, Farmersville, Woodlake, Strathmore, Granite Hills and Orosi.
Future Cream of the Crop
One way-too-early view of the top five teams in Tulare County in 2014:
1. El Diamante: Miners are either looking at back-to-back Division II titles, or perhaps being a sleeper in the Division I playoff bracket. They will feature three of the county’s best players in quarterback J.C. Robles, linebacker Darius Liles and defensive end Tymerick Martin. Don’t know if their schedule will afford them the chance to be a serious Southern California regional bowl contender if the Miners win a section title next year.
2. Redwood: Rangers are relying on this year’s junior class to produce dominant offensive and defensive fronts next season, plus they have quarterback Adam Vance and receiver Rickie Garcia coming back. Rangers will challenge El Diamante for WYL crown, and if the Miners are in Division I, Rangers could be the preseason favorite to win Division II.
3. Mission Oak: Hawks have some major holes to fill, especially with the graduation loss of Elijah Porchia and the entire starting defensive line. But there is still top-tier talent on board led by Le’Andre Jefferson, and the Hawks should have one of the more balanced offensive attacks in the section with quarterback Trey McJunkin back along with his top three throwing targets of this season. Key is the development of the reinforcements expected from the Mission Oak junior varsity team that went 9-1 and won the EYL JV championship with a 5-0 record (outscored league foes 185-47). Too-early favorite to retain EYL title and should be very competitive in expected move up to Division III bracket.
4. Dinuba: Emperors are expected to be promoted to Division II, and will improve their schedule with nonleague games against El Diamante and Tulare Union. Biggest concern is developing a new starting quarterback, but the defense should be better and they have a great game-plan anchor in running back Michael Wright.
5. Mt. Whitney: Expecting the Pioneers to bounce back into WYL contention. The Pioneers may be higher than this ranking or off this poll in August — it depends on who shows up when practice begins and is able to stay on the team.
Worth mentioning: Tulare Union (Redskins have one of the section’s more dynamic players in Harris, who will be a top contender for the 2014 Bob Mathias Award and Darren Bennett will be back as head coach), Tulare Western (Mustangs have some key losses, but a good group of stalwarts return led by quarterback Kobe Portillo and wide receiver Jordan Padilla).
A look at the top offseason story lines:
Central Section Division Realignment: The Central Section is due to change up its division alignment next summer. But before it does, the section’s athletic directors need to take a long look at the division alignment policy, and determine if that’s the best path to take — because there are some serious concerns with the current points system. Don’t know if it’s right for El Diamante to be placed back in Division I or Dinuba being promoted to Division II. The Central Section also has to take into account how its division alignment will affect its schools in the CIF regional bowl game picture. San Diego revamped its division alignment this year, and it cost Christian-El Cajon (12-1) a spot in the Division IV Southern California regional bowl game.
CIF decision on Central Section: Central Section commissioner Jim Crichlow has been on a long crusade trying to get the Central Section placed into Northern California for the CIF state playoff system. Currently, there are six sections in Northern California and four in Southern California (Central, Los Angeles City, San Diego and Southern). The biggest obstacle in the past was getting sections from the North to go with Crichlow’s plan. The other three sections in Southern California are for the move — more spots in the regional tournaments for their schools. If the Central Section does move to the North, the possibilities for section teams to be awarded invites to regional bowl games will improve drastically. Plus, it should be easier for Central Section teams to schedule nonleague games against Sac-Joaquin Section teams. Decision could arrive in January, and it would be for the start of the 2014-15 school year.
Another Pac-12 Quarterback?: Metcalf will be a busy young man during the spring and summer taking part in top quarterback camps and clinics. He has received letters of interest from several Pac-12 schools. He’s considered “under the radar”, but that will change with strong showings in front of college football coaches. He may not be 6-4, but he’s tall enough to play at the next level (he’s listed at 6-1, and he’s taller than USC starter Cody Kessler) and is a play-making machine.