All quiet on the Central Section playoff front in Tulare County.
Tulare County’s reward for being so well represented in most of the section’s playoff brackets — four No. 1 seeds, three No. 2 seeds — was a slew of first-round byes. Of the 12 Tulare County teams to advance to the postseason, only three teams played Friday night (Exeter, Woodlake and Strathmore).
We will have 11 teams in action this week — there is a Thursday night playoff game in Tulare with Tulare Western hosting Independence. And the prospects are rather good to have at least nine teams advance into next week, which would be a record for this area since the Central Section went to this divisional format in 2004.
But are byes always a good thing?
First-round byes are perceived to be a boon for high school football teams with serious title aspirations — a chance to give some key players some much-needed rest, an opportunity to scout future opponents in person, etc.
The on-field results hint that byes aren’t a reliable indicator for postseason success.
In the 2012 Central Section playoffs, teams with first-round byes went 9-5 against teams who had to play a first-round game (surprisingly, that mark was 0-2 in Division I). In the five instances last year where both teams received a first-round bye, the lower seed won three times.
A 9-5 record (.643 winning percentage) isn’t too shabby, but you would think the winning percentage would be higher (say, the .850+ range).
If the records for teams with first-round byes is close to last year’s mark, there could be two or three Tulare County teams going home earlier than expected.
The biggest alarm for county teams is in Division II where it will be a West Yosemite League-County/Metro Athletic Conference showdown — El Diamante versus San Joaquin Memorial and Redwood versus Sanger (both games are in Visalia).
Our “danger alert” rankings for the Tulare County teams with first-round byes (from the most dangerous to the least):
1. Redwood: The fourth-seeded Rangers host No. 5 Sanger (7-3). The Apaches, who also had a first-round bye, closed the regular season like a team that is more than capable of winning a Division II championship. Sanger defeated Madera (38-14) and Madera South (48-12), and roughed up San Joaquin Memorial 40-13. The Apaches’ lone loss since the middle of October was a 14-12 decision to Bullard, the No. 3 seed in Division I. Sanger has a potent ground game that control the pace of the game — very similar to what El Diamante did to Redwood a few weeks back. Teams met in last year’s Division II quarterfinals with Sanger winning 17-14 at home.
2. El Diamante: The top-seeded Miners host No. 9 San Joaquin Memorial (7-4), a team that was in contention for a top-3 seed in Division II for the bulk of the regular season. The Panthers featured a balanced offensive attack in Friday’s 49-21 win over Sunnyside (El Diamante defeated Sunnyside 35-14 on Sept. 6). San Joaquin Memorial compiled for 419 yards of total offense against Sunnyside. Panther senior quarterback Andrew Trahan was 13-of-14 passing for 260 yards and five touchdowns. If El Diamante is without star running back DeAngello Torres (elbow), it will need a dominant effort from its defense. El Diamante’s recent bye history has been rather poor. The Miners have lost their last three playoff games following a bye.
3. Tulare Western: The Mustangs, the No. 1 team in Division III, take on No. 9 Independence (5-6), a team that was expected to be Bakersfield’s top Division III hopeful before the season started. Independence’s record looks pedestrian, but you have to remember that the Falcons play in the Southwest Yosemite League, the most formidable league in the Bakersfield area (the other five teams in the circuit are Division I teams). In its 35-14 win over No. 8 Golden Valley on Friday, Independence had 190 yards passing and 182 yards rushing. Independence’s record against non-Division I teams is 5-1. Interesting to see how the Falcons’ vast experience against Division I teams plays against a Tulare Western team that went 0-2 against Division II playoff foes.
4. Lindsay: The Cardinals (9-1) probably have a chip on their shoulder after receiving the No. 4 seed (should have been the No. 2 seed, No. 3 at the lowest), but they can’t get too carried away with the oversight. Up next for Lindsay is No. 5 Kern Valley, the High Desert League champion. The Lake Isabella-based Broncs (that is Broncs, not Broncos) are averaging nearly 37 points per game. Kern Valley (9-2) is another team with a balanced offensive attack squaring off against a higher-seed foe from Tulare County. The Broncos average over 400 yards of total offense per game, and the pass-run production ratio is practically 50-50.
5. Porterville: Panthers appeared to be in pretty good shape a week ago, having to face the winner of No. 7 Hanford-No. 10 Madera, and then all of a sudden Madera puts up 73 points in its first-round victory over Hanford. Porterville has the offensive firepower to keep up with Madera if this game turns into a barn burner. The Coyotes defeated Madera South 48-7 in their regular-season finale, and put up 21 points to County/Metro champion Bullard in a 56-21 loss on Nov. 1.
6. Dinuba: The Emperors (7-3) are the No. 5 seed, but they are the clear favorite in their quarterfinal date with No. 4 South (8-2) in Bakersfield. Question for Dinuba is if it can get its passing game going. The Emperors need a big postseason from senior quarterback Marcus McMaryion if they are to at least return to the Division III title game. South does not own a win over a team that finished the regular season with a winning record.
7. CVC: Only major concern about the Cavaliers is the fact that they haven’t been to the playoffs since 2009, which was before any of their current players were in high school. CVC (7-3), the No. 2 seed in Division IV, hosts No. 7 Cesar Chavez (6-5). The Titans got blown out by the powers-that-be in the South Sequoia League (lost to Wasco and Bakersfield Christian by a combined 100-10 score), but played fairly well against everybody else.
8. Mission Oak: Problem for the top-seeded Hawks in recent years hasn’t been the Division IV quarterfinals. Their stumbling block has been the semifinals — where they’re likely to meet No. 4 Wasco next week (Wasco ended Mission Oak’s 2011 playoff run in the semifinals). The Hawks take on No. 9 Roosevelt (6-5). Roosevelt topped No. 8 Fowler 37-30 on Friday. Don’t think that was a surprise — had Roosevelt No. 8 and Fowler No. 10 in Division IV after the regular season. The Rough Riders do feature the most prolific passing attack that the Hawks have seen this season. Roosevelt senior quarterback Tristan Hernandez has thrown for 3,162 yards and 30 touchdowns.
9. Farmersville (7-3): The top-seeded Aztecs will advance to the Division VI championship game if they get by No. 5 Laton (6-5) on Friday. Farmersville didn’t have too many issues against the Mustangs the first time the two teams met — Aztecs won 52-12 on Oct. 18. Expecting a similar result.
A look at last week’s top developments:
Best win of the week: Strathmore. Exeter did absolutely nothing wrong in its 48-0 win over Rosamond in a Division IV first-round game, but there are several junior varsity teams in the area that would have defeated Rosamond handily. Strathmore defeated Tranquillity 30-14 to advance to the Division VI semifinals. The Spartans rushed for 354 yards on 50 carries. Uriel Mejia had 218 yards rushing on 17 carries. Strathmore (6-5) is 4-0 against Division VI teams this season. The second-seeded Spartans will host No. 3 Avenal (5-6) on Friday.
The shocker that wasn’t so shocking: Many in the section were taken aback by Immanuel’s 33-20 win over Woodlake in a Division V first-round game. Why the shock? Woodlake had defeated Immanuel 38-6 on Aug. 30. How could the Eagles improve that much over 10 weeks? Well, Immanuel did receive some high-profile transfers this season, and it took some time for them to get acclimated to the team’s playbook. Plus, some transfers were not eligible to play during the season-opening meeting because of the CIF’s 30-day transfer rule (a student-athlete must sit out the first 30 days of the season if they are transferring to a new school while still residing in the attendance area of another school). Khalil Montgomery, a senior running back who was a stalwart for Clovis West in 2012, had 123 yards rushing and no touchdowns in the first meeting. Montgomery ran wild on Friday against Woodlake, gaining 324 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 34 carries.
Strong Seeds: The first round of the playoffs was devoid of any major upsets for the most part. All the higher seeds in Division I won convincingly (as expected). The lone lower seed to win in Division II was No. 9 San Joaquin Memorial (7-4). The Panthers knocked off No. 8 Sunnyside, 49-21. San Joaquin Memorial being named the No. 9 seed was the one glaring mistake I found that the seeding committee made in Division II. Panthers were considered a top-4 seed for much of the regular season before ending the regular season with a couple of lopsided losses (35-7 to Edisoin and 40-13 to Sanger). The No. 9 and No. 10 seeds won in Division III with No. 9 Independence defeating No. 8 Golden Valley 35-14 and No. 10 Madera thumping No. 7 Hanford 73-35. Madera quarterback Nathaniel Nelson threw for 537 yards and seven touchdowns, and Alec Gamboa had 13 catches for 355 yards and six touchdowns. Coyotes could be a team to watch if this offensive output isn’t a one-week wonder.
Cream of the Crop
One view of the top five teams in Tulare County:
1. El Diamante (9-1): From the “Can’t believe that’s true” department, it’s been five years since the Miners last won a playoff game — a 21-15 win over Edison in the 2008 Division II semifinals.
2. Mission Oak (10-0): The Hawks remained at No. 2 in this week’s CalHiSports.com‘sCIF Division III South bowl poll.
3. Redwood (8-2): Rangers have won their playoff opener four straight years.
4. Tulare Western (7-3): Mustangs’ Thursday night date with Independence in a Division III quarterfinal game at Bob Mathias Stadium marks their first home playoff game since the 2004 Central Section Division II semifinals.
5. Porterville (8-2): Panthers have also won their playoff opener four straight years.
Another view: The top five Tulare County teams according to Calpreps.com are Mission Oak, El Diamante, Porterville, Redwood, Tulare Western, respectively.
Got Muscle Milk?
Muscle Milk, a popular sports nutrition drink, is conducting a grant program for high school athletic programs. Muscle Milk will be providing $250,000 in grants to high school athletic programs that demonstrate a financial need. Submissions for the grant will be accepted on the Muscle Milk Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/musclemilk) or at MuscleMilkRecoveryGrant.com. Deadline is Nov. 30. Last year, Muscle Milk provided grants to 22 high school programs. Grants can be as much as $25,000.
A look at this week’s top story lines:
Chasing History: Farmersville junior quarterback Sam Metcalf set a Central Section regular-season record with 44 touchdown passes. He needs seven passes to break the section’s single-season record of 50 set by Tulare Union’s Emmanuel Lewis in 2005. The Aztecs will only have two possible playoff games. Top-seeded Farmersville is home Friday against No. 5 Laton. The first meeting between the two teams suggests that Metcalf may only need one game to break the record. Farmersville defeated Laton 52-12 on Oct. 18 with Metcalf throwing for 359 yards and seven touchdowns.
Live Blogging: We will be conducting a live blog Thursday night from the Tulare Western-Independence game, and we plan on being at five games on Friday — San Joaquin Memorial at El Diamante, Sanger at Redwood, Roosevelt at Mission Oak, Cesar Chavez at CVC and Laton at Farmersville.