By Ray Hamill — Preparation for the opening round of the North Coast Section playoffs has already begun for the eight local teams that made the grade.
Three of the eight — Eureka, Del Norte and South Fork — have an opening-round bye and won’t play for two weeks, while five more get the postseason under way next weekend, including three that open at home.
And with the action now heating up and the stakes a little higher, there is no time to waste.
“We had a watching party this morning,” Arcata head coach Jamal Jones said Sunday afternoon, after getting together with his seniors and juniors to break down film of next week’s opponent, Cloverdale.
Jones had already watched game film on “three or four” of Arcata’s potential opponents on Saturday, and was busy breaking down five different Cloverdale games as soon as he found out who his team would be playing on Sunday morning.
“We’re already dialed in,” Jones said. “We know their key players.”
And he wasn’t alone.
By Sunday afternoon, St. Bernard’s head coach Matt Tomlin had already broken down three different Albany games as his team prepares to open at home to the Cougars.
“They’re a spread team,” he said. “They’re gonna spread it around on offense.”
Over in Hoopa Valley, Warriors head coach William Simms and his staff have their team back in the postseason for the first time in seven years, and they were wasting no time either, watching seven games of opponents St. Helena by Sunday afternoon.
“They have a pretty decent sized offensive line/D-line,” he said. “They like to run the ball 90 percent of the time, and kind of have the same system as us, they share the ball. Its going to be tough.”
Taking care of business
At Eureka, head coach Jason White has begun preparing for either De Anza or Tennyson, who play in the opening round of the Division-III bracket for the right to play the No. 2 seed Loggers at Albee stadium in two weeks.
“We’ll start preparing a little for both teams, just to get a start,” said White, who will give his players a couple of days off this week.
Cardinal Newman was named top seed in the bracket, and many neutral observers are savoring the prospect of a potential matchup between the two high-powered teams later in the postseason.
For now, though, each will be looking to take care of business in the two potential home contests leading up to a possible championship showdown.
“For us right now, I hate to be boring, but it’s just taking care of our business at this point,” the Eureka head coach said. “We’ve just got to follow the same mantra of one week at a time and just prepare like we always do.”
Fortuna also opens the playoffs at home and will play El Molino at Husky Field on Friday night, while Hoopa Valley and Ferndale open on the road Saturday at St. Helena and Berean Christian, respectively.
No. 11 El Molino at No. 6 Fortuna
The Huskies will begin the defense of their 5-A state title at home to the Lions, who have just three wins to their credit, including a forfeit over Piner, and fell 40-14 at St. Bernard’s on the opening weekend of the season.
The Huskies closed out a tough schedule 5-5, including an 0-3 run in the Big 4, but should be comfortable favorites heading into this game.
The Huskies are also hoping to have some of their injured stars back for the game, and this might be the perfect matchup to ease them back into action.
No. 12 Albany at No 5 St. Bernard’s
The Crusaders will kick off a packed day of playoff sports at the school with a noon game against Albany on Saturday.
St. Bernard’s got an expected five seed after Saturday’s loss to Del Norte in an offensive powered matchup.
“Absolutely a fair seed,” Tomlin said. “I really thought the committee got it right. They really nailed the seedings.”
And the home game is important not just for the potential advantage it provides.
“It’s great for the seniors,” the head coach said. “It gives them the chance to play at home in a playoff game.”
No. 10 Hoopa Valley at No. 7 St. Helena
The 6-4 Saints will host the 6-4 Warriors on Saturday night and come into the game having closed out the regular season with two straight wins.
The Warriors, who will travel more than five hours for the game, will prepare with a limited week of practice, at least from a physical standpoint.
“We’re not going to practice in full gear, and we’re going to limit our hitting and contact to a bear minimum,” Simms said.
No. 11 Ferndale at No. 6 Berean Christian
The 4-6 Wildcats will travel to play the 4-4 Eagles in Walnut Creek on Saturday afternoon.
Berean plays in the Diablo-Valley Foothill League and closed out the season with three straight wins.
The Cats have an up-and-down campaign, looking impressive one week and struggling the next, splitting their last four games.
No. 8 Cloverdale at No. 9 Arcata
The 6-4 Eagles have versatility and feature a lot of different looks.
At 4-3 in the North Central League-I, they finished in the chasing pack behind champions Kelseyville, the No. 1 seed in the bracket.
As Big 4 champions, the Tigers earned the right to host the higher-seeded Eagles at the Redwood Bowl.
“They throw a lot of different formations at you,” Jones said of Cloverdale. “They spread the ball around.”
And that makes the team’s mental preparation particularly key this week, as Jones looks for a disciplined performance from his players.
“I think that’s going to be the biggest thing for us,” he said. “To be locked in from a mental standpoint.
“But every week’s been like a playoff game for us, so every week, we’ve been approaching it as a must win.”