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CIF Regional Football playoff previews: Central Section foes are new, varied and wide spread

Section's best Clovis North travels to one of nation's best historically; Central Valley Christian hosts Southern California team riding history

The thrill of winning a Central Section title last Friday for six schools will be etched in the memory of players, coaches and fans forever. But, the journey isn’t over.

All six of the Central Section champions will play at least one more time together in the CIF State football playoffs. It’s good to remember the CIF state office has the authority to place Central Section schools either in the northern or southern portion of the state. This year, four opponents are from the South and two from the North — Clovis North travels to De La Salle-Concord and San Francisco Section stalwart Lincoln travels to Strathmore.  

Three will play home games (Central Valley Christian, Mission Oak and Strathmore) and three will play on the road (Clovis North, Torres and Wasco). 

The winners of each game will play in the state championship game at three different Southern California sites — a proposal implented this season for the first time. Those sites are Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, 

Below is a comprehension breakdown of all six games.

Division 1-AA

Clovis North (13-0) at De La Salle (10-2)

When: Friday, Dec. 1 at 7:30

Preview: Clovis North completed a perfect 13-0 regular season and captured their first D1 Central Section title in 10 years by beating league foe Central 24-14 behind McKay Madsen’s three TD runs. Now, they’ll travel to face storied De La Salle, who have won ten straight after dropping their first two games to Orange Lutheran and Serra. Both teams have similar styles - they won’t kill you with the pass but can destroy you with their precision run game. The Spartans boast three players with over 700 yards rushing in QB Toa Faavae and running backs Dominic Kelly and Derrick Blanche. The three have 31 of the 33 team rushing TDs. Conversely, the Broncos have rushed for 3,761 yards as a team with Jackson Cinfel (1,863, 17 TDs) and Madsen (985 yards, 18 TDs) leading the way. Madsen doubles as an excellent linebacker. Expect a quick game with limited possessions for each team. Both teams take extreme care of the football: Clovis North has zero interceptions on the season with two lost fumbles and De La Salle has thrown five INTs with only one lost fumble.

Fun fact: De La Salle has played in 14 CIF State championship games, winning seven. Clovis North’s only appearance in the state playoffs was in 2012, falling to Long Beach Poly 28-7 in the regional game.

Predicted score: Clovis North 21 De La Salle 17

Division 2-A

Simi Valley (9-5) at Central Valley Christian (13-1)

When: Saturday, Dec. 2 at 6:00 at Central Valley Christian

Preview: Central Valley Christian, the small private school in Visalia with an enrollment of 300, has steadily risen from the ranks of D4 to D3 to now D2. The Cavaliers' run to the state playoffs include a pair of one-point wins over Tulare in the section semifinal and Lemoore in the final. Fresno State commit Bryson Donelson has been the best running back in the section and has shined bright in three playoff games to the tune of 834 yards and 12 TDs. The passing game is solid too, with senior Brett Kroeze’s 2,590 passing yards and 33 TD passes. Simi Valley comes in after winning its first Southern Section title in the 103-year history of the school by beating Mira Costa in OT. They are led by senior QB Jesse Sereno (2,906 passing yards, 27 TDs) and junior RB Bryce Hawkins (1,640, 19 TDs). Defensively, the Cavaliers have recorded 19 sacks, 62 TFL and 19 INT compared to the Pioneers 50 sacks, 20 fumble recoveries and have added 10 blocked punts.

Fun fact: Central Valley Christian has over 90 football players in the program, more than half the boys in the entire school.

Prediction: Central Valley Christian 35 Simi Valley 27

Division 4-AA

Matilda Torres (11-3) at Jurupa Hills (8-6)

When: Friday, Dec 1 at 7:30 at Jurupa Hills

Preview: In just its third year of varsity football Matilda Torres High School from Madera blasted Dos Palos 69-14 in the Central Section D4 final. The Toros are led by the running back duo of Joseph Bass and Amani Sua, both 1,000 yard rushers who have combined to score over 30 TDs. Senior QB Jose Soriano has only thrown two interceptions all season for an offense that averages 40 points per game. Jurupa Hill, who started the season 1-4, received an at-large berth into the playoffs and won four straight, defeating Charter Oak 21-14 in Division 8 of the Southern Section. They are led by senior dual-threat QB Caleb Ruiz (2,228 yards, 21 TDs, 518 rushing, 12 TDs) and senior RB Jordan Pernilla (674 yards). While the Spartans average only 24.4 points their defense stands out with 32.5 sacks, 62 TFL and 23 created turnovers.

Fun fact: Jurupa Hills is the newest high school in Fontana, opening in 2010 while Matilda Torres is the newest in Madera, boasting an student population of 1,510.

Prediction: Torres 34 Jurupa 21

Division 4-A

Rio Hondo Prep (13-1) at Mission Oak (9-5)

When: Saturday, Dec 2 at 6:00 at Mission Oak

Review: Mission Oak won their first Central Section title in school history, defeating Kerman 34-14 behind senior QB Daniel Gonzalez’s 300 yards on 20-24 passing and four TDs. On the season Gonzalez has passed for 2,866 yards and 33 TDs and added 12 TDs on the ground. Three receivers have at least 700 yards on the season with Kenny Jackson, Cameron Azevedo and Jacob Ramirez, with a combined total of 23 TDs. The Kares rotate two quarterbacks and rely on a strong running game. In fact, in the last six games they’ve averaged only 30 yards passing and 254 yards rushing led by Nate Curtis (954 rushing yards, 12 TDs) and sophomore Noah Penunri (1,286, 18 TDs). On defense, they’ve registered 85 TFL and intercepted 17 passes.

Fun fact: Wondering about Rio Hondo’s mascot? Well, according to the school website, the nickname Kares isn’t a mascot at all; it is a way of life.”

Prediction: Rio Hondo Prep 33 Mission Oak 30

Division 6-AA

Wasco (8-5) vs Cerritos (9-5)

When: Friday, Dec 1 at 7:30 at Gahr High School

Preview: Wasco braved the 4,000 foot elevation and 255 mile trip to Bishop Union to win the D5 Central Section title 42-41 behind Noah Lopez’s four touchdown runs. Now, they’ll travel down south to face a Cerritos team that has won seven straight including a 19-13 OT win over Yucca Valley for the Southern Section Division 12 title. For the run-heavy Tigers, they are led on the season by Lopez’s 1,171 yards with 15 TDs and Michael Dominguez’s 943 yards and 10 TDs. For the Dons offense, it’s a contrast in styles–the ground game registered 2,640 rushing yards and 31 TDs but the passing game has struggled with 15 interceptions compared to 13 passing TDs

Fun fact: The city of Cerritos was incorporated in 1956 while Wasco, founded on the Santa Fe Railroad, was founded in 1900.

Prediction: Wasco 28 Cerritos 14

Division 7-A

Lincoln (9-3) at Strathmore (10-4)

When: Saturday, Dec. 2 at 6:00

Preview: The Spartans won the school’s sixth Central Section championship by beating Mendota 14-7 for the D5 title, a remarkable feat after head coach Jeromy Blackwell’s recovery from an 8-day self-induced coma after suffering a major heat stroke in August. Running back Jacob Poole has been a steady force this season with 1,568 rushing yards and 20 TDs and sophomore Geraldo Ruiz chips in with 546 yards and 7 TDs. Seeking their 5th CIF state title since 2018, the run-happy Mustangs from San Francisco will make the trip down to Strathmore (pop. 3,641 with exactly two streetlights). They are led by 5-8 ,160 pound senior running back Jemele Newman who has season totals of 1,880 yards and 24 TDs and ran for 172 yards and two scores in the 35-0 win over Balboa in the San Francisco City championship game played on Thanksgiving Day.

Fun fact: When Lincoln defeated Balboa it was the 99th edition of the Turkey Day Game, which doubles as San Francisco City’s public school title game.

Prediction: Lincoln 21 Strathmore 13