M-A, Paly start postseason football journeys on the road

M-A coach Adhir Ravipati. Photo by Bob Dahlberg.

Palo Alto and Menlo-Atherton have Central Coast Section Open Division I playoff openers Friday night on the road. Menlo School is at home in a Division V game Saturday afternoon.

Sacred Heart Prep just missed out on being included in the field in a last-minute change that also impacted Palo Alto's and Menlo-Atherton's first-round matchups.

Sacred Heart Prep only went 3-7 this season, but tied for fourth place and the final automatic qualifying spot from the Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division. The Gators lost the tiebreakers with Terra Nova and Burlingame, but still appeared headed to the Open Division III bracket with 18 power points.

But then St. Ignatius, which tied for fifth place in the West Catholic Athletic League with Bellarmine and Mitty, took its name off the board.

The Wildcats didn't have enough power points to make the field, but in accordance with WCAL bylaws, had to be considered before Bellarmine or Mitty, because they held the tiebreaker, having beaten both of those teams during league play, and was therefore considered the league's fifth-place team and first at-large candidate.

With St. Ignatius out of the picture, Mitty made the playoffs, knocking out Monte Vista Christian, and Bellarmine and Sacred Heart Prep were tied with 18 power points for the last at-large spot.

That tiebreaker was decided by a common opponent -- Menlo-Atherton -- a team Bellarmine beat in the season opener and SHP lost to in Week 6.

So Bellarmine got in and Sacred Heart Prep was out.

Bellarmine making the playoffs created ramifications for several other teams. With the Bells receiving the No. 8 seed in Open Division I, Wilcox went from being the No. 4 seed in Division I with a home game against a San Benito team it had already defeated 35-0 this season, to being the No. 6 seed in Division II and having to play at St. Francis.

Menlo-Atherton and Palo Alto also had their playoff destinations radically altered.

Menlo-Atherton at San Benito, 7 p.m.

Menlo-Atherton (6-4) became the Division I No. 5 seed and sent to play at No. 4 San Benito, rather than as a No. 6 seed playing at No. 3 Piedmont Hills, which would have been a much easier commute and likely a more favorable matchup for the Bears.

M-A, the defending Open Division I champion, lost to San Benito 21-19 in a playoff opener two years ago. Now they have to make the trip to Hollister on a Friday night to play in an unique venue, the home of the Haybalers.

M-A coach Adhir Ravipati acknowledged it would have been preferable playing at Piedmont Hills, but was unwilling to complain about the matchup.

"We put ourselves in that position because of the games we lost,'' Ravipati said. "It's a really cool environment, a nice place to play. We're looking forward to it.''

San Benito (6-4) is a wishbone team that has wins over Los Gatos and Sacred Heart Prep, two teams that M-A also defeated, but finished in fourth place in the Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division, behind Salinas, Palma and Aptos.

"They're extremely disciplined, well-coached and physical,'' Ravipati said. "They run the wishbone to perfection, are locked into their assignments and they'll hit you.''

M-A after losing to Half Moon Bay and Aragon, finished in third place in the PAL Bay.

"We get a chance for a new season away from all the hype and pressure,'' Ravipati said. "I told the guys, we have a clean slate. Let's embrace that. It matters how you finish, not how you start.''

Palo Alto at Salinas, 7 p.m.

After Bellarmine's insertion into the Division I bracket Palo Alto (3-7) was moved up to the No. 7 spot and scheduled to play at No. 2 Salinas, rather than as the No. 8 seed at No. 1 Milpitas.

That was ostensibly a change for the better for the Vikings. Even though they have to travel a considerably longer distance, they had already played Milpitas and lost 49-0. Playing Salinas would appear to be a more favorable matchup.

"It's playoff time,'' Palo Alto coach Danny Sullivan said. "You get a jolt. There's no guarantee you'll play next week. If we play our best game we've got a chance.''

Salinas (8-2) started the season with a win over Oak Grove, lost games to Terra Nova and Milpitas, then ran off seven wins in a row. Quarterback Brett Reade leads the team in rushing as well as being an effective passer.

"He'll get five yards without any issues,'' Sullivan said. "It puts us in a position where we need to be disciplined and get calls quick. Our defensive line has been good all year. They'll have to play well again Friday.''

On defense the Cowboys have a standout at nose tackle in Noah Habes.

"He jumped out at me on film,'' Sullivan said. "If we don't contain him it will be a long night. If we contain him we have a fighting chance.''

Salinas High (alma mater of John Steinbeck), established in 1882, moved to its current location in 1920. It has an even older history than Paly, which dates to 1898. The game will be played on the high school campus at The Pit, as its football field is known.

"I'm excited to take it all in,'' Sullivan said. "The entire town shows up, especially when the team is playing for a NorCal berth.''

Jefferson at Menlo School, Saturday, 1 p.m.

After winning the PAL Ocean Division title Menlo (6-4) received the No. 2 seed in the Division V playoffs and will host PAL Lake champion Jefferson.

The Knights clinched the Ocean title with a 33-10 win over Hillsdale, but then lost their last two games against Sacred Heart Prep and Sequoia. They are hurting at the running back position where Aidan Israelski and Dillon Grady have both suffered potential season-ending injuries.

Jefferson (8-2) clinched the Lake title with a 40-28 win over Carlmont on Oct. 27, the same day that Menlo defeated Hillsdale. But the Grizzlies have, like Menlo, struggled since clinching, getting hammered by The King's Academy 47-14 and then needing overtime to beat El Camino 27-24.

Jefferson is a spread team similar to Terra Nova where Will Maddox coached before taking over at Jefferson. Angelo Velez has rushed for over 1,500 yards and QB Joaquin Alvarez has thrown for over 1,500.

"Jefferson has had a great season,'' Menlo coach Mark Newton said. "They have a bunch of really good athletes and some good size. They do some creative things on defense and run a nice version of the run and shoot/spread on offense. They are much better than a 7 seed would indicate.''

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