High School notebook (Thanksgiving addition)
Being able to practice on Thanksgiving is a big deal for high school football players in the Southland. We’ve reached that point in the season where players will be able to do so if their teams are still alive.
The 13 playoff divisions that make up the CIF Southern Section are in the final four, while the two 8-man divisions hold their championship games this weekend.
For the 56 teams that are still alive, being able to practice on Thanksgiving gives them a sense of accomplishment. While most teams have turned in their pads and are already making preparations for next year, the semifinalists are alive and kicking during this season. Just four quarters separate them from being able to play for a CIF championship.
For others, it’s about upholding the tradition established by players of the past.
Mater Dei head coach Bruce Rollinson expects 75-100 former players to be on hand when his Monarchs hit the practice field on Thanksgiving. The Monarchs (10-2) will take on St. Bonaventure (11-1) in one of the PAC-5 semifinal matchups.
For those of you shocked that Long Beach Poly has made it to the semifinals, don’t be. Sure, watching the Jackrabbkits knock off No. 2 seed Mission Viejo isn't something you saw coming, especially when you consider they’d never done it before.
However, if there’s one thing to learn about Raul Lara-coached teams at Long Beach Poly, it's that they get progressively better throughout the season. Perhaps better than any other team in the PAC-5 and any other school in the CIF Southern Section.
Let’s take it back to 2009, Poly lost to Servite, 30-7, on opening night and looked bad in the process. When they met later that season in the playoffs, the Jackrabbits nearly upset the Friars, falling 21-18, with Servite needing to block a field goal with under 15 seconds left to escape with the win.
The Friars went on to win their first of back-to-back PAC-5 titles.
Poly (9-3), on the other hand, is back in the semifinals for the 14th time in 18 years and the first time since 2008. On Friday, they’ll host St. John Bosco (8-4) in the Game of the Week on FOX Sports West at 7:30 p.m.
“I don’t know why people give up on us so quickly,” Lara said. “We have a record of if we do poorly in the preseason, when it comes to playoffs, we’re in the mix and …nobody wants to play us.”
The 56-0 loss to Narbonne was so two months ago.
Under third-year head coach Jason Negro, St. John Bosco is on the cusp of returning to their first sectional final in 26 years.
The Braves have never won a CIF title but played in one of the more famous CIF finals in Southern Section history.
Their last trip to the finals came in 1986, when they lost the Big Five title game to Russell White and Crespi. That team remains the only San Fernando Valley team to win the CIF’s largest division.
The last time Greg Holt’s West Torrance Warriors (9-3) played a game against Mira Costa (8-4) in which they did not lose was 2007. They tied 21-21.
The last time they beat the Mustangs was 2006.
The Warriors released six years of frustration against their Bay League rivals by finally getting past them, 49-42, to advance to the semifinals in the Northern Division.
They’re rewarded with a four-hour bus ride the day after Thanksgiving for their semifinal game at Atascadero (6-6).
Last year, Culver City shocked everyone by defeating No. 1 seed Serra in the first round of the Western Division playoffs and rode that momentum into a CIF Finals appearance.
This season, it’s Atascadero turning heads. The Greyhounds finished the regular season 4-6 and finished fifth in the Pac-7 League. They’re the lone representative from their league still playing and will compete for the right to advance to the Northern Division final when they host West Torrance on Friday.
With their quarterfinal win over Canyon last Friday, they got to .500 on the season for the first time in nearly a month. They haven’t just squeaked past these first two rounds, they’ve won pretty handily. Atascadero is outscoring opponents in the playoffs, 56-7.
They’re not alone. Paloma Valley (9-3) is making an improbable run in the Central Division. They’ve outscored opponents, 78-17, in their run to the semifinals. They were the fourth-place team in the six-team Sunbelt League and will host Rancho Verde (9-3) on Friday.
Canyon (8-3-1) wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky is the state’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards. His prep career came to an end last Friday when the Cowboys were defeated by upstart Atascadero, 30-0.
Wolitarsky had four receptions for 38 yards in the game. He finishes the season with 89 catches for 1,275 yards and 14 touchdowns.
He concludes his career with 281 receptions and 5,148 yards and 52 receiving touchdowns, which is second in state history.
A long way away from the Southern Section but still worth mentioning, Yulee (Florida) running back Derrick Henry rushed 58 times for 482 yards and six touchdowns. In the process, he became high school football’s all-time leading rusher, breaking the 59-year record of former Sugar Land (Texas) running back Ken Hall. Henry has rushed for 11,610 yards in his career. He’s broken the 100-yard mark in every game of his 45-game career.
In the City Section, Carson running back Tony Ingram carried the ball three times for 145 yards and three touchdowns against Birmingham to lead the Colts to the City semifinals.
West Torrance quarterback Joey Notch threw for 349 yards and a touchdown, two rushing touchdowns and an interception return for touchdown in the Warriors 49-42 Northern Division win over Mira Costa.
Corona Centennial (11-1) quarterback Robert Weber threw for 393 yards and six touchdowns. He also rushed for two scores in the Huskies 70-35 quarterfinal win over Murrieta Valley (10-2). As a team, the Huskies racked up 763 yards of total offense.