Now it's for real. After a month of non-league games, test cases in some cases against powerful programs from across the North Coast Section, the football schedule returns tonight to the familiar grounds of league play.
Four games in the North Bay League and two in the Sonoma County League kick it off tonight with Piner and Petaluma having their SCL opener Saturday afternoon. The North Coast League I teams get started tonight, too, with eight games. NCL II and NCL III each had one league game last week, but everybody else gets started this weekend.
The finish line is 12 weeks away with the State CIF Bowl Football Championships Dec. 20 and 21 at the StubHub Center in Carson.
Silver lining to tough loss
Santa Rosa's big loss to Deer Valley might not hurt the Panthers in a bid for the North Coast Section playoffs.
By winning at Antioch a week earlier, Santa Rosa split its games with fellow NCS Division 1 teams. One consideration in qualifying for the section playoffs is a .500 or better record against opponents in the same division. Other factors include at least breaking even in league or overall.
The largest of the Empire's large schools based on student population, Santa Rosa is the region's only NCS Division 1 program.
In addition to Santa Rosa, the North Bay League features six Division 2 football teams and one in Division 3.
So the Panthers scheduled a pair of large schools from the East Bay among Santa Rosa's 10 regular season games to improve the team's playoff chances.The Panthers (2-1) are ranked 18th in NCS Division 1. The section playoffs typically feature more than a dozen teams with 16 the limit.
Empire teams ranked high
Coming off nonleague play Empire football teams are included in several major rankings. Making the Cal-Hi Sports Bay Area Top 25 overall are Cardinal Newman at No. 16, Casa Grande at No. 19, and Rancho Cotate at No. 21.
The rankings for state playoff positioning by division have two Empire teams in the top five for Northern California: Casa Grande, Division 2; Cardinal Newman, Division 3.
Big matchup in St. Helena
A high-scoring offense faces a stingy defense when Kelseyville plays at St. Helena tonight. Kelseyville (3-0) leads the Empire in scoring with 164 points. St. Helena (2-1) is tied for fewest points allowed in the region with 21.
This week's featured NCL I game could be the most competitive between the schools since Kelseyville last defeated St. Helena, in 2010.
Cloverdale's turn in soccer
When it comes to girls soccer in the North Central League I, it's pretty much Middletown and Cloverdale and everybody else. Cloverdale lost only three games last season, but still couldn't dethrone Middletown, which had an undefeated season and went on to claim the section championship. When these teams get together, it matters, so it was worth noting they renewed acquaintances Tuesday night.
Both teams entered Tuesday's game with undefeated records, but this time Cloverdale emerged victorious, building an early lead and holding on for a 4-2 win.
Mike Coit and Eric Wittmershaus of The Press Democrat contributed to this report.