Benefield: Tough test as Analy hosts NCS semifinal football game

Analy quarterback Jack Newman (12) narrowly avoids a diving tackle by Cardinal Newman’s Dino Kahaulelio during the first half of a game between Analy and Cardinal Newman high schools, in Santa Rosa on Friday, September 9, 2016. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)


It isn’t Thanksgiving without turkey, stuffing and ... football practice?

Seven teams from the Redwood Empire remain active in the North Coast Section postseason, meaning members of seven teams likely spent some time sweating and banging into people before sitting down to Thanksgiving turkey Thursday.

“It’s a good season when you are practicing on Thanksgiving,” according to Analy head coach Dan Bourdon.

Of those seven squads, only Analy and Cardinal Newman earned No. 1 seeds.

Does it matter?

Most certainly.

Analy is set to line up against Marin Catholic Friday — at home.

“We’ve never gotten to play these guys at home,” Bourdon said. “We’ve always been a lower seed traveling there for a Saturday afternoon game. Now they have to come here on a Friday night and we are looking forward to it.”

Marin Catholic should be a familiar name to Redwood Empire football fans. The Wildcats, playing last year in Div. 4 despite a history of success in Div. 3, beat Cardinal Newman in the championship game last year. Since 2008, Marin Catholic has won the Div. 3 championship banner two times. Three times they have made it to the championship game and lost, and three times they have lost in the semifinal round.

And three times they have sent Analy packing.

That fact is not lost on Bourdon.

“They are competitively where they belong,” he said of the Wildcats’ one-year foray into Div. 4 last year before returning to Div 3. “They have a tradition of a being a very successful program.”

But so, too, does Analy.

And this is a squad looking for its first-ever NCS football title. That should provide a little hunger, even on the day after Thanksgiving.

“Every week the battle gets tougher,” Bourdon said. “If you lose, you are not playing.”

And prior to Friday's post-Thanksgiving gorge, the Tigers got an amuse-bouche of the ramped-up level of competition last week against No. 8 seed El Cerrito.

“Last Friday was a great test for us,” Bourdon said. “El Cerrito is a big, physical, athletic team. It was really a good test for us.”

Was it ever. The Tigers — a team long accustomed to sitting its starters in the second half of most Sonoma County League games — had to rally in the fourth quarter against El Cerrito. They scored three times in the final period, came away with a 42-31 win and some battle scars that Bourdon hopes will serve them well Friday.

“Our guys are used to coming out there and playing four or five or six, maybe, possessions,” he said. “That definitely wasn’t the case. We got pushed to the limits.”

It was the second time in two years that Analy dispatched El Cerrito from the playoffs.

Marin Catholic, behind quarterback Spencer Petras and University of Colorado-bound tight end Sebastian Olver, present an offense that mixes it up.

“We have some film on them,” Bourdon said. “They are pretty balanced on offense. They are a well-coached football team. They are sound.”

The Tigers’ scales tip keenly to the side of airing it out. Senior quarterback Jack Newman has thrown for more than 4,000 yards this season and has 50 touchdown tosses in 12 games.

With the forecast predicting cold rain, one might think the Tigers would change their game plan — say, keep the ball on the ground.

Not a chance, Bourdon said.

“We won’t change what we do,” he said.

And what they do is air it out.

Senior Spencer Vogel will likely again be a favorite Newman target. The pair have connected 61 times this season for an average of nearly 16 yards per catch. Vogel has turned 12 of those snags into TDs.

On defense, Bourdon said he needs big games from defensive ends Jordan Parks and Connor Kearney and defensive tackle Nick Chase as well as secondary guys Kyle Johnson, Donovan Hall and Todd Noonan.

“I think this is a game where our defensive secondary will get tested a lot more than we were last week,” he said.

There are not many clues to be gleaned from common opponents. The only team that both squads have played this season is Tamalpais. Marin Catholic beat their Marin County Athletic League foe 56-0 and Analy beat the Red Tailed Hawks 55-7 in the first round of NCS.

Both of these teams easily handled their league foes. Both have a history of making playoff runs. But Marin Catholic has NCS banners in its gym. Analy does not. Bourdon says his guys are ready to remedy that.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”