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We are halfway into the prep football season, so what do we know?

Let’s start with the obvious: In the North Bay League, the game between Rancho Cotate and Cardinal Newman on Nov. 4 is going to be a hoot. Both teams are strong, both teams are driven and both teams can put loads of points on the board.

Unless something weird happens, that game — the final game of the regular NBL season — will likely decide the league winner.

And for two teams with realistic postseason aspirations, that game will set the tone for how they proceed into the playoffs.

Disappointed with their dismissal in the semifinal round of the North Coast Section Division 3 playoffs last season, Rancho has roared out to a 5-0 start behind some astronomical offensive numbers hung largely on the arm of senior quarterback Jake Simmons.

Simmons, partnered with his favorite targets in seniors Jaelen Ward and Logan Reese, has thrown for 1,626 yards, 19 touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s completing nearly 80 percent of his passes. Ward has 591 yards on 32 catches and Reese has 14 catches for 361 yards.

And the Cougars’ defense is no joke, either. They have blanked two teams and allowed just 38 points in five games.

And Cardinal Newman has dropped only one game, a 48-34 loss to defending Sac-Joaquin Division 1 champion St. Mary’s of Stockton — a team so strong that a loss should almost not be held against the Cardinals. Almost.

The balanced Cardinals offense has run up 272 points against their opponents, while the defense has allowed 119. The Cardinals are averaging slightly more than 245 yards per game in the air and just more than 200 yards on the ground.

And quarterback Beau Barrington is a worthy successor to three-year starter Jordon Brookshire, who is now playing at Santa Rosa Junior College. Barrington, a senior, has thrown for 1,222 yards, 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. His completion percentage is better than 70 percent.

But don’t go to sleep on the Cardinals’ ground game, because Tanner Mendoza will run over the top of you. The senior running back has run for 486 yards on 52 carries. He’s scored 10 touchdowns.

Tied in a knot in the middle of the NBL pack are Montgomery, Windsor, Maria Carrillo and Ukiah, who are all 1-1 in league play. Montgomery is 3-2 overall and the rest are 2-3.

Santa Rosa is 1-4 overall and 0-2 in league while Casa Grande is uncharacteristically winless at 0-5 overall and 0-2 in league.

In its last year of existence, the Sonoma County League is looking much like it has in years past, albeit with perennial league champion Analy starting the season looking a little more human than usual.

The Tigers are an atypical 2-3 and suffered resounding losses to both Rancho, 48-3, and Cardinal Newman, 63-26.

They had their best running game against Newman, running for 117 yards on 12 carries, but it was a totally different story against Rancho, when the Tigers were held to 58 yards on 25 carries.

They lost 56-0 last week to Marin Catholic, the team that sent the Tigers packing in the NCS semifinal game last season.

But after clobbering a decent Petaluma team in the league opener for both squads, the Tigers just may have signaled to all that they are not ready or willing to relinquish their stranglehold on the SCL quite yet. Still, mark your calendar for Oct. 27 when the Tigers will host El Molino.

That old rivalry has lost its luster in recent years as Analy dominated opponents. But a resurgent El Mo program could make this year’s contest a fun one.

The Lions are 4-2 overall and 2-0 in SCL play, outscoring opponents 167-90 through six games.

Elsewhere in the SCL, Elsie Allen recorded its first gridiron win since Sept. 13, 2013, with a 26-9 victory against St. Vincent. The Lobos have since fallen to University Prep of Redding 48-20, Sonoma Valley 35-21 and Piner 36-20, but those are all stronger showings than they’ve displayed in years.

Speaking of Piner, the Prospectors are still playing on Saturday afternoons rather than Friday nights because the Piner field is still without lights.

Regardless, the Prospectors are 3-3 overall and 1-1 in SCL play with a win against Elsie and a 35-7 loss to El Mo.

In the North Central League I, a power shift of sorts is taking shape.

Perennial powerhouse Fort Bragg has struggled early (2-4 overall and 2-2 NCL I) while Middletown maintains its place at the top (4-1 overall, 3-0 NCL I) along with Clear Lake (4-1 overall, 3-0 NCL I). Clear Lake travels to Middletown for that showdown Oct. 13.

In the North Coast Central III North 8-man league, Upper Lake and South Fork are both 2-0 in league play, while Laytonville and Round Valley are both 1-1. Roseland Collegiate Prep — in its first year of football — is 0-2 and Round Valley is 0-3.

In the NCL III South, both Tomales and Calistoga are 0-2 in league play while Rincon Valley Christian is 1-0.

There is a tinge of nostalgia in this exercise this year. On Tuesday, as expected, the NCS Board of Managers approved a major overhaul of the two major prep leagues: the North Bay League and the Sonoma County League.

Beginning next fall, there will be no more SCL, so no more league football games between, say, Analy and El Molino.

Next year, Analy will play in the more competitive NBL I, while El Mo will play in the NBL II.

So enjoy some of these head-to-head matchups while you can.

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

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