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NCS extends football regular season by a week due to Kincade fire

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North Bay high school football teams received a welcome surprise Wednesday morning upon learning that the CIF North Coast Section extended the regular season a week to accommodate fire-related cancellations last week and likely this week.

In a letter to member schools, NCS commissioner Pat Cruickshank announced the extension, which pushes the beginning of playoffs back a week to Nov. 15 and 16.

That means games that cannot be played this weekend can be played Nov. 8 or 9. Games that were called off on Oct. 25 could be played this week or Monday, if schools can gather players and complete at least two practices.

Several games were called off last week because of air quality concerns or fears of evacuation orders as the Kincade fire spread Wednesday from The Geysers area north of Santa Rosa south and west toward populated areas.

PG&E cut off electricity before and during the crisis, and public safety officials ordered evacuations of nearly 190,000 people in Sonoma County.

As the fire threat lessened and air quality improved, league officials explored how they could finish the season, fairly decide league champions and help playoff-bound teams prepare for the postseason.

The section’s announcement came on the heels of a lengthy conference call between North Bay League administrators Tuesday, during which principals and athletic directors agreed on a formula to choose divisional winners if games couldn’t be played and ground rules for trying to squeeze in unplayed games within the existing NCS calendar.

“I was absolutely stunned because I had no knowledge that any of this was coming about,” said NBL Commissioner Jan Smith Billing. “But it’s wonderful. It eliminates a lot of problems. It would have been nice to have that information yesterday.”

In the Vine Valley Athletic League, the Egg Bowl rivalry game on Saturday between Casa Grande and Petaluma High was brought back to life. It was scheduled for Saturday, then canceled when the district stopped all school activities because of the poor air quality and lack of electricity residents have endured since last week — but it is back on for Saturday afternoon.

NBL coaches and ADs scrambled Wednesday to squeeze practices and games back into the schedule. As of mid-afternoon, one of three canceled Oct. 25 games had been rescheduled.

Maria Carrillo administrators said they cannot gather their evacuation-scattered students and get in two practices, so the Pumas will not schedule a makeup game against Cardinal Newman. Likewise, Healdsburg has said it will leave the Oct. 25 game against Santa Rosa unplayed but plans to host Montgomery next week. Montgomery will play at El Molino on Monday to make up for the game not played last Friday.

Administrators agreed on Tuesday that games unplayed will be declared “no contests,” not forfeits.

All games scheduled for this Friday have been rescheduled to Nov. 8.

Those are:

Rancho Cotate at Ukiah

Maria Carrillo at Windsor

Cardinal Newman at Analy

Montgomery at Healdsburg

Piner at Santa Rosa

Harker at El Molino (nonleague).

The extra week was welcome news for Piner, which at 3-0 in league and 9-0 overall is in the midst of a record-setting season and seeking to win the NBL Redwood Division championship with a victory over Santa Rosa (2-0, 3-5).

Piner had a bye on Oct. 25, but if this Friday’s game couldn’t be made up, the league title would have been decided (in Piner’s favor) by a points system, not on the field.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Piner Athletic Director Marc Anderson. “We’re trying to outright win a league title, then get the highest NCS seeding possible. We’re looking to win the NCS. I feel like our boys and our coach (are) ready for the challenge. This can be an historical year.”

While missing a game doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on a team for NCS seeding purposes, having fewer victories overall could be a negative.

Cardinal Newman shared those concerns with Piner. The Cardinals are 3-0 in the NBL-Oak and 7-1 overall. Because Maria Carrillo won’t be able to play its canceled Oct. 25 game against Newman, the Cardinals will have one fewer game than other teams to impress the seeding committee.

“It’s frustrating not being able to get that game in,” Newman coach Paul Cronin said. “Especially when schools are making decisions that affect other schools, it’s disappointing.”

Newman administrators expressed dismay at Santa Rosa City Schools district reps who made the decision to cancel the Carrillo-Newman game hours before Friday night’s kickoff, while Windsor at Ukiah and Analy at Rancho Cotate did play.

The NCS move to extend the season by a week, Cruickshank said, was meant to help all schools finish their seasons with as much normalcy as possible.

“This will allow schools to play their final regular-season game, many of which are rivalry games or league championships, and still give the North Coast Section three playable weekends to complete the playoffs and determine champions,” said Cruickshank, in his first year as NCS commissioner.

The playoff seeding meeting, originally scheduled for this Sunday, will be held Nov. 10. The playoffs already were pared down to three rounds from four in previous years, partly due to past experiences with schedule interruptions in October.

The postseason schedule will now look like this:

Last possible play date for regular-season games: Nov. 9

Seeding: Nov. 10

NCS first round: Nov. 15-16 (most games on Nov. 15 unless schools share sites/do not have lights)

NCS semifinals: Nov. 22-23

NCS championships: Nov. 29-30

CIF NorCal regionals: Dec. 6-7

CIF state bowl games: Dec. 13-14

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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