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Prep football playoff preview: League rivals Rancho Cotate, Windsor meet in 1st round

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With new eight-team brackets this year instead of 16, the CIF North Coast Section high school football playoffs get down to business with competitive matchups in the first round.

“Usually you play against teams that are not very good in the first round,” said Rancho Cotate coach Gehrig Hotaling, whose Cougars will host North Bay League-Oak Division rivals Windsor on Friday night in a Division 3 game.

“Now we’re basically starting off in the quarterfinals. Windsor is the real deal. There’s no time to catch your breath.”

Rancho ended the season 7-3 overall and 4-1 in the Oak, including a 33-20 victory over the Jaguars on Oct. 11 in Windsor. Rancho’s only loss was to undefeated league winner Cardinal Newman.

Windsor, also 7-3 overall, finished 3-2 in the division and placed third behind Newman and Rancho.

That’s not to say the second-seeded Cougars have the seventh-seeded Jaguars’ number.

“I don’t care who you are, it’s very difficult to beat a team twice in one year,” Hotaling said. “Even though this is a 2-7 seed (matchup), it’s going to be a very good game.”

Windsor coach Brad Stibi said his team is eager to face the Cougars again.

“We’re looking forward to an opportunity to get back at Rancho. That’s the way I wanted it,” he said. “I know we didn’t seed where we’d have liked, but at the end of the day, it gives us another opportunity to beat a league opponent.”

Rancho has a long, successful playoff history, qualifying every year since at least 2004, and advancing to the semifinal games each of the last five years. The Cougars won the NCS Division 2 championship in 2010.

Windsor has been rebuilding this year after a 3-7 season in 2018. The Jags advanced to the semifinals in 2017 and lost to Campolindo in the 2016 NCS title game. They won the NCS Division 2 championship in 2011.

A win over Rancho would be a boost, said Stibi, in his second year at the helm in Windsor.

“We’re wanting to build the program and we have to beat Rancho to do that,” he said.

In their only other meeting this year, Windsor jumped out to a 14-7 lead by halftime. But Rancho regrouped and held the Jags scoreless in the third while taking a 20-14 lead.

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. We finished great,” Hotaling said. “We were playing not to lose ... in the first half. We were trying to get cute instead of putting our foot on the gas pedal.”

Stibi said his team may have gotten a little too satisfied with the first-half lead.

“We need to keep more of a selfish attitude and mindset and be able to finish the game,” he said. “That’s got to be our message: We gotta finish.

“A big game like this, there will be mistakes made. I think it comes down to the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.”

Both teams have fairly balanced attacks, with Rancho leading in the run game while Windsor gains more in the air.

Cougars running back Rasheed Rankin averages 124 yards a game, while Windsor is led by Lorenzo Leon, who brings an 81-yard average.

Windsor quarterback Billy Boyle is throwing 166 yards a game to Rancho’s Jared Stocker’s 127 a game.

Stibi expects big things from his defensive end Oscar Mayorga.

“He will create an impact. He’s a threat off of the edge,” Stibi said. “He creates a lot of problems for offenses. We think he’s going to be a big factor.”

The game kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday in Rohnert Park.

More Friday playoff games:

CARDINAL NEWMAN Cardinals (9-1) vs. TENNYSON Lancers (5-5)

Time: 7 p.m.

Place: Cardinal Newman High School

As the top seed in Division 4, Newman is expected to handle No. 8 Tennyson without too much trouble. The Cardinals are ranked 92nd in the state; the Lancers 804th.

SANTA ROSA Panthers (4-5) vs. LAS LOMAS Knights (9-1)

Time: 7 p.m.

Place: Las Lomas High School

The Division 3 top-seeded Knights have a weapon we may all see on TV next year — Isaiah Newell, a 6-3, 215-pound running back/linebacker who is headed to Oregon State University after rejecting more than a dozen other Division I schools’ offers. The No. 8 Panthers will have their paws full.

EL MOLINO Lions (5-4) vs. WILLITS Wolverines (7-3)

Time: 7 p.m.

Place: Willits High School

This Division 7 matchup pits No. 3 Willits against the No. 6 Lions. The Wolverines went 5-2 in the North Central League I while El Mo was 2-2 in the NBL-Redwood. This could be a close one.

LOWER LAKE Trojans (7-3) vs. JUSTIN-SIENA Braves (7-3)

Time: 7 p.m.

Place: Justin-Siena High School

This will be a well-matched Division 6 game. The No. 4 Braves and the fifth-seeded Trojans both bring 7-3 records to the field. Both teams like to air it out, with each team gaining more than 250 yards in passing offense per game.

ST. VINCENT Mustangs (9-1) vs. ST. HELENA Saints (8-2)

Time: 7 p.m.

Place: St. Helena High School

Another closely matched game, this Division 7 game gives No. 4 St. Helena a slight edge over the No. 5 Mustangs, if only for home-field advantage. This game likely will be won on the ground, with first-rate running backs Ivan Robledo (180 yards per game) of St. Helena and the Mustangs’ Kai Hall (167 ypg) showing off their moves.

CALISTOGA Wildcats (4-3) vs. TOMALES Braves (6-2)

Time: 7 p.m.

Place: Tomales High School

In 8-person football, the No. 4 Braves host No. 5 Calistoga. The winner plays at No. 1 seed Cornerstone Christian.

LAYTONVILLE Warriors (4-5) vs. SOUTH FORK Cubs (6-2)

Time: 7 p.m.

Place: South Fork High School

The Cubs could be the stronger team here, having put together a flawless 5-0 North Central III season.

PINOLE VALLEY Trojans (6-4) vs. MIDDLETOWN Mustangs (7-2)

Time: 7 p.m.

Place: Middletown High School

These Division 6 rivals bring strong league performances (Middletown 6-0, Pinole 5-1). The key for the Mustangs may be their stingy defense, which has allowed only 134 points this year, compared to the Trojans’ 245.

Saturday’s game

PINER Prospectors (9-1) vs. TAMALPAIS Red-Tailed Hawks (7-3)

Time: 1 p.m.

Place: Tamalpais High School

Piner travels south to Tamalpais for this Division 4 day game. Fresh off their only loss of the season, to Santa Rosa in the NBL-Redwood season finale, the Prospectors hope to return to their winning ways. This may be evenly matched, with Piner ranked 370th in the state to Tam’s 367th.

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

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