The high school football postseason begins Friday night, and 18 local teams have a chance this weekend to take their seasons to the next level.
It all starts with six local schools competing in four North Coast Section divisional playoff games Friday, including top-seeded Rancho Cotate hosting No. 16 Casa Grande in a first-round Division 2 game.
Nine more play on Saturday, while three others drew byes for the first round.
A couple of the more intriguing matchups will take place Saturday, as North Bay League-Redwood Division champion Montgomery, the No. 9 seed, meets No. 8 American Canyon of the Vine Valley Athletic League in a Division 2 matchup, and NBL-Redwood runner-up Santa Rosa, seeded 12th, travels to play No. 5 Marin Catholic.
Though American Canyon is the higher seed, the surprising Vikings won their league, so they earned home-field advantage. In an odd twist, though, Montgomery’s aging turf field was ruled unsafe last week, so their “home” will be Santa Rosa High for the night.
First-year head coach Vertis Patton has improved the Vikings to 8-2 and 4-0 from 3-6 and 1-4 last year. He’s done it with high expectations and lessons that stray far afield from football.
“Our biggest thing was getting the kids to trust us as coaches, trying to build the culture up as a team instead of a whole bunch of individuals. That, and the grades,” he said. “We wanted the focus to be on grades more than football.
“The expectation was, let’s build on getting them to study hall, focusing on the important stuff, and football will fall into place. We knew we had talent. We didn’t know we were going to win league. We just hoped at the end of the day we didn’t lose too many to (low) grades.”
Patton said the school had one of the best seasons, academically, in years. “That was my personal win,” Patton said.
The Vikings will depend on quarterback Khameron Perkins, who also has had a solid season at running back. But from under center, Perkins has great chemistry with speedy receivers Kaih Johnson and B.J. Johnson, Patton said.
In a midday contest in Kentfield, Santa Rosa faces Marin Catholic, which has moved up to Division 2 after winning the NCS Division 3 title last year over Cardinal Newman.
The Panthers, 7-3 overall and 3-1 in the NBL-Redwood, are in the midst of their first winning season since 2007 — when coach Russell Ponce was a young coach in his first stint at Santa Rosa.
Though Marin Catholic is ranked far higher than the Panthers in the division and the NCS, Ponce said he’s not conceding anything.
“They definitely have a good pedigree. It’s always hard to predict what’s going to happen,” he said. “We’ll see how the teams match up physically. We’ll figure it out early in the game and make adjustments from there.”
One name sure to factor in the results is Jayvee Long, the Panthers’ 5-foot-9, 200-pound running back and linebacker. He leads the team with averages of 152 rushing yards, 165 total yards, eight tackles and 14 points per game.
“But where he really stands out,” Ponce said, “is character. He’s the best leader I’ve been around. He has high energy, but always positive energy. If something tough needs to be said, he’ll say it. He doesn’t call people out in a negative way, and guys respond. He’s a very humble kid.”
Games at 7 p.m. unless noted
(16) Casa Grande at (1) Rancho Cotate
(11) El Molino at (6) Fortuna
(13) Cal School for the Deaf at (4) Fort Bragg
(5) Upper Lake at (4) Tomales
(8) American Canyon at (9) Montgomery, at Santa Rosa High School
(12) Santa Rosa at (5) Marin Catholic, 1 p.m.
(11) Maria Carrillo at (6) Ukiah
(9) Petaluma at (8) Encinal
(8) Cloverdale at (9) Arcata, at Humboldt State University
(12) St. Vincent at (5) Middletown
(7) Hoopa Valley at (7) St. Helena
*Byes: Division 3 – (1) Cardinal Newman, Division 5 – (1) Kelseyville, 8-player (3) Rincon Valley