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Games at 7 p.m. unless noted

Tonight

Division 2

(16) Casa Grande at (1) Rancho Cotate

Division 4

(11) El Molino at (6) Fortuna

Division 5

(13) Cal School for the Deaf at (4) Fort Bragg

8-player

(5) Upper Lake at (4) Tomales

Saturday

Division 2

(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

Division 3

(9) Petaluma at (8) Encinal

Division 5

(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

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

Tonight

Division 2

(16) Casa Grande at (1) Rancho Cotate

Division 4

(11) El Molino at (6) Fortuna

Division 5

(13) Cal School for the Deaf at (4) Fort Bragg

8-player

(5) Upper Lake at (4) Tomales

Saturday

Division 2

(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

Division 3

(9) Petaluma at (8) Encinal

Division 5

(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

In Friday’s action, Casa Grande will have its hands full with Rancho on the Cougars’ home field in Rohnert Park.

Casa rebounded from an 0-4 start to finish 4-6 overall and a third-place 4-2 in the new Vine Valley Athletic League, which included Petaluma, Sonoma and Napa area schools.

A 37-36 victory over Petaluma in the Egg Bowl last week may give them a much-needed boost before they encounter the powerful Cougars.

Rancho has a 9-1 overall record with a 4-1 mark in the NBL-Oak, and is riding a four-game winning streak, including last week’s 62-0 drubbing of Ukiah.

The Cougars bring an attack that includes talent at quarterback, running back and receiver.

Junior back Rasheed Rankin averages 108 yards per game on the ground and has scored 18 touchdowns in 10 games for Rancho.

Quarterback Jared Stocker, also a junior, has thrown for 20 touchdowns and averages 213 yards a game in the air, while his top receiver, senior Connor Barbato, has 45 catches for 973 yards (a 22-yard average) and eight touchdowns.

Rancho has outscored its opponents 379-137 this year.

In Division 4 Friday, No. 11 El Molino travels north to six-seed Fortuna’s house.

The Lions finished third in the NBL-Redwood Division with a 3-6 overall record and 2-2 in league. The Huskies were 5-5 overall and finished last, 1-3, in their league.

El Molino is led by all-around player Sam Wilson-Mietz, a senior who plays running back, linebacker, cornerback and kicker for the Lions.

In a loss to Petaluma in September, Wilson-Mietz scored every one of El Molino’s 31 points, including four touchdowns, their extra points and a 30-yard field goal.

Also Friday, No. 4 Fort Bragg hosts No. 13 California School for the Deaf in Division 5 while No. 5 Upper Lake plays at No. 4 Tomales in the new 8-player postseason bracket.

In other games Saturday, No. 11 Maria Carrillo is at No. 6 Ukiah in Division 2 play and No. 9 Petaluma heads to No. 8 Encinal in Division 3. In Division 5, No. 8 Cloverdale and No. 9 Arcata play at Humboldt State University, while No. 12 St. Vincent is at No. 5 Middletown and No. 7 St. Helena hosts No. 10 Hoopa Valley.

Three top local teams have byes until next week’s round two: Division 3 top seed Cardinal Newman, Division 5 top seed Kelseyville and third-seeded Rincon Valley Christian in 8-player.

You can reach staff writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.

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