Top-seeded teams not resting up for high school football playoffs
Having a bye week before high school football playoffs can cut both ways: bruised and tired players can rest up and heal, or those same players can get sluggish and rusty from lack of game-style intensity.
Kelseyville coach Erick Larsen was having none of option two.
“Cloverdale didn’t get any days off, so we don’t get any days off,” he said.
His No. 1-seed Knights battle No. 8 Cloverdale Friday in the North Coast Section Division 5 quarterfinals in Kelseyville. The Eagles beat Arcata last week in their first-round game.
Meanwhile, Larsen’s team of 28 got back to basics during their off week, practicing blocking and heads-up tackling techniques.
Cardinal Newman, the other top-seeded team with a first-round bye in Division 3, also went back to square one — but coach Paul Cronin did give his Cardinals a four-day weekend after their Oct. 26 win over Analy.
“With the zero contact, the body heals,” he said.
The Cardinals host No. 8 Encinal Friday. Both games kick off at 7 p.m.
Both Newman and Kelseyville welcome back players who spent significant time out with injuries this season.
The Knights’ Jordi Lopez returns after only one game with a fractured bone in his hand.
“He will be back in full swing,” Larsen said. “He’s one of our key backs. He’s a between-the-tackles power runner. It provides us with depth, as well.”
The Knights, 9-1, haven’t lost since their opener, 40-32 to Stellar Prep of Oakland. They beat Cloverdale, 22-15, in North Central League I play.
“We’re coming into playoffs as healthy as we’ve been all year,” he said.
The Knights hope to capture that strength and dispatch the Eagles, 7-4, for a second time.
“The first week we spent a lot of time on fundamentals,” Larsen said. “This week, once we knew who our opponent was, we focused on preparing for them, getting back in to the regular swing.”
It took a late fourth-quarter score for Kelseyville to pull out the first win on Oct. 5.
Cloverdale presents a balanced attack, leading with running backs Jone Wesele and Cesar Buenrostro, and quarterback Shayne Turner.
“They spread teams out,” Larsen said. Wesele and Buenrostro “are excellent backs that deserve full respect. Jone is good up the middle, making us play tough inside. Then Cesar is a perimeter threat like no other back we’ve seen all year.”
Top-seeded Cardinal Newman is also facing a No. 8, Encinal from Alameda.
Cronin said his “mature” team used the bye week to focus on fundamentals as well.
“It gives you time to get footwork practice on the offensive line, working the sled, things during a game week you’re going to miss a little time on,” he said. “It’s like going back to spring ball. You lose some things throughout the year fundamentally. So you can go back and revisit that.”
The 9-1 Cardinals will also be welcoming a key player back from injury, offensive and defensive lineman Noah Peterson, who missed the whole North Bay League-Oak Division season with an injured knee.
After a quick refresher on the basics, Cronin started preparing his team for this week’s opponent, Encinal, which is 8-3 this year. But the Cardinals already know some of what the Jets bring, since the teams met last year in the NCS quarterfinals.
Newman came away the winner, 49-32, last year when the Cardinals were ranked second and Encinal seventh.
Cronin has a cadre of seniors he’s depended on this year, including receivers Chauncey Leberthon, who averages 19 yards per reception, and Jake Woods (18-yard average, 11 touchdowns).
Meanwhile, junior quarterback Jackson Pavitt throws for nearly 200 yards a game and has connected on 24 touchdown passes, and sophomore Shane Moran is the team’s leading rusher, who has scored 11 touchdowns.
“Every week in league, we tried to get better,” Cronin said. “It’s hard, it’s such a long season. Sometimes you get into a rut where it’s not fun to practice. But credit our seniors, they have been great leaders ... week to week, we’re fighting for our lives and hoping we get another week.”
Kelseyville’s Larsen said his players, too, are raring to go after the off week.
“It’s always a challenge to keep the team focused, and Halloween didn’t make it any easier,” he said. “But we had a couple good days of higher tempo practice. The kids are excited about the game. They’re chomping at the bit.”
You can reach staff writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.