Benefield: Empire football teams adjust to postseason's new rules
The clichés are as old as competition itself — “We’re just taking it one game at a time,” “We aren’t looking past any opponent” or “We are focusing on the opponent in front of us.”
It’s anathema for most coaches to give any hint of looking deeper into the schedule then the contest at hand.
But in this extraordinary high school football season of cancellations and postponements because of poor air quality from the deadly Camp fire in Butte County, nothing seems normal. After all, teams are still playing in the North Coast Section semifinals Friday and we are one day from Dec. 1.
And it is certainly not normal for the season to play out like it will in the coming days.
A recap: The delays to the postseason playoff schedule because of air quality concerns have pushed the NCS football tournaments into direct conflict with the first week of the NorCal playoffs. CIF is locked into its schedule, so NCS teams are forced to make a choice between playing out the bracket and taking a chance on NorCals. And no one likes it.
One option: Winners of semifinal games today will look at their schedules to see if one finalist beat the other earlier in the season. Winner of any head-to-head matchup moves on to NorCals.
If that doesn’t decide it, a coin is flipped. Winner goes to the NorCal tournament; loser goes home with nothing. In that scenario, no NCS winner will be declared and the section bracket will remain forever incomplete.
Another option: The two teams that advance to the final game agree to play for the NCS championship next weekend and forgo an opportunity to advance to the NorCal tournament. In this case, officials are mulling the possibility of creating non-CIF “bowl games” that could be played Dec. 14 or 15 to give teams one more postseason opportunity.
If the teams can’t agree, the coin flip will be used because that is the protocol the NCS executive committee voted to adopt on Nov. 14.
This week, area coaches —who have had to maneuver around canceled games and nixed practices, extended seasons and a whole lot of unknowns — have all had to tell section officials what their teams will do should they win Friday.
Looking past this week's games? It’s enough to give one hives. It’s just not done.
For Rancho Cotate coach Gehrig Hotaling, he made the conversation with his team as quick as possible. The whole thing has run counter to his push to keep his team laser-focused on just reaching the NCS title game. To ask his team to give an answer to the “what if” question, here on the eve of the most important game of the season, is a threat to that focus.
Still, the Cougars are dealing with it.
“They are handling it great,” Hotaling said. “I couldn’t ask them to handle it any better. They are focused on this game and rightfully so.”
Hotaling’s No. 1-seed Cougars face No. 5 Marin Catholic at 7 p.m. at home Friday in the Division 2 semifinals. If the Cougars win, the team has opted to play out the bracket and go for a section championship, Hotaling said.