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The North Coast Section football playoffs started with 18 local teams spread across four divisions, but with the postseason winding down only four Redwood Empire teams remain — Cardinal Newman, Rancho Cotate, Kelseyville and Middletown. The four schools are playing in three semifinal games Friday, with Middletown and Kelseyville facing off against each other.

Division 2 began with six local teams out of the field of 16 — two of which, No. 6 Ukiah and No. 1 Rancho Cotate, made the quarterfinals.

The other four local teams in Division 2 were beaten handily: No. 16 Casa Grande (a 48-point loss), No. 8 Montgomery (a 14-point loss), No. 12 Santa Rosa (a 42-point loss) and No. 11 Maria Carrillo (14-point loss).

In Division 3, No. 1 Cardinal Newman delivered the goods as expected and made the semifinals, while No. 2 Petaluma finished with a thud, going down 49-0 to No. 8 Encinal (Alameda).

Local teams fared well in Division 5, with five of the seven teams making it to at least the quarterfinals. No. 1 Kelseyville and No. 5 Middletown are still alive for Friday's faceoff.

No. 5 Fort Bragg and No. 8 Cloverdale made it to the quarterfinals before the Timberwolves lost to Middletown and the Eagles lost to Kelseyville, respectively. No. 7 St. Helena also made it to the quarterfinals. No. 12 St. Vincent and No. 13 California School for the Deaf both were blown out in the first round.

In the 8-person division, No. 4 Tomales and No. 3 Rincon Valley Christian both advanced to the semifinals before losing. No. 5 Upper Lake lost in the first round.

That leaves the aforementioned four teams playing in Friday's semifinals as follows:

Division 2

(1) RANCHO COTATE Cougars vs. (5) MARIN CATHOLIC Wildcats

Time: 7 p.m. Friday

Place: Rancho Cotate High School

The Cougars (11-1) are decidedly favored at home over the Wildcats (9-3) of Kentfield. … The Cougars defeated No. 8 American Canyon last week 42-7 while the Wildcats beat No. 4 Granada 14-7. … “We are in a position to accomplish our No. 1 goal, which is to break through the semifinals,” Rancho Cotate coach Gehrig Hotaling said. “Marin Catholic is talented and has clearly gotten better since the season progressed. Adjusting to their (multiple offensive) formations will be critical for us.” … Rancho Cotate has won six straight games. … The Cougars are led by Rasheed Rankin (1,263 yards on the season), the North Bay League-Oak Division’s leading rusher. … “On offense, we just need to grind it out for four quarters and do what got us here, which is to be balanced,” Hotaling said.

Division 3

(1) CARDINAL NEWMAN Cardinals vs. (4) EL CERRITO Gauchos

Time: 7 p.m. Friday

Place: Cardinal Newman High School

The NBL-Oak champion Cardinals (10-1) have won seven in a row and defeated No. 8 Encinal last week 56-21. … El Cerrito (9-3) defeated No. 5 Miramonte 44-21 last week. … “El Cerrito is super athletic. They have good speed and size. They have a couple of 300-pound guys on the line and they wear you down,” Cardinal Newman coach Paul Cronin said. “But we have had good experience with East Bay teams in the playoffs in the past. Playing at home has its perks — no traffic.” … Quarterback Jackson Pavitt (2,373 yards passing) leads the Cardinals offense. … Defensively, the Cardinals will have to contain El Cerrito’s wide-open spread offense. … “Because of the long delay (due to the poor air quality from the Camp fire), we are as healthy as we have been all season. I am happy how we are playing right now,” Cronin said. “The key on Friday will be to start early, control our emotions and score first.”

Division 5

(5) KELSEYVILLE Knights vs. (4) MIDDLETOWN Mustangs

Time: 7 p.m. Friday

Place: Kelseyville High School

This is a rematch of familiar North Central League I foes. Kelseyville (10-1), which won the NCL I, defeated Middletown 28-0 during league play. … “Kelseyville is the more veteran team. They have an edge in experience,” Mustangs (9-3) coach Bill Foltmer said. “The loss to them this year was one of the worst league losses in the last 10 years for us. Kelseyville just flat-out outplayed us.” … Middletown, which finish tied for second place in the NCL I with Fort Bragg, knocked Kelseyville out of the playoffs last year with a 7-0 Mustangs victory in the semifinals. … “Middletown is successful year in and year out with its football program,” Kelseyville coach Erick Larsen said. “Middletown does a lot of things well. Physically, the teams are very similar across the board.” … Both teams have similar styles on offense with a “ground-and-pound” run-first mentality. The Knights operate a hybrid Wing-T/Option offense and the Mustangs a Wing-T/I-formation offense. … Due to the unforeseen interruptions in the playoff schedule, Middletown has had a three-week layoff while Kelseyville played last week. … “Coming off the Fort Bragg game (an opening-round 29-22 Middletown win), we were playing the best football of the year and then we had a three-week cool-down period. But you can’t do anything about it,” Foltmer said. “We are real healthy going into this game. We are going to have to be at the top of our game to beat Kelseyville.” … The Knights, who defeated Cloverdale 40-21 last week in the quarterfinals, are led by quarterback Alex Garcia. … Mustangs quarterback RH Hess transferred from Kelseyville two years ago. … Middletown has a trio of running backs — Drake Harbinson, Dillon Tingle, and Nico Bario — that Kelseyville will have to deal with. … “We have to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” Larsen said. “If you let Middletown, it will eat up the clock with ball control.”

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