Gardena Serra (8-2) shook up the seedings for the Western Division playoffs by beating Chaminade, 35-29, in the Mission League finale on Friday night. Serra went from the No. 3 seed to the top seed and Chaminade (8-2) fell from the No. 1 to No. 3. Second-seeded Arroyo Grande (9-1) and Serra look as if they are on a collision course for a rematch of last year’s Western Division final. Chaminade played the toughest schedule of any team in the Western Division, but losing to Serra in the league season finale is not the way Eagles coach Ed Croson wanted to enter playoffs. Ventura (10-0) might be the most underrated undefeated team in the playoffs. All Ventura has done this year is outscore its opponents, 328-82, a four-to-one margin, and shut out three of its opponents. Four teams, including St. Francis, earned at-large bids into the Western Division playoffs. The Golden Knights might be the most dangerous of the four, but will have a tough quarterfinal game against Arroyo Grande if they can win their first-round game aganst Paramount, the San Gabriel League champion. Here’s a breakdown of the division:
The seeds: No. 1 Serra, No. 2 Arroyo Grande, No. 3 Chaminade, No. 4 Ventura
Best first-round matchup: St. Francis (8-2) vs. Paramount (5-5) -- Paramount ended up in a three-way tie for first place with Dominguez and Downey in the San Gabriel League standings. The Pirates lost their league season finale, 32-27 to Dominguez, but earned the top seed from the San Gabriel League in the Western Division playoffs. Paramount’s Bernard Foy is a ball hawk with six interceptions and three touchdowns. St. Francis doesn’t score a lot of points, but they don’t give up a lot of points either. The Golden Knights are averaging 28.5 points, but are only giving up 17.3. St. Francis defensive lineman Tyler Marona leads the team with 10 sacks. The Golden Knights’ two losses came against Mission League opponents. The first was 44-30 against Serra. The second was a week later, 31-13, to Chaminade. A first-round upset is not out of the question for St. Francis. A deep run in the playoffs is highly questionable.
Toughest road: Ventura (10-0) -- The Cougars don’t seem to be getting the respect they deserve. Their first-round game is against Dominguez (7-3), which finished in a three-way tie for first place in the San Gabriel Valley League but earned an at-large bid in the playoffs. The Dons have won seven of their last eight games and will be a tough first-round challenge for Ventura. If the Cougars advance to the quarterfinals, they will most likely face a tested Santa Monica team, the Ocean League champion. Ventura is in the same half of the playoff bracket as Serra, the reigning Western Division champion.
Potential shocker: Camarillo (7-3) vs. Chaminade (8-2), quarterfinals -- Camarillo has one of the best receivers in the state in Jake Maulhardt who has 105 catches for 1,465 yards and 14 touchdowns. Conrad Kotake has emerged as a legitmate receiving threat as well with 51 catches for 935 yards and 19 touchdowns. He has also scored four rushing touchdowns. The wild card is junior quarterback Travis Valdez. Since taking over the starting role on Oct. 6, he is undefeated and has won five games in a row. He has passed for 1,999 yards and 29 touchdowns. Mind you, Valdez’s eye-popping numbers are all against Pacific View League opponents. Chaminade will be Valdez and Camarillo’s toughest test to date. If the game’s a shootout, it might favor Camarillo. If Camarillo can’t stop Chaminade running back Terrell Newby, it will be an Eagles' blowout.
Darkhorse: Chaminade (8-2) -- The Eagles went from being the favorite to win the Western Division championship to the No. 3 seed in playoffs. Losing to Serra has created doubters, maybe even among the Chaminade faithful. Then again, it might work to Chaminade’s advantage to be considered an underdog. Chaminade played one of the toughest non-league schedules around. The Eagles beat Venice, Valencia and Mira Costa, all playoff teams in other divisions in Southern California, before starting Mission League play. Chaminade wouldn't have to face Serra again until the championship game of the Western Division playoffs, that is of course if the Eagles can win a potential matchup against Arroyo Grande in the semifinals.
Final analysis: The Western Division is filled with potential upsets. The four at-large teams are just as dangerous as some of the league champions. Serra has a seemingly easy route to the Western Division semifinals, opening against Culver City. Ventura has not lost a game all season and probably won’t until the semifinals, where Serra most likley awaits. Arroyo Grande has a much tougher road. St. Francis, Camarillo and Chaminade are in the bottom half of the Western Division bracket. The quarterfinals and semifinals might take a lot out of Arroyo Grande. Chaminade opens against Inglewood and will most likely face Arroyo Grande in the semifnals.
Championship prediction: A case can be made for each of the top four teams in the Western Division playoffs to make the championship game. Serra is looking to repeat as champions. Arroyo Grande is looking to return to the title game for a second year in a row. Chaminade is the most battle-tested team in the Western Division playoffs. Ventura is undefeated and playing with a ton of confidence. In the end, it will be a rematch of the Mission League championship game between Chaminade and Serra. Chaminade is not going to lose to the same team twice in the same season.