This group might not carry the hoopla of the Inland Division, but it certainly has some quality teams and superb athletes. Rancho Verde hasn’t lost a regular-season game since 2007, yet hasn’t won a section title in that stretch either. Not so for Palm Springs and Colony. Palm Springs won the Eastern Division title in 2009, and the Titans won Central Division titles in 2006 and 2007. Here’s a breakdown of the division:
The seeds: No. 1 Rancho Verde, No. 2 Palm Springs, No. 3 La Sierra, No. 4 Colony.
Best first-round matchup: Palm Desert (5-4) at Carter (9-1) -- Carter had a chance to clinch the program's first outright San Andreas League title Thursday night against Cajon but lost, 24-7. That missed opportunity could spill over to the playoffs. Carter will have its hands full trying to stop Palm Desert running back Tim Santa Maria, who rushed for 333 yards in 33 carries and scored four touchdowns in a 38-35 loss Friday against La Quinta, dropping the Aztecs into third place in the Desert Valley League and setting up this matchup.
Toughest road: Palm Springs (10-0) -- The Indians’ unblemished record might be a bit misleading because they really haven't played any quality opponents this season, though they did blow out everyone except Palm Desert in the season opener. They open against a Rialto team that has a big-time victory against Cajon this season, one that likely cost the Cowboys a top four seeding. Waiting in the wings would be a matchup against Chino or Arlington, two other programs that could pose a problem with their potent run games.
Potential shocker: Valley View at Colony, first round -- Valley View had a bye in Week 10 to give them extra time to prepare for the playoffs and provide running back Michael Harrison a chance to rest up for the heavy workload he’s likely to encounter. Harrison, who has rushed for 1,373 and 16 touchdowns this season, is the type of power runner that has given Colony fits this season. The Titans have already allowed 100-yard rushing performances to Xavier Browne of Chino, Devon Samuels of Chaffey, Jamel Hart of South Hills, Jordan Robinson of Ayala and Corey Victoria of Glendora.
Darkhorse: Cajon (9-1) -- As mentioned above, Cajon would likely be one of the top three seeds if not for its loss against Rialto three weeks ago. The Cowboys have the athletes to make a run at any team in this division, and seem to have found a quality replacement for quarterback Edwin Martinez, who went down with a knee injury two weeks ago. De Juan Brooks stepped up from the junior varsity and threw for 241 yards and three touchdowns in the victory against Carter, locking up a share of the San Andreas League title.
Final analysis: This division is Rancho Verde’s to lose but that’s exactly what the Mustangs did last season, cruising to the championship game before getting stunned by Colton, the third-place team from the San Andreas League. They certainly didn’t catch any breaks in the brackets, getting stuck on the same side as Cajon and Colony, both of which feature Division 1-bound athletes who can change the course of a game.
Championship prediction: Palm Springs vs. Rancho Verde – These two programs appear to be in a class by themselves, though neither has really proved themselves against quality opponents during the regular season. Look for both teams to build momentum during some challenging early games and meet head on for the section title. Rancho Verde 27, Palm Springs 21.