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Time for section to assemble football playoff puzzle, piece by piece

New system rewards victories, strength of schedule, but division placement is up in the air for some teams
By: Bill Poindexter
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The year was 2007. Roseville and Rocklin high schools built impressive 8-2 regular-season records – and didn’t qualify for the Sac-Joaquin Section football playoffs. In 2005, Bear River, Colfax and Oakmont shared the Pioneer Valley League title. Oakmont had to stay home. In 2008, Granite Bay’s reward for going 9-1 was a first-round matchup with 10-0 Grant, which went on to beat Long Beach Poly for the CIF Open Division state championship. It was also in 2008 that Foothill (2-8) got into the playoffs and Manteca (8-2) didn’t. The playoff format had to change. Section officials presented a new plan last year, made more alterations last offseason, and they’ll be at again today assembling 16-team brackets for Divisions I through IV. Coach Ernie Cooper’s Granite Bay team went 8-2 in 1998 but finished third in its league and didn’t get in. The Grizzlies went 8-2 last season, earned a home game for the first round, then lost on the road to Folsom in the quarterfinals. He believes the system worked last season. “This system is not perfect, but … it fixes a few problems the old system had,” said Cooper, whose team played Roseville on Friday night for a share of the Sierra Foothill League crown and, if Del Oro were to lose to Woodcreek, the whole pie. “What the section is trying to do is get teams that deserve to be in the playoffs in the playoffs and 2, teams that shouldn’t be playing each other in the first round won’t be playing each other in the first round. It’s a tradeoff, and I’m happy to make that tradeoff.” There are 20 leagues in the section in Divisions I through IV. All league champions and runners-up qualify. The remaining 24 teams qualify at-large based on their number of wins and are seeded based on a series of tiebreakers. A team that goes 8-2 and finishes third in its league will qualify for the playoffs – unlike Granite Bay in ’98 – according to Will DeBoard, the section’s director of communications. “What it seems like it’s coming down to, if you go 6-4 you’re almost definitely in the playoffs,” DeBoard said. “That’s kind of what everybody’s gunning for.” The 64 teams then will be split into four brackets based on enrollment and are seeded by number of wins. The top seed will play the No. 16 seed, No. 2 plays No. 15, and so on. League champs are seeded higher than teams with identical records that don’t win their league, and strength of schedule (wins by an opponent) also separates teams during the seeding process. That will benefit schools like Roseville and Granite Bay, both of which stacked up on powerful nonleague opponents. Roseville played Folsom and Pleasant Grove; Granite Bay played Vacaville and St. Mary’s. All were 8-1 going into Friday night’s games. While every coach and player would have said beforehand they were thinking only about Friday night’s opponent, especially with league titles and rivalry bragging rights on the line – well, they really did have more on their minds. “We’re in a situation where we’re playing for a championship. We know we’re also playing to improve our playoff seeding at the same time. Everybody’s aware of where you are,” Roseville coach Larry Cunha said Wednesday. “It’s neat that they made the change with total wins. It adds a whole lot more interest in terms of having the at-large. It gives credence to strength of schedule in terms of breaking ties. The whole system was a move in the positive.” The fun increases in that some teams, like Del Oro and Placer, won’t know what division they’ll be in until after the brackets are posted. If Del Oro defeated Woodcreek on Friday night, it could wind up in Division II or III. Placer took a 7-2 record into its game against Foothill. “It’s interesting. Saturday is usually our prep day, but we’re not going to be able to get started until (tonight),” Hillmen coach Joey Montoya said. “The new format for the most part is pretty solid. It makes it tough on a team like us that is on the bubble. If we end up in DIII, we’re the smallest team in there by a ways.” Bear River and Colfax took 7-2 records into their PVL clash Friday night. It was pain and pleasure for Bear River coach Scott Savoie. “The part that is nerve-racking is trying to figure out where you’re going to fall. It’s more difficult to figure out who you’re going to play,” he said. “Everybody's doing computations on Friday nights, Saturday mornings. I love it.” Todd Mordhorst of Gold Country News Service contributed to this report.