Brandon Hernández 9 a.m., Aug. 23
Semifinals High Five
Rare playoff meeting between defending champs tops post-Thanksgiving slate
Semifinals High Five
All games Friday, Nov. 23 at 7 p.m.
Game of the Week
(3) Poway (9-2) at (2) Helix (10-0) (Division II)
A rare postseason matchup between defending section champions will decide one of the Division II finalists in the best game of the semifinal round.
Defending Division II state champion Helix has been quietly dominant in its title defense this season, and the Highlanders are now undefeated and riding a 23-game winning streak after their loss to Cathedral Catholic was wiped away. Seniors Amu Milo and Rocky Fuga are forces on both sides of the ball for Helix, who rolled past Steele Canyon in the quarterfinals. On offense, the Highlanders surround junior quarterback Josh Harris with a pair of talented seniors – running back Michael Adkins (1,361 yards, 20 TDs) and receiver Kendal Keys (826, 9).
Defending Division I champion Poway moved down before the season as the result of an enrollment drop, and the Titans haven’t lost since a 2-2 start. A pair of college-bound seniors anchors a Poway team that has outscored its last seven opponents by an average of 33 points per game – receiver/defensive back Derek Babiash (Arizona) and fullback/linebacker Alec Moreno (Nevada). Poway has sought respect all season, and a win over Helix would validate the Titans as one of the section’s top teams.
This game will be a physical battle that will likely play close throughout. Both Helix and Poway have had legitimate section title aspirations since the beginning of the season, and one of them will exit one game short of Escondido High.
Best of the Rest
(3) Grossmont (9-2) at (2) Eastlake (8-3) (Division I)
In a contest showcasing two of the best offenses in the section, the final score between Eastlake and Grossmont could look more like a basketball final. Eastlake’s Wing-T offense fueled by speedy senior running backs Aaron Baltazar and Tavarus Green is averaging 38 points per game and has propelled the Titans to a seventh straight section semifinal. Grossmont runs an Oregon-style spread offense led by junior quarterback Anthony Lawrence that aims to snap the ball every 12 seconds and has put up 55 points in each of the last two games. What could make the difference in this shootout is Eastlake’s defense, a small but fast unit that has played its best football the past two weeks. One or two defensive stops might be enough to win this one.
(3) Brawley (10-1) at (2) Madison (10-1) (Division IV)
The semifinal matchup that features the most combined wins features Madison and Brawley in the bottom half of the Division IV bracket. The Warhawks are looking to return to the Division IV finals for the third time in five seasons, led by the Arizona-bound senior duo of running back Pierre Cormier and receiver Lee Walker. Brawley is enjoying its finest season since 2004, and is the only Imperial Valley school remaining in the postseason. The Wildcats have won nine straight games since an early season loss at Hoover, and their only other game against a San Diego team this season was a 26-21 win over Chula Vista on Sept. 28. Madison appeared a favorite to make it to Escondido High since the playoffs started, and its last hurdle provides an unknown factor that could make this game closer than expected.
(4) Lincoln (8-3) at (1) Olympian (11-0) (Division III)
No team played undefeated Olympian closer than Lincoln this season, and in the top half of the Division III bracket the Eagles host the Hornets in a rematch of their 21-14 game on Sept. 21. Olympian is enjoying its best season in school history and aiming to reach the section finals for the second straight season. The Eagles have speed on both sides of the ball, and on offense the senior trio of quarterback Christopher Humphery, running back Andrell Snowden and receiver Sergio Bailey paces a quick set attack that has averaged 38 points per game. Lincoln’s three losses came to teams with a combined .940 winning percentage, and the tested Hornets slipped past Point Loma 21-17 at home in the quarterfinals. Senior twin brothers Tyrell and Tyree Robinson provide game-breaking ability on both sides of the ball for Lincoln, who is seeking its second championship game appearance in three seasons. This rematch should be just as close as the regular season meeting, and a few big plays will likely decide the difference.
(4) Valley Center (7-4) at (1) St. Augustine (10-1) (Division IV)
In recent years, Division IV has belonged to Valley Center – the defending champion Jaguars have won four titles in seven seasons and appeared in five straight section finals. St. Augustine opted to stay in Division IV this season rather than opting to play up in Division III, and the top-seeded newcomers pose a big threat to Valley Center’s supremacy in the section’s second smallest division. St. Augustine has talent on both offense and defense and the Eastern League champions biggest offensive threats are a pair of freshmen – running backs Elijah Preston and Francoise Sims II. Valley Center boasts the senior offensive tandem of quarterback Ryan Kleiman and receiver Michael McInerny, and the Jaguars snuck past Mar Vista in the quarterfinals after finishing the regular season with consecutive losses. Are the Saints poised to usher in a changing of the guard in Division IV or will Valley Center make another trip to the championship game?
Pictured: Helix in the offensive huddle