Jeff Smith 12:15 p.m., April 24
CIF Finals Previews: Divisions I/II/III/IV
(3) Vista (11-1) vs (4) Mira Mesa (7-5) 7:30 p.m. at Qualcomm Stadium
Vista and Mira Mesa squared off in the opening weekend of the season and they will conclude it against each other in the nightcap. After losing in last year’s championship game the Panthers made the return trip for a shot at their first title since 2004, when they shared the crown with Torrey Pines. Vista has size and speed at nearly every position, led by senior two-way playmakers Stefan McClure and Jeremiah Kose, and come in averaging 34 points per game. Mira Mesa delivered the biggest upset of this year’s postseason in the semifinals, knocking off undefeated top-seed Eastlake 20-0. A program full of talent over the years, the Marauders are making their second championship game appearance in school history with the first coming in 1983. Absent from the team’s first meeting this season that Vista won 21-14, Mira Mesa quarterback Dominic Richardson leads the Marauders offense. The finale will be a close, physical game that should come down to the wire.
(3) Mission Hills (10-2) vs (4) Oceanside (9-3) 4 p.m. at Qualcomm Stadium
Mission Hills is back in the stadium for the first time since 2007, when they lost 26-7 to Oceanside in the Division II finals. The Grizzlies navigated the deep Division II bracket with wins over Rancho Bernardo and Steele Canyon and have the resume worthy of the title game, including a win over then No. 1 Vista on Oct. 29. Hunter Moore leads the Mission Hills offense and the Grizzlies defense has allowed an average of 16 points in their last four games. For Oceanside, 2010 was supposed to be the year where their streak of six consecutive section titles came to an end. Somebody forgot to inform the Pirates that, as they are back in the stadium fresh off a defense-led 24-17 upset of top-seed Helix. With only four returning seniors Oceanside has grown up over the course of the season, especially sophomore quarterback Tofi Pao Pao. The Pirates showed their championship swagger against Helix and step into Qualcomm Stadium aiming for their seventh section title in a row. These two teams have already met this season, with Oceanside winning 48-28 on Oct. 1 to christen their brand new stadium.
(3) Cathedral Catholic (7-5) vs (5) Lincoln (7-6) 1 p.m. at Qualcomm Stadium
Eastern League foes Cathedral Catholic and Lincoln started the season a combined 1-5, but one of these teams will end the season Division III champions. The three-time defending champion Dons are no stranger to Qualcomm Stadium, and will pound the ball with running back Jonny Martin (1,595 yards, 17 TDs) on offense and rely on their size on defense, starting up front with California-bound nose tackle Mustafa Jalil. Lincoln has speed all over the field and comes in with four straight wins – including road upsets over Ramona and top-seed St. Augustine each of the past two weeks. In their league meeting on Oct. 22, Cathedral Catholic beat Lincoln 31-15.
(1) Valley Center (12-0) vs (3) Madison (11-1) 10 a.m. at Qualcomm Stadium
The first game of the day is a rematch of the 2008 section finals, when Valley Center won 31-20. The Jaguars have won two of the last three Division IV titles but the stakes are higher this year – Valley Center has the inside track to the Division III State Bowl and would likely be headed to Carson with a win. On offense the Jaguars will provide a heavy dose of running back Travis Bernard (2,669 yards, 35 TDs) and defensively they are allowing nine points per game. Back in Qualcomm Stadium after a one-year absence, Madison comes into the game winners of eight straight. The Warhawks are averaging 38 points per game led by quarterback Chase Knox and receiver Desaan Hardwick. Madison is talented on both sides of the ball and should give undefeated Valley Center all the can handle. The scoreboard operator will be busy early on Monday.