Kennedy Coach Terrance Johnson was sitting at home with his family “twiddling my thumbs” when he heard the Golden Cougars were in the City Section’s Division III playoffs. Because Kennedy’s bye week came during the final week of the regular football season, Johnson had been growing anxious daily waiting for the seeding to take place on Saturday, Nov. 7.
His reaction to hearing the 4-6 Cougars were a seventh seed and getting a home game?
“Thank you Jesus,” Johnson said, adding a slight chuckle. “That’s been our goal and mission all year long, to make the playoffs. But not just be satisfied just to get in. Let’s go do something; let’s go win it.”
Reseda Coach Alonso Arreola also felt a surge of joy when he learned the 4-6 Regents also made the Division III playoff as an eighth seed. The team has not appeared in the post season since 2011.
“You appreciate having that opportunity to go on.,” Arreola said. “We have been confident about this group, and they have yet to play their best football. Hopefully that is coming.”
There’s also that “stunning moment” where a team isn’t seeded where it expected to be placed. Taft had been sitting in the third spot of playoff projections, and finished its regular season with an 8-2 record. But when the bracket was posted Coach Deron Braswell learned the Toreadors and been dropped to the fifth seed, behind Los Angeles schools Garfield and Dorsey.
“I can’t tell you how many calls I got asking ‘what happened?’ And I don’t have an answer,” Braswell said. “I thought we’d have a third seed. But I can understand the thinking of Garfield going there. Garfield won their league; that’s the initial thought. We were in position (to beat Birmingham) and win our league, but we didn’t.”
It’s that time of year. The Second Season of Football.
Getting Better Results
Sometimes, however, teams are put where they expect to be seeded.
Feeling “happiness” might not be the word to describe Jim Rose’s reaction upon learning that 7-3 Birmingham was the second seed in Division I. “Maintaining his sanity” might be more accurate.
“If we weren’t the No. 2 seed I would have lost my mind,” Rose said. “We had a harder strength of schedule than even Narbonne. We beat Newbury and Taft, two of best wins of City schools.”
Despite a humbling loss to Sylmar for the Valley Mission League championship, Canoga Park Coach Ivan Moreno was upbeat about the 6-4 Hunters’ fourth seed in Division II.
“We got home game,” Moreno said. “Right now, take it one game at a time. That’s the key thing.”
Of course when you’re Sierra Canyon — 10-0 and the top seed of the Southern Section’s Mid-Valley Division — it’s all good, right Coach Jon Ellinghouse?
“This is first year where none of my players were on (the 2011 state Division IV) championship team,” the coach said. “This group has that ability, but they haven’t accomplished that yet. They must come into these playoffs hungry. If they want to create that kind of [championship] legacy, they’ll have to do that through hard work.”
That also describes The Second Season.
The Big Difference
Some things about football don’t change no matter when you play. It can still come down to blocking and tackling, the execution or disruption of schemes.
But there is definitely a difference with the transition from the regular season into the postseason. You feel it in the air. You feel it on the field. You feel it, hopefully, on the campus and community.
And in a variety of ways.
“The biggest difference? Intensive,” Johnson said. “It’s win or go home. There is no second chance. We’re going to prepare with having nothing to lose and everything to gain. Because anybody can be beaten. If you’re in, you’ve done something right.”
“For me, is how the small things become magnified,” Moreno said. “Holding calls, offsides; sometimes during the regular season they’re not a big deal; but they become huge in the playoffs. We tell the players ‘you have to be under control.’ Personal fouls, blocking behind the back, things like that can cost you the chance to win the game.”
Arreola points out a nuance that might escape the casual fan.
“There’s the climate change,” he said. “It’s getting darker earlier. It is colder. It all feels different.” But Arreola won’t gloss over the obvious. “The cold reality is every Monday moving forward could be your last time. We have to acknowledge that. But you hope it develops urgency in your team during the week.”
Ellinghouse said its up to the coaching staffs to put that nervous energy to a positive use.
“Every team I’ve been around, there is a new life and energy pumped into the room during the playoffs. The seniors know now they have extra motivation of this being their last games. And that is case for your opponent, too. They will have some desperation. You see your opponent’s best.”
First Round Matchups
Okay all you City conspiracy theorists who contend the playoff pairings are done in such a way as to eliminate Valley teams as quick as possible, stand up and be counted.
There are several first round games here pairing Valley area teams against each other, none more intriguing then Sylmar against Taft in Division I.
Other first round Valley-on-Valley games include Cleveland against Grant in Division II; and Monroe against Reseda, and North Hollywood against Kennedy in Division III.
But coaches and players have no time to wonder or lament why the brackets are the way they are. Win and survive on Friday, or turn in your gear for another year.
That, too, is the Second Season.
“There is obvious result if you lose,” Braswell said. “But we’ve also tried to make sure (the team) felt every game was important, not only the playoffs.
“So I hope the players realize its a game, and have fun. At this point of the year, you want to make sure all bases are covered. And what happens, happens.”