When the 2017 City Section football playoff brackets were revealed last year, the San Fernando Tigers could scarcely believe their luck. They had avoided a treacherously low seed in the Open Division, and were the top seed in Division I. They did not waste their good fortune, winning the Division I title.
San Fernando certainly did not expect a similar blessing this year, even though the Tigers are once again the Valley Mission League champion and have the same overall record (8-2) entering the playoffs. That part they don’t mind; Coach Robert Garcia wanted his team to play in the more prestigious Open Division, which would require only three playoff games as opposed to four.
But what Garcia couldn’t foresee was the Tigers’ seeding released on Oct. 27. They are square in the middle of the eight-team bracket, at No. 5.
That got the Tigers a Nov. 9 quarterfinal match against West Valley League champion Birmingham, the No. 4 seed and the only other Valley area team in the Open Division. And whoever wins will, in all probability, face four-time defending City champion and top seed Narbonne of Harbor City in the semifinal the following week.
From the easiest road to a championship last year to the toughest road this year.
“The [seeding] didn’t mean that much,” Garcia said. “But our main goal was to play at home in front of our fans. It gets exciting here. But we didn’t get what we wanted for our fans to see — a home game.
“I don’t remember the last time Birmingham and San Fernando played each other. For me, it’s something I wanted for awhile. And the playoffs decided that for us.”
Birmingham Coach Jim Rose also was not wowed by his team’s seeding. But the host Patriots (8-2) understand they have to play this hand that was dealt to them.
“Our quarterfinal with San Fernando is really the semifinal game,” Rose said. “I believe in someways [the teams are] the second and third seeds, and not the fourth and fifth seeds. In which order, I don’t know; but we’re pretty even.”
What set up this matchup — besides the computer formula used by CalPreps.com to create the actual brackets — were decisions made during Week Nine of the regular season.
Those games, played on Oct. 12, were disrupted by a freakish weather pattern that unleashed lightning and dumped rain and hail across the Southland, causing City officials to halt all the games in progress that night.
City Section spokesman Dick Dornan said that all teams had three options: they could either declare the score at that time to be the final result; resume the game at the point it was stopped on Oct. 13 or 15; or the two teams would agree to declare a no-contest.
Both Birmingham and San Fernando decided that the scores from their games against Cleveland (40-8) and Van Nuys (52-0) would be the final results. Eagle Rock and Lincoln, on the other hand, agreed to declare their game a no-contest.
That game was deleted from the maxpreps.com listing but stayed on the CalPreps listing until Oct. 25 when, Dornan said, City officials notified CalPreps that the game had been declared a no-contest. And it led to a juggling of team rankings.
On Oct, 24, Birmingham, San Fernando and Eagle Rock were ranked third, fourth and fifth. But the next day, Eagle Rock was moved to third, followed by Birmingham and San Fernando.
When Eagle Rock, the Northern League champion, defeated Wilson in the season finale on Oct. 26, the victory bumped the undefeated Eagles to second in the rankings. They would receive the number two seed for the playoffs. Carson was seeded third, followed by Birmingham and San Fernando.
Dornan said the Tigers requested on Oct. 26 to have the Van Nuys game changed to a no-contest but section Commissioner John Aguirre said no, that such a request had to have been made by both schools two weeks earlier.
“It’s history now,” Garcia said.
Rose said Eagle Rock Coach Andy Moran “was smart enough” to figure out that “a victory in a shortened game [could actually] hurt Eagle Rock,…that their rankings would fall.” At the same time, he said, the Eagles are being unfairly rewarded by the computer.
“It’s ridiculous that you can take a win off your record (as Eagle Rock did) and move up,” Rose said. “In the offseason we’re gonna do something so this doesn’t happen again. But the game should have been completed. If both teams don’t want to play, then perhaps a double forfeit — or something. But [in this case] they are rewarded for not wanting to play.”
Besides Eagle Rock, another early winner in this game of brackets could be Reseda.
The 9-1 Regents’ only loss was to San Fernando, and they finished second in the Valley Mission League. They received the No. 3 seed in the Division I bracket. That should get them two home playoff games, starting with a first round contest against Hamilton High of Los Angeles on Nov. 2, then the quarterfinals game if they win.
If Reseda has to travel for the semifinals — presumably against second seed Westchester High of Los Angeles — on Nov. 16, that’s still better than having to take a two-hour bus ride down the 405 on a Friday evening to somewhere like Carson or San Pedro. In fact, Reseda could host San Pedro in the quarterfinals.
After enduring his share of previous problematic seedings and matchups, Regents Coach Alonso Arreola was happy with the news.
“I like the team we have,” Arreola said. “We have gotten better. We have limited the mistakes we were making earlier, which is key. We’re playing more consistent on both sides of the ball.”
The Regents are coming off their bye week, and should be refreshed and energized for their game against visiting Hamilton.
“It worked out well. We had a couple kids who weren’t 100 percent, so the rest was good,” Arreola said. “We still practiced. But the mindset can change; the guys, along with the coaches, look forward to playing on Friday. So (not playing) can be tough to manage emotionally. And practice can be a little less focused.
“Come [this week] they will be excited.”
Birmingham wound up having a bye as well, though unintentionally. Their Oct. 26 game against Taft High was forfeited by Taft school officials for “safety reasons” after they determined the diminished varsity roster of 17 players would be totally outmanned against the Patriots.
The problem for Birmingham: the Patriots will have gone two full weeks without playing before the game against San Fernando.
It is yet another obstacle to overcome this season for Birmingham, which did not have a home game in 2018 because of delays in the renovation of the school’s football field.
“This whole season — not ever playing a home game — [in some ways] feels like a lost season,” Rose said. “We’re gonna go on; We did have an inter-squad game (on Oct. 26), but it isn’t a game. Where do you find the happy median? If you lose guys in practice, you are done.”
Garcia said his team will use the week off to work on conditioning and drills. He also expressed satisfaction for where they are now, entering the playoffs.
“When we played Alemany (to start the season) we had 34 players. Now we’re at 50,” the coach said. “Healthwise, we’re good. I don’t have anybody injured. But one thing about the City Section: I have kids that never played football before. Now they are starting to click, to catch on like it usually does this time of the year.”
There are other City and Southern section playoff games involving Valley area teams this weekend, with most of those games getting underway on Nov. 2 (see accompanying box) on page 8.
But the Nov. 9 contest between Birmingham and San Fernando will be electric — even more so when you consider how both teams got to this point.