Division 9 Southern Section football playoff bracket preview: Best first round matchup, players to watch, who wins?

The Southern Section released its 2021 high school football playoff brackets for all 14 divisions on Sunday. Ahead of the first round games on Nov. 4-5, we’re previewing every playoff division from D1 to D14. Since Division 1 won’t begin until next week, we started with D2, and are continuing to work our way down the list.

Here’s everything you need to know about the D9 bracket:

DIVISION 9 BRACKET | ALL CIF-SS FOOTBALL BRACKETS

TOP D9 FIRST-ROUND GAME: Lompoc (5-5) vs. Western (7-2)

We’ll mention a number of times in this post that some teams in the division have a handful of very close losses against teams in higher division, blew out everyone else who was overmatched, and thus fell to Division 9 when they could compete in slightly higher divisions. Enter Lompoc, which lost to Arroyo Grande, Santa Ynez, Santa Barbara, and Rio Mesa consecutively by a grand total of 15 points. Then they got routed by Pacifica (Oxnard), but the rest of their games are all lopsided wins. The Braves are easily the most gifted team in the division offensively, as they averaged over 44 PPG despite going .500. QB Cavin Ross, who has an offer from William & Mary, throws for 240 yards per game, and 3-star Idaho State commit Deville Dickerson has caught for over 1,000 yards despite primarily being a CB prospect. Dickerson is also one of the top KR/PR specialists in SoCal, with a ridiculous 850 returning yards to his name already this season. However, 3-star San Diego State commit Sheldon Canley is their top offensive weapon and one of the better RBs in the state, with 1,449 rushing yards and 21 rushing touchdowns on over nine yards per carry, plus 306 yards and five TDs receiving. Throw in a handful of other solid receiving threats, and that’s an offense nobody in the division should be able to come close to stopping.

So, to beat Lompoc, you have to beat them in a shootout, and Western is another one of the most gifted offensive teams in D9. The Pioneers ride a six-game winning streak, and also have a win over Chino in their season-opener. QB Anthony Luna is prolific in the air, and 3-star WR Michael Sutton-Shy, WR Drew Faulkner (who also has six interceptions at CB), and 3-star TE Tywon Mitchell form perhaps the best receiving corps in the division. Western’s defense isn’t elite, but it’s serviceable, and between Faulker and FS Oscar Howard ballhawking and LB Joshua Faulkner owning the box, there’s some balance there.

Most of the current D-1 prospects in the division are in this game, which should be one of the top shootouts of the week, and whoever wins it is a premier threat to go all the way.

The pick: Lompoc 42, Western 38

TOP PLAYERS TO WATCH & FIRST ROUND PREDICTIONS:

Laguna Beach (9-1) vs. Chino (7-3):

While Chino is the lowest-ranked team in the bracket, it does have a win over another D9 team in West Covina, so it’s certainly a threat. The Cowboys don’t have too many playmakers, but they have all bases covered between dual-threat QB Favian Vasquez, RB Dennis Rocha, and WRs Daniel Nakashima (who’s also a standout DB) and Trevion Kimbrough. LBs Diego Ogata and Brandon Garibay and DL Roman Damas anchor a front seven that racks up a ton of tackles for loss. Still, Laguna Beach has only lost against Dana Hills, and is the top seed for consistently taking care of business against anyone that comes its way, including solid foes such as Woodbridge, Segerstrom, and Northwood. With seniors Will Bingham and Luke Degner forming perhaps the division’s top QB/WR battery, it’s no secret what the Breakers want to do on offense, but their lack of a running game hasn’t stopped them thus far, and they have numerous other good receivers. Laguna Beach’s dominant passing game and consistent defense make them one of a few clear favorites to go deep in Division 9.

The pick: Laguna Beach 29, Chino 21

Arroyo (10-0) vs. Claremont (5-5):

Having played a relatively easy schedule, it’s hard to assess unbeaten Arroyo, but 10-0 is impressive nonetheless. Everything on offense runs through dual-threat QB Omar Navarro, one of the best players in the division, who’s thrown for 1,851 yards and 19 touchdowns to one interception on 74.8% completion, good for a practically unheard of passer rating of 149.9. He also leads the Knights in rushing with 781 yards and 16 TDs on a mark of 7.7 yards per carry that is elite for a quarterback. WR Joseph Enriquez, who’s also a defensive anchor in the secondary, is his top target, and there are a ton of other helpful secondary playmakers in the fold on offense. DL Richard Quiroz has a dizzying 30 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, and leads a frontal attack that has already amassed 93 TFLs. Claremont, with one of the best defenses in the division, is an underrated threat to go all the way though, with a win over Colony and some impresses defensive efforts in losses against higher-division teams.

If the Wolfpack get some newfound offensive contributions, they could take Division 9 by storm. Otherwise, they’ll be an underdog pretty much every time out.

The pick: Arroyo 24, Claremont 17

San Dimas (7-3) vs. West Covina (6-4):

It’s nothing new that San Dimas is going to run the ball nearly every time, and has a litany of guys who can do it. Dual-threat QB Teyondre Coleman and RBs Shawn D’Amato and Jesse Samec are the top threats on that end. They’ve had some off nights on offense this season, but with one of the better defenses in the division, the Saints will be a threat in any matchup. Like San Dimas, the Bulldogs have had some better nights and some worse ones, thanks to a very good defense and a heavy penchant for running the ball, primarily through RB Zacharias Requena. When West Covina is on, it can beat the likes of Claremont and play Monrovia close. Certainly, the Bulldogs are more dangerous than their low ranking would indicate – and if you’ve been reading that a lot in our previews, it’s the intended consequence of the new playoff system. Get ready for an evenly-matched game where whoever can stop the run better will win, and be well-situated to keep going in weeks ahead.

The pick: West Covina 17, San Dimas 14

St. Margaret’s (6-4) vs. Hueneme (8-2):

After an early loss against Knight, Hueneme put together a solid 8-2 season that included nice wins over Fillmore and Nordhoff for a Citrus Coast League title. QB Stanley Espinosa, RB Justin Barreto, and WR Matthew Carpintero form one of the best offensive trios in the division, and LB/DL Devin Ramirez leads a defense that got better nearly every week of the season. The Vikings will be underdogs against St. Margaret’s though, as the Tartans have six blowout wins, two close losses against good non-section teams, and respectable 10-point losses against La Mirada and St. Paul which are both in higher divisions. While using “good losses” as the basis for a team’s playoff chances is always iffy, nothing on paper says that St. Margaret’s can’t go all the way in Division 9. 2-star QB Jack Ruff is one of the top offensive players in the division, and the Tartans are deep with good players on both sides of the ball, without relying too much on anybody. Unless their lack of close wins this season proves to haunt them, they should be legit.

The pick: St. Margaret’s 30, Hueneme 22

Eisenhower (6-3) vs. Ventura (5-4):

Again, the “good losses” argument is flimsy, but Eisenhower’s three losses all came against good teams in higher divisions by nine total points. The Eagles were a few more plays away from landing somewhere around Division 7. They could use some more heavy lifters on offense, but dual-threat QB Kevonn Osborne has been phenomenal not only passing the ball but also as their sole rushing threat. WR Alonzo Brown is by far his top target with over 1,200 receiving yards already, but Kevin Osborne provides another good option. While the Cougars fell towards the bottom of the division due to a lack of signature wins themselves, they’ve also proven to be dangerous based on who they nearly knocked off – Agoura, Santa Barbara, and Buena, with a fairly competitive loss against Santa Ynez also in there. Ventura has a broad mix of offensive threats, but dual-threat QB Jacob Jeffris, RB Esteban de Santiago, and WR Tyler Woodworth are important names to know.

We’ll take Eisenhower, but if Ventura wins, it’s probably more a case of the Cougars being an underrated contender than Eisenhower not doing its job.

The pick: Eisenhower 32, Ventura 26

Rancho Mirage (6-3) vs. Ontario Christian (6-2-1):

For a team with a draw against Xavier Prep and its only losses coming against Valley Christian and Aquinas, Ontario Christian is not ranked very high. Perhaps that’s due to a lack of signature wins, and not beating some of its inferior opponents by more than a couple scores. But we have them as a slight favorite here. Both of these teams struggle passing the ball, and run it very well. Rancho Mirage is led by RB Ziere Revis and dual-threat QBs Joshua Walls and Ethan Zamora, both of whom play RB when not under center, and Ontario Christian is in a similar boat with dual-threat QB Hayden Slegers and RB Tyler Ford leading the way. Both teams have star LBs leading their defense as well, with Michael Rowe for the Knights and Zion Henderson as one of multiple Rattlers making serious noise up front this season. This is another D9 match where the teams play the same style, and whoever can stop the run better will win.

The pick: Ontario Christian 21, Rancho Mirage 19

Portola (7-3) vs. Colony (4-6):

After winning seven straight, Portola finished the season with three close losses against good teams – including playing D4 and D5 contenders Irvine and Dana Hills down to the wire. Will that momentum shift set them back going into the playoffs? Maybe, but if not, they’re a legit championship threat, with a lot of seniors in important spots. Everyone knows RB Nova Kebeli carries a pretty ridiculous load – 1,774 yards and 20 touchdowns rushing already – but that hasn’t stopped the Bulldogs from having major success offensively. And their defense has been stifling, with DE Parker Olthoff leading the charge up front and a handful of guys contributing to the team’s 19 interceptions. Colony is a clear underdog in this bracket, but 3-star WR AJ Jones and 3-star DE Isaiah Ward give them some serious top-end talent. And maybe their very difficult regular season schedule will benefit them. If the Titans do pull off the upset, watch out for ’em.

The pick: Portola 21, Colony 17

WHO WILL WIN THE D9 TITLE?

Lompoc, Western, and Portola are three of the top threats in this bracket, but only one of them can make it to the semifinals, where Eisenhower might be waiting for them. The top half of the bracket just a bit more navigable, but we’ll take whoever wins the bottom in a close one, and Lompoc just has too much firepower to pick against.

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