CIF State 4-AA football playoffs bracket breakdown: Is this the year Marin Catholic breaks through?

With section championships wrapped up all around the state, the CIF State football playoffs are finally here. 28 bowl games are being played throughout California this weekend, and SBLive is previewing every single one. 

Here’s a complete preview of the CIF State 4-AA playoff bracket heading into regional bowl games, which are effectively the state semifinals. The NorCal semifinal features two programs with strong football history but no state playoff appearances in the last few years.

CIF 4-AA NORTHERN REGIONAL BOWL GAME PREVIEW:

Marin Catholic (12-1) vs. Escalon (12-1) at San Rafael H.S. – Friday, Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m.

Death, taxes, and MC meeting either Bishop O’Dowd or Cardinal Newman in the NCS finals. This time it was Newman with Division 4 at stake and the Wildcats got back on top emphatically, winning 42-7 to make a strong case as the best team in the North Bay. The Wildcats are the top-ranked team in the field, and are now 12-1 with only a two-score loss to McClymonds against them.

2-star QB Michael Ingrassia is arguably the best player in Marin County, and probably the best offensive player in the whole North Bay. In addition to the MCAL Offensive Player of the Year, MC has five more first team all-league members on offense: breakout RB Charles Williams, who technically made the first team twice as both an RB and for special teams, plus WR Kyle McBride and offensive linemen Cooper Scheuermann, Mac Dorward, and Michael Brown. Additionally, the majority of the Wildcats’ front seven made First Team All-MCAL as well: LBs Charlie Allen and Will Clemens, and DLs Hayden McBride, Trent Carrade, and Jackson Truitt. Charlie Knapp (first team) and Andrew Ramos (second team) lead their secondary. While the absence of 3-star LB/RB Santino Acevedo was set to be insurmountable for Cardinal Newman against a team of MC’s caliber, Marin Catholic’s 42-7 victory over the Cardinals still indicates that the team is more than ready to take on much harder foes than in league play.

The Cougars are also 12-1 with only a pre-league loss against Kimball against them. After that, they quickly rounded into form to sweep the highly competitive Trans Valley League, with defensive victories over Hilmar, Hughson, and Ripon under their belt, plus a 33-26 win against Livingston. They again used outstanding defense to stifle both Hilmar and Ripon en-route to a Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 title, and are playing their best ball of the season. Escalon has a nice mix on offense of strong RB play behind Ryker Peters (955 rushing yards) and Logan Anderson, and can also do major damage in the air led by the battery of QB Donovan Rozevink (1,556 yards, 21 touchdowns) and WR Owen Nash. Peters doubles as a standout LB (85 tackles, four tackles for loss) and trails only fellow LB Caden Gonsalves (117 tackles) in tackles. Quickness is the key all throughout Escalon’s vaunted defense, which has produced 22 interceptions this season, led by S Tyler Medina (seven) and CBs Matthew Baptista and Javier Gutierrez (four each).

With a higher ranking and home field advantage, Marin Catholic is the clear favorite here. But Escalon has more than enough firepower to surprise them, and an abundance of more experience playing in close games this season.

CIF 4-AA SOUTHERN REGIONAL BOWL GAME PREVIEW:

Serrano (11-3) vs. Central Valley Christian (10-4) – Friday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m.

After going undefeated up until the CIFSS Division 7 semifinals in 2019, Serrano has picked up where it left off this postseason coming out of Division 8. The Diamondbacks have been consistent and steady from day one, with their only non-league loss coming by two scores against heavily underrated Alta Loma. They did have two blowout losses in league play, unlike when they cleaned up the Mojave River League in 2019, but that’s because of both Apple Valley and Oak Hills emerging as powerhouses, and both landed in Division 3.

So, against evenly-matched competition, the Diamondbacks are spotless, and very hard to score on. They defeated Highland 21-12 in non-league play, defeated Temescal Canyon 14-13 in their postseason-opener, cruised past Ramona 42-21, again edged out Highland 18-13 after the Bulldogs had blown out Muir and California, and sealed the title with a 21-14 win against Buena. WR/QB/FS Tanner Chaffee does just about everything one could ask for on a football field, having 57 tackles and seven interceptions on the season defensively, 405 yards and seven touchdowns receiving, 466 yards and six touchdowns rushing, and 312 passing yards on just 34 attempts in six games under center. Payton Cornell was at quarterback until missing time after the Oak Hills game, but returned to complete a 79-yard touchdown pass to Chaffee against Buena. Cornell has thrown for 666 yards and 10 touchdowns to two interceptions in eight games, and also ran for 681 yards and 10 touchdowns while also playing OLB at a high level. DB Trevor Sturdevant is another standout in the defensive backfield (72 tackles, four interceptions), and the team’s top threat at wideout. LB/RB Jacob Porter is another two-way force, and since debuting in the start of October, RB Rigo Cabral has been Serrano’s top offensive threat.

Central Valley Christian also has three reasonable losses, coming competitively against Kingsburg, Bakersfield, and Mission Prep, in addition to one outlier loss. That one came 20-14 against Exeter in league play, and while Exeter was a solid team, it was still puzzling for the eventual CIFCS Division 3 champion to lose to a squad that would lose in the first round of the Division 4 playoffs a week later. That said, now that the Cavaliers have stormed their way to a title, one tough regular season loss means very little about their state playoff chances. They rebounded from that game to cruise past El Diamante, Firebaugh, and Washington Union, and then outdueled reigning champion Bakersfield Christian to storm their way to into the CIF 4-AA state semifinal.

With DE/TE Jaeden Moore, the Cavaliers have by far the top prospect and most dominant all-around player in the field. The 3-star Pac-12 recruit leads the team with 122 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, three forced fumbles, and three blocked punts on defense, and 862 yards and 13 touchdowns receiving. Defensively, the Cavaliers have a whopping total of 98 TFLs on the season, and have four more players with at least 80 tackles and 10 TFLs for loss on the season in Josh Sousa, Caleb Callison, Arthur Schaap, and Levi de Jong. Zach Zwart is also nearly in that group, and is second on the team in sacks while also being an offensive lynchpin at TE. DB/WR Josh Noeske marks yet another two-way impact player, Sousa is also a key on offense splitting RB1 honors with Dominic Maxfield, and QB Max Bakker has thrown for 29 touchdowns on the season. CVC is without any major weaknesses, and its outstanding ability to blow up run plays means they might match up well against a Serrano offense that only throws a few times per game.

For that reason, Central Valley Christian seems to have a slight edge on paper in this one. Their front seven against Serrano’s predictable but effective rushing schemes is the key matchup to watch. But in terms of overall quality, it’s hard to call either of these teams an underdog. And the Cavaliers will have some four hours on the road before any whistles blow. Should be a great one, and the winner gets to toil with a lot of pedigree coming out of the North Region for a state title.

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