Bracket Breakdown: RJ Maria, dominant defense lead Pacifica (Oxnard) into CIF Southern Section Division 6 football semifinals

Here’s an inside look at this week’s 2019 CIF Southern Section Division 6 semifinal football games.

CIF-SS Division 6 bracket | All football brackets

Crespi vs. No. 4 Pacifica (Oxnard)

Having only lost one game this season by nine points to Oxnard, Pacifica is considered one of the top candidates to win Division 6. And last week’s statement victory over Citrus Valley was, on paper, their best win of the year after what was generally a fairly easy schedule by playoff standards. The Tritons’ defense is only allowing 13.25 points per game on the year. And they have an eye-popping number of D-1 prospects for a Division 6 team.

QB RJ Maria, RB Malik Sherrod, and RB/WR Michael Johnson III head a playmaking core that has been dominant for a good couple of years now, and even their second and third leading receivers, Kyrie Wilson and Savonne Farmer, have D-1 offers. Through only 12 games, the Tritons have over 2,500 passing yards and over 3,000 passing yards.An array of skill players like this, comprised of only seniors, is just not something you see in Division 6 very often.

And again, they only allow 13.25 points per game thanks to both great size and skill up front and a standout secondary. OLB Caleb McCullough already has 163 tackles (84 solo) on the season. He’s joined up front by LB Brad Bichard who has 147, 6-3, 275-pound DE Dylan Ibarra, and 3-star OLB Devin Aupiu who has offers from the likes of USC and Washington State. In the backfield, big SS Fa’amaini Aina has 116 tackles, and CB Nohl Williams has six D-1 offers. Pacifica has the talent and the resume to contend for a title in not only Division 6, but in Divisions 5 and 4 as well. 

But Crespi has now entered the championship conversation after pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the playoffs against top-seeded Ayala. The Celts were only 7-4 going into the game, but their losses came to nothing but strong opponents in Chaminade, St. Bonaventure, Sierra Canyon, and Cathedral. After they knocked off the undefeated Bulldogs last week, record means nothing going into this matchup.

The Celts excel at running the ball behind top rusher RB Michael Shirley, and split time at QB between two dual-threat QBs in Blake Adams and Sloan Senofsky. Mitchell Nuesca and Michael Coleman provide even more options to run the ball, and both have over 250 rushing yards as fourth/fifth options. When Crespi passes, WR Taylor Evans is the top threat among a multitude of capable receivers that includes Chance Tucker, who has been offered by BYU. 

Overall, they don’t have nearly as many D-1 prospects as Pacifica, nor has their defense been on the same level this year, although it’s far from a liability. Jeremiah Alemayehu has 125 tackles this season at linebacker, and athletic DE Jackson White, who’s received an offer from University of San Diego, is a standout up front as well. Taylor Evans doubles as an elite DB. But the numbers say that if Crespi is going to beat such an explosive team in Pacifica, they’re going to have to put up a lot of points.

Since Crespi knocked off Ayala, which included putting up 38 points on an outstanding defense, they absolutely have a shot in this game.

No. 3 La Serna vs. San Jacinto

Along with Ayala, La Serna (12-0) was the other Division 6 favorite to go undefeated through the first round of the playoffs. After a fairly easy regular season, the Lancers knocked out Los Altos 28-14 last week in what was their biggest match so far this season. They’re a strong contender to win the division, but San Jacinto is going to be the best team they’ve seen this year.

In fact, while many might call La Serna the favorite, San Jacinto arguably has the edge in that they’ve faced and beaten better competition this year, and had to pull out some very difficult victories. During the season, they lost by two touchdowns to strong teams in Wilson (Long Beach) and Eastlake (Chula Vista), but were otherwise ten for ten. They had a 41-3 beatdown of formidable Temecula Valley in the preseason, and went undefeated in a very challenging league that includes Beaumont, Hemet, and Citrus Hill. The Tigers also knocked off Apple Valley in the first round and shut out Kaiser last week. La Serna is yet to go down, and should be credited for it, but one could argue that San Jacinto has proven more this season. La Serna is the favorite, but not by that much.

The Lancers are led on offense by a very consistent dual-threat QB in Andrew Henriquez, RB Chandler McCaffer, WR Jake George, and a wealth of other major playmaking threats. Among their broad array of additional skill players are RB2 Steve Pinales, FB Joey Bustos, and three more wide receivers with well over 400 receiving yards and at least seven touchdowns each in Atalla Shalash, Milo Lopez, and Jacob Leija. There’s no way to shut down the head of the snake, because there are too many options in both the air and on the ground that can sting you.

San Jacinto will be the first team they’ll see this season who can go toe-to-toe with them in playmakers. Dual-threat QB Kajiya Hollawayne has 2,236 passing yards this season, but is even better running the ball, with 13 rushing touchdowns and 881 rushing yards. He’s gotten offers from UCLA and New Mexico. RB Juan Denny also has close to 900 rushing yards, and Kelvin Davis is a nice second running back. The Tigers also have seven different players this season with over 100 receiving yards. Damonce Williams, Antoine Sullivan, and Kameron Rocha all have over 400.

Both teams seem to be right in the same ballpark defensively as well. MLB Joey Bustos anchors La Serna’s front seven, and Milo Lopez doubles as a standout FS. For the Tigers, Kameron Rocha also doubles as a strong DB at CB. 6-4, 305-pound Sheldon Newton is a force at DT, but hasn’t played since the first of the month against Tahquitz in which he only recorded one tackle. If he’s injured against La Serna, that will be a huge disadvantage for San Jacinto, and could be the difference between coming in with equal chances and coming in having to beat the odds.

Either way, La Serna’s dream season is at the biggest risk yet of coming to an end this Friday. San Jacinto is formidable and has a lot of seniors on the roster who have been eying a championship run this season for a long time. But the same can be said about the Lancers. If Newton is healthy, this one is too close to call. 

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