It feels like just last week that the 2019 CIF Southern Section high school football season started. Lo and behold, it’s already December, and Southern Section football has reached its end – although several division champions seem poised to continue their championship runs through the state playoffs.
The last two rounds of the Southern Section playoffs – the semifinals and finals – yielded a surprising amount of upsets, with a couple of huge ones at the top, with games from Division 1 to Division 14, and all in between.
Honorable mention: No. 4 San Juan Hills def. No. 1 Paramount 29-28 (Division 4 semifinals)
The four-seed knocked off the one seed here so it gets a shout out, but San Juan Hills was an underrated contender all season. In their first five games, they were 2-3 with close losses to Orange Lutheran and Edison and a 20-3 loss against Tesoro. They didn’t face many other strong opponents otherwise this season, but outside of those games they cleaned up.
So, No. 4 was the right seed four San Juan Hills, but they were pretty much as strong of a team on paper as Paramount. Especially since they were coming off an eye-opening blowout against a strong Hart squad. Paramount was formidable and worthy of the top-seed, but their best game this season was probably their overtime loss against Bishop Amat–other than that, their schedule was easier than San Juan Hills’. This barely squeaks in at the bottom of the upset-meter.
10. No. 2 St. John Bosco def. No. 1 Mater Dei 39-34 (Division 1 finals)
This one also doesn’t register that highly on the scale of upsets, but No.1 Mater Dei did earn the title as the favorite going into that game. Primarily for having beaten St. John Bosco 38-24 on October 25th, although they were also just a touch more dominant throughout the season otherwise, even though neither lost to anyone else all year.
If the quality and significance of the game itself were factors in these rankings, this epic battle would be at the top of pretty much any high school football list ever. Bosco’s superstar senior class had never won a title before as a core, and Mater Dei was going for their third title straight. And last year, the Braves beat Mater Dei fairly easily before the Monarchs got revenge on them in the playoffs when more than just a Trinity League title was on the line. This time, they turned the tables on them, and are favored to win a state and potentially national title.
9. Esperanza def. No. 4 Ramona 42-40 (Division 13 finals)
Heading into the Division 13 finals, both of these teams were coming off borderline-enormous upsets. You’ll hear about them later in the countdown, but both of these squads narrowly knocked off a first or second seed in the semifinals. Both teams they knocked off were not only the top two seeds in the division, but also just the heavy favorite to make it to the finals, as opposed to some divisions where that isn’t the case at all.
So, it was essentially a crapshoot in that sense, but Esperanza came into the playoffs 6-4 with not a ton of momentum and a few close games they’d probably like to have back. Ramona was 7-3 coming into the postseason, had a strong showing in league, and was the fourth seed. They were a slight favorite going into that game. Now after a 42-40 thriller, Esperanza has gone from 1-9 last season to a division title the next. That
8. No. 4 Cypress def. No. 1 Serrano 26-21 (Division 7 semifinals)
Cypress was undefeated coming into the semifinals against No. 1 Serrano, but was only the fourth seed due to a relatively easy strength of schedule. They were undoubtedly formidable and had just knocked off Ventura, and had done nothing but take care of business all season. But Serrano was the top-seed and favorite thanks to wins including Apple Valley and a lot of ugly blowouts.
The Centurions just kept on taking care of business though, advancing to the title game in a 26-21 victory.
7. South (Torrance) def. No. 1 St. Pius X-St. Matthias 25-20 (Division 14 finals)
Coming into this one, a lot of people vastly underrated South’s chances, but that’s mostly because St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy, also known as PMA, had been dominant. And the two teams already had an epic showdown already on the year, where PMA knocked the Spartans out 36-35 in a thrilling comeback. That boded well for another close, evenly-matched game.
PMA was undefeated on the year, and outside of the narrow win over South in the preseason and another close win in the semifinals against a title contender in Vista Del Lago, they had won in nothing but blowouts. However, they hadn’t played teams like some of the ones South had lost to, such as North (Torrance) or Inglewood. Unsurprisingly, these two squads played each other to another close chess-match, but it was unseeded South who knocked off the top-seeded Warriors.
6. Aquinas def. No. 3 Glendora (Division 5 semifinals)
Sometimes teams struggle to get off the ground at the very beginning of the season, and pick up a couple losses that are blemishes on otherwise outstanding records. Division 5 champion Aquinas is a perfect example. They lost 42-18 to Division 3 finalist Grace Brethren to open the season, and followed it up with a 10-0 loss against Kaiser. There’s no shame in the loss to Grace even though maybe they could’ve made it a little closer, and the loss against Kaiser isn’t horrible because the Cats are very strong, but getting shut out by a Division 6 team doesn’t bode well for the Division 5 playoffs.
None of that matters anymore because Aquinas has never lost since, and that was in August. They were nothing short of dominant all season long from them on, and they had just shocked No. 2 Oxnard in the quarterfinals. Still, Glendora was considered the single favorite to win Division 5 for some of the year, and was the favorite other than Culver City to most. They joined the club of Division 5 heavyweights whose seasons ended early courtesy of the Falcons.
5. Simi Valley def. Orange 30-14 (Division 10 semifinals)
While Orange wasn’t seeded, they were largely considered the favorite in Division 10 behind eventual champion and top-seed Crescenta Valley. Like Aquinas, Simi Valley started with back-to-back losses, both teams having been beatale for the Pioneers in Lompoc and Redondo Union. They were mostly excellent after that, but also had one surprisingly bad loss against Oak Park. While they were a great team, the Pioneers didn’t quite have the track record of a number of great Division 10 teams.
The Orange Panthers, for instance, had only lost to Division 5 quarterfinalist Yorba Linda in double-overtime. Other than that, they had wrecked every opponent in the regular season by eye-popping margins. It was surprising to see them get less than the second seed with J.W. North, Norte Vista, and Segerstrom also having 9-1 records without games like Yorba Linda, but it’s hard to split hairs at that point. Either way, they were formidable coming into the playoffs, and that was still the case going into the semifinals.
Down 14-9 at halftime, Simi Valley shut out the Panthers in the second half and won 30-14. They very nearly completed the Cinderella run but lost 19-16 against Crescenta Valley in the finals.
4. St. Paul def. No. 1 Culver City 14-10 (Division 5 semifinals)
St. Paul was a very strong team all year, with their only losses coming 56-19 against Narbonne (who later forfeited) and 28-20 against eventual Division 2 champion Sierra Canyon. It’s fair to say that they were slept on all season. If you really do toss out the Narbonne game entirely, there’s a case to be made that they should’ve been seeded. But overall they played an easy schedule.
However, if teams are ready to go come playoff time, they can play whomever they want in the regular season. St. Paul was ready for the big lights, blowing out El Modena, knocking out No. 4 Yorba Linda with room to spare, and stunning undefeated favorite No. 1 Culver City 14-10 in the semis. Culver City had already defeated the likes of Palos Verdes and Lawndale on the season, and had never scored fewer than 32 points all year. The Swordsmen put a sharp end to all of that, and nearly beat Aquinas in the finals to complete the run.
3. Loyola def. No. 2 Camarillo 31-14 (Division 4 semifinals)
For those who had been watching Loyola closely, it was clear that they were capable of playing at a championship level for weeks before knocking off Villa Park in the quarterfinals and Camarillo in the semifinals by 17 points each. Everything was clicking on both sides coming into the victory over Camarillo. They shut out an explosive Palos Verdes squad one week and put up a season-high 45 points on Villa Park the next. The signs were there, and even for those paying close attention, the Cubs knocking out Camarillo thatdecisively was still a surprise.
Most considered Camarillo, 11-1 at the time, the favorite to win Division 4. Plenty of other teams were quite firmly in the mix, but after losing only to Grace Brethren, the Scorpions were perhaps the top threat on paper. Loyola’s 31 points were the most they gave up on the season, and 14 was their second-fewest on the season. The Cubs were just that good down the stretch after taking well over a month of the season to start clicking.
2. No. 4 Ramona def. No. 1 Alhambra 28-24 (Division 13 semifinals)
The Division 13 semifinals were just epic. Ramona was worthy of the fourth seed, but Alhambra was far and away the favorite to win their side of the bracket and contend for a title. Ramona’s only losses on the year were blowouts at the hands of Norte Vista and Hillcrest. But that’s still two more losses than Alhambra had, despite the fact that the Moors didn’t have a very hard schedule, which may have come back to bite them when adversity struck.
The Rams had already seen adversity this year, between one understandable loss, one pretty ugly one, and a couple close wins. It would be speculative to say whether or not that gave them an advantage knocking off undefeated Alhambra, so we’ll just leave it at that it may or may not have. Either way, Alhambra’s phenomenal season ended in disappointing fashion, and Ramona’s did too at the hands of Esperanza. Speaking of which:
1. Esperanza def. No. 2 Inglewood 42-41 (Division 13 semifinals)
Inglewood was undefeated as well in Division 13 and seemed certain to run off with the crown if Alhambra didn’t. A lot of people believed that Inglewood should’ve been the top seed coming into the playoffs, with 28-point wins over both North and South Torrance in league play. QB Jared Heywood put up numbers through 12 games you might never see again: 4,196 passing yards and 60 passing touchdowns on 79% completion.
But unseeded Esperanza shocked them in the semifinals to meet Ramona, who had just shocked Alhambra, in the title game, where the Aztecs pulled the unthinkable run.
In fact, both of these teams’ runs were pretty much unthinkable. Inglewood went 0-10 last year, and Esperanza went 1-9. But here they were as perhaps the two best teams in the whole division this season, playing at the level of playoff threats a handful of divisions up by the end of the year. Bring on the 30-for-30.