With its highly charged offense led by the Arizona-bound backfield of quarterback Matt Scott and tailback Ryan Bass, Corona Centennial on Sunday was selected the South representative for Saturday's State Division I Bowl championship.
Centennial (13-1) will play Concord De La Salle (12-0) in the state's marquee game at the Home Depot Center.
Centennial was selected over two other section champions, City champion Lake Balboa Birmingham (13-1) and Southern Section Pac-5 Division champion Long Beach Poly (13-1).
"I think we all could have controlled this thing by not losing a game," said Centennial Coach Matt Logan, who began preparing for De La Salle on Sunday morning. "I feel bad for [Birmingham] because they had a tremendous year as well. It's tough when a team loses a game early because you're still kind of finding your way. Usually teams are much better at the end of the year than the beginning."
Birmingham defeated Poly, 20-7, in the second week of the season, but Poly had the toughest overall strength of schedule.
All three teams had a common opponent, Encino Crespi, a Pac-5 finalist, and that appeared to be the major influencing factor.
Birmingham lost to Crespi, 20-6, in the season opener. Crespi lost to Centennial, 41-20, in the third week. Poly beat Crespi, 13-3, Saturday.
"I think the selection committee looked long and hard at that, with the common opponent being Crespi," said Ken Gunn, the event director.
Birmingham Coach Ed Croson was gracious in defeat.
"There's no sour grapes because I have so much respect for the coaching staff at Centennial," he said.
Said Poly Coach Raul Lara: "It was going to be one of the three of us, and two of us weren't going to be very happy."
The criteria were record, head-to-head competition, common opponents and strength of schedule. Margin of victory was not to be considered, and only section champions could be selected.
According to Calpreps.com, which correctly projected five of the six bowl game participants, Poly had a schedule strength of 41.4, Centennial 36, and Birmingham 27.4.
"A lot of time was spent on strength of schedule," Gunn said. "[Poly's] problem was head to head, Birmingham beat them."
With its boardroom victory, Centennial will have the opportunity to play 16-time defending North Coast Section champion De La Salle, ranked No. 1 in the state by CalHiSports.com. Centennial is ranked No. 2.
De La Salle, the most celebrated team in state history, was ranked No. 1 in the nation a year ago when it was beaten by Canyon Country Canyon, 27-13, in the inaugural bowl game. Canyon (12-2) was selected over Riverside North (14-0) on strength of schedule.
Centennial has for several years stepped beyond the Inland Empire to seek out tough games, including a series with Long Beach Poly a few years ago.
"You've got to play and beat good people," Logan said.
Centennial's loss this season was to Mater Dei, 51-37, in a game that produced a state record for yards, 1,303. Mater Dei was ranked No. 1 in the state at the time, Centennial No. 2.
Centennial won its fourth section title Saturday, beating Corona Santiago, 42-7, in the Inland Division.
The Division III teams, which kick off the tripleheader Saturday at 11:30 a.m., were the two teams expected to be selected: Ventura St. Bonaventure (13-1) and Modesto Central Catholic (11-1-1).
St. Bonaventure made its case with a 42-21 victory over Newhall Hart in the Section Northern Division title game behind quarterback Casey Serna and running back Darrell Scott, who carried 32 times for 156 yards and three touchdowns.
This game pits Scott, the Ventura County rushing leader who transferred from Moorpark to St. Bonaventure over the summer, against Louis Bland, the Stanislaus County rushing leader who carried for 188 yards in a 24-6 win over Patterson in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V championship.
In the Division II game, which begins at 3:30 p.m., San Diego Section Division II champion Oceanside (11-1) will face Novato (13-0), the North Coast Section 2A champ. Novato was selected over Palo Cedro Foothill in the only other division besides Division I South that stirred much debate.
High school football
Saturday's bowl championships at the Home Depot Center in Carson:
DIVISION I, 7:30 P.M.
Concord De La Salle vs. Corona Centennial
DIVISION II, 3:30 P.M.
Novato vs. Oceanside
DIVISION III, 11:30 A.M.
Modesto Central Catholic vs. Ventura St. Bonaventure