Westlake running back Dashon Hunt breaks through the St. Bonaventure line… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
Matchups for the CIF state football championship bowl games were announced Sunday, and let's just say that not everybody was pleased with the choices made by the 10 section commissioners for next weekend's five games at the Home Depot Center.
The most controversial decision involved selecting Pac-5 champion Santa Margarita (12-2) ahead of Inland Division champion Vista Murrieta (9-5) and Central Division champion Bakersfield (13-0) to represent Southern California in Friday's 8 p.m. Division I bowl against San Jose Bellarmine (12-1).
Vista Murrieta was 14-0 on the field, but five forfeit defeats that the Broncos self-reported in October for using an ineligible player left them in precarious territory, since one of the main criteria in the selection process is win-loss record.
Santa Margarita made a convincing closing argument, finishing with a flourish by beating Long Beach Poly, Mission Viejo and San Clemente in consecutive games, making everyone forget about a bad loss in October to a non-playoff team, Santa Ana Mater Dei.
Vista Murrieta Coach Casey Candaele said he believes players and coaches were misled that the team's on-the-field performance would take precedence over the forfeits.
"Why add more salt to the wound by telling kids and media, 'This won't have any effect on state?' " he said. "It's bad putting hopes and dreams into a kid and going back to the kids, 'This is not really what we meant.' I guarantee if we're 14-0, they probably pick us."
And then there was the decision to bypass unbeaten Lompoc (14-0) in favor of Fresno Washington Union (13-0) from the Central Section for the Division III game Saturday at noon against Moraga Campolindo (13-0). Lompoc's strength of schedule was rated more than a touchdown better than Washington Union by CalPreps.com. But Washington will be the first team from the Central Section to compete in the six-year history of bowl games.
As expected, Westlake Village Westlake (14-0) was chosen to face Concord De La Salle (12-1) in Saturday's 8 p.m. Open Division bowl. Westlake has never played in a bowl game, but De La Salle is 3-2 in bowl games, including a 48-8 victory over Anaheim Servite in last year's Open Division final.
In Division II, San Diego Helix (12-1) and Coach Troy Starr, who spent 14 years coaching at Woodland Hills Taft, will face Loomis Del Oro (13-1) on Saturday at 4 p.m. Left out was unbeaten Moreno Valley Rancho Verde (14-0), the Southern Section Central Division champion.
In Division IV, Chatsworth Sierra Canyon (14-0) was chosen to meet Le Grand (12-0) on Friday at 4 p.m.
For Santa Margarita Coach Harry Welch, the word that the Eagles were selected continued an extraordinary run. He is the only coach to have guided two programs, Canyon Country Canyon and San Juan Capistrano St. Margaret's, to bowl victories. Now he has a chance to win again with a third team only two years after taking over the program.
"It's so overwhelming to think in two years, we'd go all the way to win a CIF championship and make the state championship," Welch said. "It's one of the proudest moments in my life."