Saint Bonaventure quarterback Ricky Town runs past the Rancho Santa Margarita… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
It's win or turn in the uniform time, and that means attention will be focused on a group of quarterbacks who have never started, let alone played in, a Pac-5 Division playoff game.
Twelve of the 16 starting quarterbacks for Pac-5 teams will receive their playoff baptism in Friday night's openers.
Yes, they have gained lots of experience during the 10-game regular season, but the playoffs offer a different environment and perspective.
"The reality is it's a one-and-done tournament, and all of the players, especially the young ones, are going to feel that much more pressure and the sense of urgency, especially for their senior teammates," Santa Ana Mater Dei Coach Bruce Rollinson said.
How they respond over the next four weeks to that added pressure, the new challenges and increasing media exposure should reveal which teams end up making it to Angel Stadium for the championship game on Dec. 1.
Coaches prefer steady, dependable senior leadership come playoff time, but look who's leading the Pac-5 favorites:
Top-seeded Ventura St. Bonaventure has sophomore quarterback Ricky Town; No. 2 Mission Viejo has junior Ian Fieber; No. 3 Bellflower St. John Bosco has sophomore Josh Rosen; and No. 4 Mater Dei has senior Ryan McMahon, a standout baseball player who has never been in a playoff game.
And there are more first-timers: senior Kelly Hilinski of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame is in his first playoff game; sophomore Kyle Sweet of Santa Margarita started the season as a wide receiver until being asked to replace the injured Johnny Stanton; junior Koa Haynes of La Puente Bishop Amat will get to face 18-time Southern Section champion Long Beach Poly in his Pac-5 debut.
Perhaps the advantage rests with the four quarterbacks who have playoff experience: senior Conner Manning of Lake Forest El Toro, senior Devon Dunn of Mission Hills Alemany, senior Matt Adam of Santa Margarita Tesoro and junior Brandon Dawkins of Westlake Village Oaks Christian.
They have faced the all-out blitzes, dealt with the agony of defeat and know not to get too high over the hype surrounding a playoff game.
But perhaps the young quarterbacks also have an advantage.
As Rollinson pointed out, "What we've found is the younger quarterbacks don't feel the effects as much as the senior. The younger quarterbacks, whether they admit it or not, know they have another year. The senior feels it more because he has to lead his team and this could be his last game."
It's going to be an intriguing month of November watching the young, promising quarterbacks in the Pac-5 grow up.
Mission Viejo Coach Bob Johnson, who knows something about tutoring quarterbacks — his sons Bret and Rob were pretty good quarterbacks — seems convinced that Fieber is ready for the challenge.
"We've played some big games and come from a strong league," he said. "His progress speaks for itself."
The unknown factor is what happens when a quarterback makes sophomore mistakes in a playoff game?
"If you have a young quarterback, he can't lose the game for you," Servite Coach Troy Thomas said. "He has to manage the game and not make the big mistakes."
No one really knows how 16- and 17-year-olds will react with so much at stake for their fans and teammates.
The good news is there's plenty of precedent for a young quarterback to lead his team to a championship. Stanton did it last season for Santa Margarita as a junior. Cody Pittman did it in 2010 for Anaheim Servite as a junior.
So prepare for the unexpected over the next four weeks.