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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

In Pac-5 Division football playoffs, look for a survival test

St. John Bosco and Mission Viejo are the first- and second-seeded squads, and other strong teams are present too. But Poly's Jackrabbits traditionally must be dealt with.

November 10, 2013|Eric Sondheimer
  • Receiver Sean Modster and Mission Viejo will enter the Southern Section Pac-5 Division playoffs as the second-seeded team.
Receiver Sean Modster and Mission Viejo will enter the Southern Section… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

If the seedings released on Sunday for the Pac-5 Division football playoffs are accurate, then Bellflower St. John Bosco (10-0) and Mission Viejo (10-0), seeded No. 1 and No. 2, will meet in the championship game on Dec. 6 at Angel Stadium.

Something tells me, though, the road to Anaheim won't be as simple as many think, particularly for Mission Viejo. In the Diablos' bracket is 19-time champion Long Beach Poly (9-1), the No. 3 seed, plus Trinity League runner-up Santa Ana Mater (8-2), so Mission Viejo is facing a challenging path to the final.

First up for the Diablos is Encino Crespi (4-6), whose coach, Troy Thomas, had success against Mission Viejo when he was at Anaheim Servite. Then could come a quarterfinal game against Mater Dei and a semifinal against Poly.

The best openers are Servite (5-5) at Westlake Village Westlake (8-2) and Orange Lutheran (7-3) taking on Poly at Veterans Stadium. No. 4 seed Mission Hills Alemany (8-2) should be thrilled. It drew Lakewood (5-5), part of the weak Moore League.

If there's one lesson learned through the years, it's that the Jackrabbits must be dealt with before anyone gets to celebrate a Pac-5 title.

For six weeks, Poly has been in cruise control, marching through the Moore League with little competition. The Jackrabbits' powerful defense gave up one touchdown in six league games.

"Poly has been waiting for this time," St. John Bosco Coach Jason Negro said. "It's not their fault the league they play in. They relish this opportunity. They're going to be a force."

The Braves know all about Poly. Over the last 23 games, St. John Bosco has lost just once on the field — to Poly in last year's Pac-5 semifinals.

"We're pretty healthy," Poly Coach Raul Lara said. "I believe we improved. I don't know until we see someone good in the playoffs."

Orange Lutheran fits the definition of a good team. The Lancers have an option attack that must be respected, and in a rarity, the Poly-Orange Lutheran game could feature lots of running.

Poly offers an extreme challenge on offense in that it's one of the few schools still relying on a power rushing attack.

"I thought Stanford did a pretty good job against Oregon," Lara said with a chuckle, referring to the Cardinal's rushing attack. "There's a lot of teams doing it right."

The best part of Poly's team is its defense. The Jackrabbits outscored their Moore League opponents 243-6. Linemen Jason Fao and Joseph Wicker are tough to block and the secondary, led by John "Juju" Smith and Iman Marshall, is as good as there is in Southern California.

As for the upper bracket, no team is going to challenge St. John Bosco barring injury or something bizarre happening with turnovers. The Braves, who open against Agoura, will be hard-pressed not to look ahead for an expected final against Mission Viejo, Poly or Mater Dei.

Negro has been good at getting his players to focus on taking it one game at a time. As long as that happens, the Braves will be one of the teams in Anaheim. But the bottom of the bracket is going to feature some old-fashioned smash-mouth football, and it will be interesting to see who survives.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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