Santa Barbara High and Bishop Diego football, the only two local 11-person teams in the playoffs this year, begin their quests for CIF-SS titles on Friday.
The Dons will once again be known as the Golden Tornado for the postseason run, and are making their fifth straight playoff appearance. They will take on St. Paul in the Division 4 bracket.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals are entering their 13th straight playoff run under head coach Tom Crawford. They play host to Redondo Union in Division 7.
Here is a breakdown of their respective opening-round matchups and a recap of how each team got here.
Santa Barbara High (8-2, 7-1 Channel League) @ St. Paul (5-5, 3-2 Angelus League)
This is a matchup between two of the most storied high school football programs in Southern California. Going back to the 1960s and in the decades following, the schools were perennial playoff teams and regularly competed for championships.
This season, the Golden Tornado lost back-to-back games to Valencia and Pacifica, two powerhouse programs in the southern section, on Aug. 25 and Sept. 1 earlier this season.
Since then, they have rattled off seven straight wins in which they have outscored opponents 261-27 to cruise to a 7-1 record in Channel League action.
Santa Barbara has found success thanks to consistent production on both sides of the ball, with the defense taking center stage as of late.
The Golden Tornado defense has pitched three straight shutouts and has not allowed more than 10 points in a game since the loss to Pacifica.
Offensively, this team is a big play waiting to happen. Third-year starting quarterback Abel Renteria has a plethora of weapons at his disposal, including Kai Mault, Koa Herrera, Winston Bartley, Jack Holdren and Thomas Gil.
On the other side, St. Paul finished the year at .500 after trading wins and losses for their final six games of the season.
The Swordsman rely heavily on their rushing attack, regularly lining up with three backs in the backfield in a power formation.
Averaging 166 rushing yards per game as a team, St. Paul is led by senior running back Christian Melendez and his 969 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground in the regular season. They also have two other players, Anthony Osorio and Ty Bowers, with over 240 rushing yards.
This will be a tough test for a strong Golden Tornado defense, as there wasn’t a team in the Channel League that ran at the rate that St. Paul did this season.
However, Santa Barbara’s high-flying offense has the talent to potentially pull away early or get the team back in the game with just a few plays.
This should be a very physical game, and the Golden Tornado’s offensive firepower could end up being the difference.
Redondo Union (6-4, 2-3 Bay League) @ Bishop Diego (4-6, 3-2 Marmonte League)
It has been quite the journey for the Bishop Diego Cardinals this season. After a slew of injuries before the beginning of the year and in the first few games, the Cardinals began the season 1-6.
With their backs against the wall, head coach Tom Crawford and this year’s youthful Bishop Diego squad put together three straight wins to finish third in the Marmonte League and clinch a home playoff game.
In those wins, the Cardinals got their starting quarterback back in Tua Rojas and the younger players on the roster got a taste of playoff-like intensity in must-win games.
Rojas has shown improvement under center throughout the year, and Bishop Diego has found an effective tandem of running backs to balance out the offense in Oscar Mauia, Gabe Villa and Isaiah Kitt.
The defense, meanwhile, has shown flashes of strength towards the end of the season, but there have also been some moments of inexperience that have cost the Cardinals.
On the other hand, Redondo Union had almost the opposite kind of season, beginning the year 5-1 and stumbling down the stretch with a 1-3 record in the final four games.
The Sea Hawks have relied on a three-headed rushing attack of their own, as each of Roman Broughton, Colin Kelly and Ethan Maleman have over 300 rushing yards on the season.
That being said, the offense has scored just 42 points across their final five games for an average of 8.4 points per game, which could be an issue against a Bishop Diego team that has begun to find its identity on the offensive end.
This is bound to be another close game to open postseason play between two teams in very strong leagues.