The final week of the high school football regular season brings with it the clinching of league champions, and both local leagues could have anywhere between one and three teams fit to wear the crown.
Paso Robles (9-0, 3-0) is the frontrunner in the PAC 5, needing only a win over North County rival Atascadero (7-2, 2-1) to wrap up an undefeated season as the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division’s top-ranked team.
But in the newly formed Northern League, which has three teams with one league loss apiece, the No. 1 seed heading into the Northwest Division playoffs will likely come down to a tiebreaker between multiple league champions.
Templeton, Nipomo and Morro Bay could finish with identical 3-1 league records and finish in a three-way tie atop the Northern League leader board.
Perhaps that’d be the most fitting result.
The three games played between the trio of teams could not have been closer, with the three victors — Eagles over Titans, Titans over Pirates and Pirates over Eagles — winning by one point apiece.”
“It shows you how tough our league is,” said
Templeton coach Dan Loney, whose Eagles muddied the water by grinding out a 15-14 upset over Nipomo amidst the Halloween downpour.
The Titans (6-4, 3-1) are done for the regular season, and can only lay claim to a sole league title and its No. 1 seed if Templeton (7-2, 2-1) loses at Santa Maria (1-8, 0-3) and Morro Bay (4-5, 2-1) falls at home to Mission Prep (4-5, 1-2).
“It is what it is and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Nipomo coach Russ Edwards said. “We needed to win that game (against Templeton) to not be in any tiebreaker.
“I’m not particularly upset about it and I’m not happy about it, either. It’s a fact of life.”
If the Eagles and Pirates both win and there is a three-way tie, Templeton will be the No. 1 seed by virtue of a numbers draw that took place prior to the season.
Santa Maria drew No. 1 followed in order by Templeton, Mission Prep, Morro Bay and Nipomo.
“It’s great,” Loney said, “but we still have to beat Santa Maria, and I don’t think that’s going to be an easy task. … We’re counting this game the same as a playoff.”
In the trio of champions scenario, Nipomo would earn the second automatic seed as the second-place team and Morro Bay would need to be awarded an at-large berth because the
Titans won the head-to-head matchup, 15-14.
Pirates coach Jack Greer said he’s not worried about missing out on an at-large spot after playing a schedule that included Paso Robles, Lompoc and Atascadero.
“I think our strength of schedule would easily get us in,” he said. “It’s tough to leave things to chance, but our body of work speaks volumes.”
A Morro Bay loss to the Royals and a Templeton win would split the championship between the Eagles and Titans, with Templeton still being the top seed via its win over Nipomo. That case would also open the door for Mission Prep, who would finish the year third in league because of the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Pirates.
A Templeton loss to Santa Maria, which hasn’t won a league contest since 2005, paired with a Morro Bay win gives the automatic qualifiers to co-league champions Nipomo and Morro Bay, with the Titans being the top seed because they beat the Pirates.
There’s also a chance of a three-way tie in the PAC 5, although a Paso Robles win dispels that notion instantly.
If the Bearcats beat the Greyhounds and Arroyo Grande (7-2, 2-1) takes care of San Luis Obispo (2-7, 0-3), Paso Robles is the top seed and the Eagles would get the other automatic spot because it defeated Atascadero this past Saturday. The Greyhounds would have to petition for an at-large bid.
However, an Atascadero win over the Bearcats coupled with an Arroyo Grande win means a split title between the three schools. In that instance, the Greyhounds would earn the top seed because of the preseason draw, Paso Robles would be second thanks to its 28-27 win over Arroyo Grande, and the Eagles would be an at-large.
That same order would hold true if the Greyhounds win and the Tigers upset Arroyo Grande, and Atascadero and Paso Robles would split the PAC 5 championship.
So what’s the fuss over seeds if three teams from both local leagues are likely to get into the postseason regardless?
In addition to being paired with a lower seed, the team who earns the top spot will be guaranteed to host an opening round playoff game.
As some of the northern-most schools in the Southern Section, the home-field advantage garners great importance.
“It’s big because most of those guys further south don’t travel more than an hour for any of their games,” Loney said. “One of the main reasons we went down to play Beverly Hills this year was to get that experience.”
Two of the No. 2 seeds out of the Northwest Division’s leagues — Northern, Ambassador, De Anza, Olympic, Prep and South Catholic — will also start at home, and the four at-larges will join the other four second seeds on the road.
The Northern Division leagues — PAC 5, Los Padres, Tri-Valley, Golden and Camino — will have six league champions host the opening round, leaving the five second seeds, the Golden League’s third seed, and five at-larges vying for the final three home spots in the first round.
“We’d have to travel as an at-large team,” Greer said, “but at least we’d get in.”