Playoff scenarios and configurations are usually complicated messes of contingencies.
But as far as the Los Padres League’s top five high school football teams are concerned, some of the math is pretty simple: four of them will make it to the postseason, and one won’t.
St. Joseph (8-0, 6-0), the third-ranked team in the CIF-Southern Section Northwest Division, is a lock. Also sitting comfortably is sixth-ranked Pioneer Valley (7-1, 4-1).
Then things get crowded, as Templeton (6-2), Nipomo (5-3) and Santa Ynez (5-3) are all 3-2 in league play and vying for the next two slots.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Templeton, which was upset by Santa Ynez 21-6 three weeks ago, hosts Pioneer Valley at 7:30 tonight, while Nipomo visits Santa Maria (2-6, 0-5) and Santa Ynez welcomes St. Joseph.
In the regular-season finale next week, Templeton will visit Nipomo.
“As close as the whole playoff race is, we cannot stand another loss like the Santa Ynez loss,” Templeton coach Dave Harper said. “The playoff implications are huge at this point.”
The Eagles, who’ve been recovering from a flu outbreak that forced several starters to miss time in mid- October, rebounded from the Santa Ynez game with a 41-14 victory over Cabrillo.
“We needed something like that to pick us back up,” Harper said. “When we played Santa Ynez, we couldn’t get anything going and didn’t play up to our ability.”
They’ll have to against Pioneer Valley, whose offense has proven potent both through the air and on the ground. Quarterback Nick Rucobo has thrown for nine touchdowns to just two interceptions, while the Panthers average 273.9 rushing yards per game.
“We need to be balanced,” Harper said. “They’re a pretty talented group.”
Nine Templeton players have combined for 21 sacks. If the game becomes a shootout, though, Templeton wouldn’t be ill equipped. Four Eagles running backs — Christian Gomez, Chad McGill, Daniel Wheeler and Tyler Gray — have between 273 and 481 rushing yards, while receiver Dakota Oropeza is averaging 35.9 yards per reception on 15 catches — eight of which have been for touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Nipomo figures to have an easier path to next week, as Santa Maria has lost six in a row. With a win, coupled with losses by Templeton and Santa Ynez, the Titans would clinch the second playoff berth in the 7-year-old program’s history. (A three-way 4-3 league tie would be broken by a random-chance drawing that was conducted in the preseason, when Nipomo pulled a number better than Templeton and Santa Ynez, Titans coach Russ Edwards said.)
Last week, Nipomo trounced Santa Ynez 36-8 as senior quarterback Josh Correia returned from a two-week absence due to an emergency appendectomy and set a school single-game passing yardage record by going 15 of 28 for 303 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.
Correia has two of the area’s fastest receivers at his disposal in Kevin Britt and Akeem King, who had 93 and 88 receiving yards apiece in his return.
Not to be outdone, the Titans defense came up with six sacks and pressured Santa Ynez quarterback Tyler Shean into a 12-of-30 night.
“There were no plays where anybody could say, ‘If this had happened or that had happened, it would’ve been closer,’” Edwards said. “Our defense really dominated.”
Nipomo’s losses have come to Arroyo Grande, 7-0, Pioneer Valley, 27-22, and St. Joseph, 41-0 (when Nipomo’s offense took the field on just two days of practice without Correia).
“With a play here or a play there, we very well could be 7-1,” Edwards said. “Our goal is to make it farther than any Nipomo team in the past and make it out of the first round (of the divisional playoffs). So we’ve got to finish the season strong.”