If early results are any indication, the Los Padres League should be well represented toward the end of the CIF-Southern Section Northwest Division playoffs later this fall.
Of the top six teams voted into this week’s division rankings, four were from the LPL: Lompoc High at No. 1, Santa Ynez at No. 3, Cabrillo at No. 4 and Templeton at No. 6. Of the 64 leagues playing at the 11-man level throughout the section, only one — the Marmonte League in the Northern Division, with five top-six teams — has a higher ratio.
“Ever since Oaks Christian left the Tri-Valley League (for the Marmonte), I believe by far we’ve got the toughest league in our division,” Morro Bay coach John Andree said. “That showed with Lompoc winning (the Northwest Division championship) last year and how successful all the teams were in the playoffs. Cabrillo would’ve been, as well, but we beat each other up last year (in the standings).”
The fast start this season is a carryover from 2010, which was the first year of realigned divisions thanks to a cycle that takes place once every four years. It paid off in droves for the LPL.
In addition to the Braves going all the way a year ago, Templeton reached the playoff semifinals, and Morro Bay and Santa Ynez both advanced to the quarterfinals.
“I really think that when we did the releaguing, our area’s administrators, the athletic directors and principals, got it right,” Nipomo coach Russ Edwards said.
But the success hasn’t stopped there. So far this season, the LPL is a combined 3-2 against the PAC 7. Even if it’s a top-heavy swing (with the trio of victories coming entirely from Lompoc and Cabrillo), it’s already a vast improvement after going 1-12 against the PAC 7 all of last year.
The Braves (2-0), under second-year coach Andrew Jones, opened this year by rallying from a 21-0 first-half deficit to stun preseason PAC 7 favorite Arroyo Grande, 38-28 on the road, before edging Pioneer Valley 24-17 in overtime last week.
“Any time you’re the defending champions, you’re the favorite,” Edwards said. “Lompoc’s a legit team again.”
The Braves were even featured as the lead of a Los Angeles Times area prep football notebook this past Saturday entitled, “Little Lompoc High opens season with wins over two larger schools.”
“They’re nails,” Templeton coach Dan Loney said. “The coaches believe in the players, and the players believe in the coaches. They’ve got a talented offensive line and a talented running back, and that’s a hard combination to stop.”
Indeed, led by the talented Lavon Coleman, Lompoc is rushing for 319 yards on 66 carries per game.
Coleman, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound junior tailback who also returns kickoffs and plays at defensive back, has emerged as one of the Central Coast’s best players. In April, he was named by ESPN RISE as one of five underclass honorable mentions at the Nike SPARQ combine held in Long Beach and attended by more than 1,100 high schoolers.
“As far as our league goes, they’re probably the most athletic team,” Andree said of Lompoc.
Not to be outdone, though, the Conquistadores (2-0) will likely also make matters tough on the San Luis Obispo County LPL schools. They’re off to their best start in seven years after downing Righetti 34-14 last week.
“I know those kids have been living in the weight room,” Andree said, “and they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
Cabrillo is relying on a somewhat similar formula to Lompoc, using a strong running game led by senior T.J. Babauta. After Edwards saw Cabrillo in a passing game this past summer, he thought the Conquistadores looked the best they have during his five-year tenure with the Titans.
Loney, too, said he isn’t surprised by Cabrillo’s nonleague showing, given that the Conquistadores were a six-point loss to Santa Ynez away from a four-game winning streak in league play at one point last season.
“You kind of saw it last year when they were starting to jell,” Loney said. “They kind of found themselves and got in a rhythm.”
Edwards said at a preseason league meeting, coaches favorably discussed the possibility of five LPL teams making the playoffs. Four will make it automatically; a fifth would have to be selected as a wild card.
As for ultimately challenging the two Lompoc schools, a couple of LPL teams have tough tests tonight that should prepare them for the type of atmosphere that could come in a game competing against a league-title contender.
There are two such LPL vs. PAC 7 crossover matchups tonight, as Santa Ynez will visit Paso Robles at 7 p.m. and Arroyo Grande will play at Templeton at 7:30 p.m.
Both are rematches of games from a year ago, when the Bearcats beat the Pirates 32-13 and Arroyo Grande defeated Templeton 39-0.