When the Division III playoff bracket was penned out last month, the playoff selection committee placed the division’s resident powerhouse teams on the opposite side of the bracket.
The four-time division champion Cathedral Catholic Dons, the reigning City Conference Eastern League champions, were seeded first — and rightly so.
The Eastern League runner-up St. Augustine Saints, owners of a 9-0 record before dropping a 17-3 decision to the Dons in the teams’ annual Holy Bowl rivalry game on Nov. 11, received the No. 2 seed.
The fast-rising Metro-Mesa League champion Olympian Saints were seeded third, and given their brutal schedule, perhaps justifiably so.
At 9-1 with two Metro-South Bay League championship titles in hand, Mar Vista coach Brian Hay felt his team also deserved a bye to the quarterfinals. Instead of receiving a top four seed, the Mariners were seeded seventh.
It might not exactly have been an insult but Mar Vista certainly wasn’t given the respect its best-ever team deserved. And respect is exactly what the Mariners earned after slaying the second-seeded Saints, 42-28, in last Friday’s Division III quarterfinal round game at Mesa College.
Hay’s comment to the media: “We should have been seeded a little higher than we were.”
The double wing offense lives on in Imperial Beach.
At 11-1, Mar Vista ascended to the heights of the division playoffs by earning a berth in Thursday’s semifinal round against third-seeded Olympian (8-3).
The winner will play either the top-seeded Dons or the fourth-seeded Point Loma Pointers in Monday’s Division III championship game at Qualcomm Stadium. Kick-off at the Mission Valley venue is 1 p.m.
Cathedral Catholic improved to 10-1 following a 45-0 quarterfinal victory against visiting Lincoln (2-9-1) while Point Loma improved to 8-2-1 after defeating the 12th-seeded El Capitan Vaqueros (4-8) last Friday.
Instead of a Holy Bowl rematch, a Metro Conference opponent, drum roll, is assured of playing for the CIF title.
The Eagles defeated the visiting Serra Conquistadors, 49-7, in last Friday’s quarterfinals.
The last time a Metro team advanced to the Division III finals was in 2003 when the Marian Catholic Crusaders defeated St. Augustine 32-26.
Thursday’s climactic gridiron match-up is a battle between defending Metro champions — Olympian from the Metro-Mesa and Mar Vista from the Metro-South Bay.
Few would have dreamed of such a scenario when the season kicked off in September.
With five teams advancing to the quarterfinal round this season, and with two CIF finalist berths still on the line in the section semifinals, the 2011 high school football season is one of overachievement for South County schools.
Olympian head coach Gil Warren has been there before, winning three division titles while at Castle Park.
“Our kids stepped up last Friday night against Serra,” he said. “After they (the Conquistadors) beat Kearny, which was 8-2 at the time and was expected to win, it was a great effort to focus on Serra.”
The Eagles remain one of the most well coached teams in the Metro Conference.
Olympian didn’t waste time against 11th-seeded Serra (4-8), building a 21-0 lead after the first quarter and leading 42-7 at halftime. The Eagles rushed 41 times for 379 yards, reaping five touchdowns in the process.
Aikeem Foxworth led Olympian with three touchdowns, including a pair on the ground and one through the air.
Foxworth had three carries for 72 yards, scoring on runs of 50 and eight yards. He had two catches for 56 yards, including one 39-yard TD reception.
Thirteen players touched the ball in the backfield over the course of the game. Harrison Hulin had 10 carries for 61 yards to lead the group.
Asante Gibson (four carries, 35 yards), Ian Autman (six carries, 72 yards) and Kevin Ehm (three carries, 34 yards) each scored short rushing touchdowns for the Eagles.
Quarterback Christopher Humphrey completed two of four passing attempts for 56 yards and one touchdown.
Andrell Snowden returned two interceptions 57 yards (one 42 yards for a score) while teammate Arturo Cuevas also finished with a five-yard pick to bolster Olympian’s defensive effort. Santana Leomiti led the Eagles with 10 tackles.
Angel Garcia booted seven extra-point conversions in the one-sided contest.
The Conquistadors were limited to just 12 rushing yards on 14 carries while QB Hunter Correll completed six of 18 passing attempts for 83 yards with three interceptions.
T.J. Williams scored Serra’s lone touchdown on a one-yard run in the second quarter.
Warren calls the Mariners the division’s “sleeping giant.”
“They run their double wing offense and blitzing defense to perfection,” the OHS coach said. “No one gave them a chance against Saint Augustine, the No. 2 seed in our division.
“They are 11-1 for a reason. They are big and disciplined enough to run their offense right down your throat. We will need to play a very physical game to stay with them. Brian Hay has done a great job fitting his offense to the type of player he has at Mar Vista.”
Mar Vista remains the underdog entering Thursday’s semifinal tilt — and that seemed fitting the way the season has gone, making them even that much more dangerous.
See you at the Q.
The Mariners prevailed in the quarterfinals despite falling behind early by scores of 14-0 and 21-13. Joe Kennedy completed touchdown strikes of 57 and 65 yards to Nicholas Gonsalves (the latter actually a fumble recovery in the end zone after a teammate coughed up the ball on a long pass-and-catch run) to stake the Saints to a two-touchdown lead.
But Mar Vista countered with a pair of touchdowns of its own to crawl back into the contest at 14-13. Jimmie Hill (20 carries, 172 yards) scored on a 66-yard breakaway run and quarterback Jordan Lertique then found Brandon Luc in the end zone on a one-yard pass. A missed PAT left St. Augustine holding onto a one-point lead.
Gonsalves promptly electrified the crowd with a 99-yard kick-off return to extend the Saints’ lead. But the Mariners refused to lay down, marching down field for a seven-yard rushing TD by Lertique (seven carries, 40 yards). A successful two-point conversion knotted the score at 21.
This laid the groundwork for Mar Vista’s heroic victory. Landon Clark returned an intercepted pass 33 yards to put the visitors ahead, 28-21, with less than a minute remaining in the first half.
In the second half, it was time to put MV’s time-consuming ground attack to work. The Mariners finished the game with 61 rushing attempts for 424 yards compared to 22 carries and 89 yards for the hosts.
Kennedy passed for 180 yards but was held to just one TD. Lertique made the most of his four passing attempts, completing three for 66 yards and one score. Ricardo Moriel had one catch for 41 yards while Luc had two catches for 25 yards.
Bennie Smith (seven carries, 76 yards) capped a third quarter drive on a 42-yard scoring run to increase the Mariners’ lead to 35-21.
The Saints revived their own rushing game, as Aaron Anderson scored from 15 yards out to narrow the MV lead to 35-28. But with under a minute to play in the third quarter, the Mariners responded on a five-yard run by Keevin Moore to go up by two touchdowns. A fumble recovery sealed the historic Mar Vista win.