2018 NCS Games to Watch

As the summer break drifts away and fall season practices begin, Prep2Prep takes a look at 10 of the top games to watch in each section of our coverage area. These games only include non-league games, and only intra-sectional games. The top inter-sectional games will be included in a separate feature. Right now, we take a look at top games on the docket across the North Coast Section.

August 17 – Marin Catholic at Campolindo

Right off the bat, it is a clash between defending section champions, and this one could have huge ramifications for playoff seeding at the end of the regular season. Campolindo rolled to the Division II title last season, but figures to have much better competition this season, with teams such as Marin Catholic, Bishop O’Dowd, and Rancho Cotate all up to join the Cougars this season.

Both teams graduated outstanding starting quarterbacks from last year, with John Torchio now at Wisconsin and Spencer Petras at Iowa, but the cupboard is far from bare, especially at Campolindo, which returns rising junior Grant Harper behind center. The big test for the Cougars, though, will be how they handle the presence of standout junior Jamar Sekona up front for Marin Catholic.

Marin Catholic won last year’s season opener between these teams, 42-21, while Campolindo won the previous two meetings, which both occurred in section title games.

August 17 – Foothill at San Leandro

It will be a bit of a change on the sidelines for Foothill to open the season, as the Falcons will play without retired coach Matt Sweeney. Greg Haubner takes the helm for the first time as the head varsity coach at Foothill, but has plenty of experience as a head coach at Livermore, and has two different stints under Sweeney at Foothill.

Of bigger concern for the Foothill faithful will likely be erasing the sting of two losses to San Leandro last season, in the season opener and in the Division I quarterfinals. The Pirates have actually now won three straight against Foothill, and return the speedy Devyn McKinney on offense and standout Jordan Cobbs at linebacker.

August 24 – Antioch at California

The last time these teams met in the regular season was in 2004, but they put on a good show two years ago in the Division I semifinals, which concluded in a 38-31 victory for Antioch.

The Panthers showed last year that life without Najee Harris wasn’t going to be so bad, but now they need to replace running backs Omari Harris and Dalaan Green. Getting Will Karnthong back behind center is a huge bonus for Antioch, while the duo of Dejuan Butler and Gaudie Campbell is enough to test any defense. Vinny Ballardo is a two-way rock for the Panthers.

California figures to be an early test for Antioch’s run defense, as the return of Caden Jarvis and Julian Iribarren bolster the backfield, while Gary Wendschlag could be a big-play receiver in the making.

August 31 – Rancho Cotate at El Cerrito

Before Rancho petitioned up to Division II, this could have been a preview of a playoff game down the road, but it still holds plenty of intrigue with great athletes around the field. The visiting Cougars must replace the dynamic aerial trio of Jake Simmons, Jaelen Ward, and Logan Reese, but junior running back Rasheed Rankin showed tremendous potential in the playoffs, and junior quarterback Jared Stocker will have the keys to an explosive Rancho offense. Elias Rantissi and Connor Barbato are both returning two-way anchors.

El Cerrito, meanwhile, is stocked with Division I talent, which surrounds quarterback Tyler Dickson on offense and has the ability to slow down any offense on the other side of the ball. Armauni Archie is one of the fastest athletes in the section, while Malikhi Miller, Daego Albert, and transfer Makai Polk are all big-time recruits. Franklin Banks anchors the lines up front.

August 31 – Bishop O’Dowd at De La Salle

This one did not hold as much intrigue last year, but another season of development under coach Napoleon Kaufman and plenty of top-notch talent has Bishop O’Dowd on the rise and once again scheduling the heavy hitters throughout the section.

Austin Jones is one of the premier running backs in Northern California for O’Dowd, and Sterling Stokes poses matchup issues for most defenses. De La Salle, of course, is not most defenses, and the presence of Henry To’oto’o, Isaiah Foskey, and Jhasi Wilson will be a big obstacle for the Dragons’ offense.

To’oto’o and Shamar Garrett comprise an explosive offensive backfield as well for the Spartans, making things a bit easier for the quarterback position, where senior Erich Storti and sophomore Dorian Hale both return, and should battle for playing time, especially while senior transfer Jack Fulp sits out the first four games. Linebacker Branden Owens and defensive end Tyler Garay-Harris will be two of the key players tasked with slowing down the DLS attack.

August 31 – Miramonte at Las Lomas

This game features two of the more veteran coaches in Northern California. Doug Longero started to turn things back around last year, in his return to the Las Lomas program, and with the return of quarterback Dylan Graham and receiver Blake Thorpe, has the Knights poised to take another step forward this season.

Miramonte, meanwhile, looks to move forward once again behind coach Jack Schram, this time with junior AJ Fraser stepping in to lead the Matadors’ offense behind center. Senior Henry Vacakis should be the featured back this year for Miramonte, after showing flashes of excellence last season.

September 7 – Campolindo at Rancho Cotate

Rancho Cotate held on to win last year’s meeting, 33-28, and this one could be a preview of a playoff matchup down the road, with two of the top Division II teams meeting in non-league play. Expect plenty of points, especially as Harper gets settled in for Campolindo and Rancho Cotate adjusts to life without Jake Simmons.

September 14 – Bishop O’Dowd at Monte Vista

Monte Vista was rebuilding last year, but will be a more experienced group this year, especially at quarterback and receiver. Jack Stewardson showed great potential in the first half of last year for the Mustangs before missing the rest of the year with injury, and will benefit from having Ryan Colonna and Nate Rutchena as top returning targets. O’Dowd, meanwhile, has dominated the WACC-Foothill over the past couple seasons but has struggled in premier matchups with non-league Division I teams. Could this be the game which gets them over that hump?

September 14 – Liberty at Cardinal Newman

Cardinal Newman does not shy away from playing larger schools, and this one is no exception, in a game featuring the defending NCS Division I champions (Liberty) and the team which many feel is the hands-down favorite to win the Division III crown this year. This is also a fantastic match-up between rising junior quarterbacks, with Liberty’s Jay Butterfield and Cardinal Newman’s Jackson Pavitt, and phenomenal senior defensive leaders, with Liberty’s Nicholas Einess and Cardinal Newman’s Dino Kahaulelio.

September 14 – Freedom at San Ramon Valley

By this point, both Freedom and San Ramon Valley will have answered a plethora of questions which surround each program, which means this game could be a tipping point for both teams. Freedom has a new coaching staff for the first time since 2002, and lost a lot of talent on defense, but returns its trio of offensive playmakers in quarterback Joey Aguilar, running back Giles Jackson, and receiver Mekel Ealy.

San Ramon Valley, meanwhile, lost quarterback Clay Baker to graduation and tight end Koby Gross to transfer, but returns a trio of defensive standouts in Tristan Sinclair, Beau Garratt, and Deuce Palmer.