State

Modesto Christian coach cautions against looking ahead

Modesto Christian football coach Mike Parsons is keeping quiet about his team and its opportunity to earn a spot in a state bowl game, because the Crusaders must win this week to even be considered.

His caution is understandable, since the Crusaders are facing Placer -- a school with four times as many students -- in Friday's Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 title game.

If the Crusaders lose, their season is over. If they knock off the Hillmen, though, they can look forward to playing a state bowl game in Carson.

If that happens, the big question isn't who the Crusaders would be playing -- but what bowl game they would be in? The state CIF classifies MC as a "small school" because its enrollment of 313 is far below the 400-student maximum.

The Crusaders could be promoted to the Division 3 bowl, though, if the section commissioners can't find a suitable Northern California D3 team that is eligible for the game.

Seaside (10-2-1) and Carmel (12-0) have qualified for D3, and Marin Catholic (11-1) is eligible if it beats D2 Encinal of Alameda (11-1) this week in a North Coast Section final.

The consensus is that MC is far superior to Seaside or Carmel. If it comes down to those three, the 10 commissioners could put the Crusaders in D3 and settle for a second choice for the small-school bowl.

The best scenario for MC is a Marin Catholic win. Its 12-1 record, and that it beat powerful Novato, would make it easy when the 10 commissioners meet Sunday to decide the NorCal teams: Marin Catholic in D3 and the Crusaders earn the small-school berth.

The commissioners need to realize the risk of moving MC to D3. That would likely lead to a rout in the small-school bowl, and no one wants a repeat of last year's debacle.

St. Margaret's of San Juan Capistrano humiliated Hamilton 59-7 in last year's inaugural small-school bowl. If there's a similar disaster this year, the commissioners might kill that game.

The small-school team from the south will once again be loaded. Either Francis Parker of San Diego (11-1) or St. Margaret's (12-1) expected to get the bid. The next-best NorCal team after MC is Bradshaw Christian. That game would get really ugly, really fast.

Put MC in that game and its worth watching, since it has the skill players to match up with SoCal's best. MC could be entertaining in D3, too, but it could face national power Oaks Christian (12-0) or Serra of Gardena (12-0) in that one.

The confusion is fueled by a flaw in the CIF's selection process. NorCal schools with fewer than 1,200 students are considered Division 3, while those with 400 or less are small schools.

But a school can have fewer than 400 students and still be in Division 3, the CIF says. That could be awkward, since it could result in two small schools advancing and no "D3" school.

Don't be surprised if during the offseason the CIF corrects its error, changing the Division 3 enrollment figure from 1,200 to 401.

Here's a look at the other NorCal bowl scenarios, realizing we have games this week:

De La Salle of Concord (11-2) is in the Open Bowl if it can beat Pittsburg (9-4) in the North Coast final, since it lost only to national powers Don Bosco Prep of New Jersey and Lakeland of Florida -- who are now a combined 25-0.

Bellarmine of San Jose (11-1-1) won the Central Coast title last week and is favored to get the NorCal spot in the D1 bowl. The other contender is Nevada Union (12-1), which has played a softer schedule and must top Monterey Trail (11-2) to even be considered.

The D2 berth likely will be decided Friday, as Del Oro (11-2) plays Rocklin (13-0) in a Sac-Joaquin final. The winner will have survived one of the most difficult brackets in the state, since it included St. Mary's and Grant -- among the state's top-ranked teams when these playoffs opened.

Inderkum (13-0), which beat Oakdale 49-30 last week, can make an argument should it beat Del Campo (12-1) Friday and Del Oro upset Rocklin. It would have a better record, but have played a softer schedule. Del Oro will be coming off consecutive wins over St. Mary's, Folsom and Rocklin, who were a combined 35-1.

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