Now the real fun begins: Football in the chill of holiday season, laced with a degree of the unknown.
The California Interscholastic Federation, the governing body for the state’s high school sports, announced its Northern and Southern California Regional championship teams Sunday. These games are rewards for programs that won section championships in six divisions across 10 sections.
Six Sac-Joaquin Section championship programs, including four from the local area, earned extensions to their seasons with two hosting name programs from other sections. And two small-school powers in the Northern Section are in the mix for Friday and Saturday games, with winners earning a shot against SoCal champions on Dec. 15-16.
Upper-division CIF State finals will be held at Sacramento State, capped by the prestigious Open Division final between national powers De La Salle of Concord and Mater Dei of Santa Ana, as the CIF agreed with its member schools and sections that this game is ideally suited for private-school behemoths that compete at an entirely different level than the rest of the state, if not most of the country.
Other CIF state title games will be held at home sites.
Folsom (14-0) will host Central of Fresno (12-1) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the Division I-AA Regional, the program’s fifth NorCal title appearance since 2012. Each of those Bulldogs teams were 14-0.
Folsom is coming off its sixth section championship since 2010, downing St. Mary’s of Stockton 50-21 on Saturday at Sac State behind quarterback Kaiden Bennett, who passed for 402 yards and four touchdowns, all to Joe Ngata.
Central hails from the Central Section, heavy on Fresno and Bakersfield teams, and lost only to De La Salle 45-30 in an early nonleague game.
“That’s an athletic, talented, really good team, and Fresno football is the real deal, so this will be a great game,” Folsom coach Kris Richardson said. “We’re ready to go. We left Sac State (on Saturday afternoon) healthy. Some kids are a little tired, and coaches, too, but this is fun.”
Granite Bay (12-2) will host North Coast Section power Pittsburg (8-2) in Division I-A on Saturday at 6 p.m., renewing what had been a hugely competitive nonleague rivalry between the programs.
Pittsburg lost to De La Salle 24-7 in the NCS Open finals Saturday, the Spartans’ 26th consecutive NCS title. But the NCS and Central Coast Section two years ago agreed that it wanted to send its best two teams to the NorCal rounds, thus creating an Open format where the finalists advance.
This means the NCS Division I and CCS D-IV and D-V champions would not advance.
Liberty of Brentwood beat Freedom of Oakley 37-0 in the NCS Division I final, but Liberty lost to Pittsburg 35-0 earlier this season, so this logic makes sense here.
Placer, the section D-IV champion, will play at Salinas (11-2) on Friday in the Divison IV-AA final.
The Hillmen (12-1) won their first section since 1981, when Placer were state ranked in D-II under famed coaches Bill Miller and Tom Johnson. Miller is the grandfather of Joey Montoya, the 11th year Placer coach.
Bear River, the section D-V champion, plays at Fortuna (12-2) on Saturday in the Division V-A game.
The Bruins (10-3) needed a final-week win over Center in overtime just to reach the section playoffs, and now they compete in their first NorCal game, another crowning moment for co-coaches Terry Logue and Scott Savoie.
Sutter, winners of 10 Northern Section titles since 2001, play at three-time defending Central Coast Section D-III champion Half Moon Bay (13-0) on Saturday. The Huskies (12-1) have lost only to a Utah powerhouse.
In Division V-AA, East Nicolaus (13-0) is in its third consecutive NorCal title game, this time hosting McClymonds of Oakland (12-0) on Friday. The Spartans of Sutter County won a CIF State title in 2015.
CIF Northern California Regional schedule
Friday games are 7:30 p.m. and Saturday games are 6 p.m.
Division I-AA: Central-Fresno at Folsom, Friday
DI-A: Pittsburg at Granite Bay, Saturday
D-IIAA: Serra vs. Tulare Union, Friday
D-IIA: Saint Francis at Manteca, Saturday
DIII-AA: Marin Catholic at Shasta, Friday
DIII-A: Sutter at Half Moon Bay, Saturday
DIV-AA: Placer at Salinas, Friday
DIV-A: Milpitas at Campolindo, Saturday
DV-AA: McClymonds at East Nicolaus, Friday
D-VA: Bear River at Fortuna, Saturday
D-VIAA: St. Pat’s at Strathmore, Friday
DVI-A: Galileo at Rio Vista, Saturday
Open Division final: De La Salle (11-1) vs. Mater Dei (14-0) at Sacramento State, 8 p.m. Dec. 16.