Chowchilla High coach Alex Pittz and school administrators had been preparing for the possibility of a long trip down south, traveling as far as San Diego or at least through the Los Angeles traffic for its next game.
But by Sunday afternoon, Pittz learned those travel plays would not be needed after the CIF state playoff committee determined four Central Section programs would be awarded a home game among the 24 regional bowl matchups.
Each winner advances to the state championships next week.
Chowchilla (11-2) was assigned to the Division IV-A South playoffs and will host Fairfax (8-6) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Henry Massaro Stadium.
Immanuel (10-2) will host Bradshaw Christian (12-1) in the Division V-AA North bracket at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Reedley Stadium.
And Ridgeview (13-0) and Liberty-Bakersfield (9-3) will each get a home game, competing in the Division I-A and Division II-AA, respectively.
“Definitely wasn’t expecting this,” Pittz said about hosting a CIF Regional Bowl. “Our community definitely is going to be extremely happy about this.
“It’s always cool to play your first state playoff game in school history at home.”
Two-time defending Central Section champion Hanford (12-1), meanwhile, will have to go on the road in the Division IV-AA North bracket against Sonora (12-1) at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Kennedy-Bakersfield also goes on the road in the Division V-A South playoffs.
“We would’ve liked to be at home,” Hanford coach Josh Young said. “We’ll just have to be road warriors.
“Can’t complain, though. This team is getting to play still and that’s exciting.”
Central Section teams traditionally have played Southern California schools during the state playoffs.
But to help balance the postseason structure throughout the state with 936 schools in the South and 559 in the North, the Central Section’s D-I, III and V football champs were pre-assigned to the North and II, IV and VI winners in the South.
All section champions were included in the state playoffs for the first time, expanding the field from five divisions (open, D-I, D-II, D-III and D-IV) to 12 (open, open-small school, D-IAA, D-IA, D-IIAA, D-IIA, D-IIIAA, D-IIIA, D-IVAA, D-IVA, D-VAA, D-VA).
Matchups were determined by the state’s 10 section commissioners Sunday in Irvine.
Among the playoff committee’s main criteria was assuring teams from the same section they would not potentially meet in the state championship.
That issue affected only the Central Section, being the lone section with half its teams assigned to the North and the other half to the South.
Ridgeview was assigned to the higher level at D-I and Liberty to D-IIAA, though Central Section commissioner Jim Crichlow admitted the two programs could’ve stayed in the same division if one solely considered strength of schedule and win-loss record.
“We’re very happy how things turned out,” Crichlow said.
Immanuel coach Matt Armstrong simply expressed excitement about testing his team against competition outside of the Central Section.
“We’re playing our best football right now, and that always bodes well,” Armstrong said. “We’ve been building up to the section title game. We took care of that. And hopefully, we’ll have fun and keep it going.”
Central Section state football playoff schedule
DIVISION I-A South: Narbonne (12-2) at Ridgeview (13-0) – 7:30 p.m. Saturday
DIVISION II–AA North: Del Oro (8-6) at Liberty-Bakersfield (9-3) – 7:30 p.m. Friday
DIVISION IV–AA North: Hanford (12-1) at Sonora (12-1) – 7:30 p.m. Friday
DIVISION IV–A South: Fairfax (8-6) at Chowchilla (11-2) – 7:30 p.m. Saturday
DIVISION V–AA North: Bradshaw Christian (12-1) vs. Immanuel (10-2) at Reedley Stadium – 7:30 p.m. Friday
DIVISION V-A South: Kennedy-Bakersfield at Saddleback Valley Christian (venue TBD) – 7:30 p.m. Saturday