Immediately after reviewing footage of their CIF State Regional Final opponent, a member of the Tulare Union High’s coaching staff turned to another and said: “Dang, they’re good.”
Then Tribe coach Darren Bennett reminded his staff: “Well, when you’re still playing at this point in the season, they’re all good.”
Now that section championships have been decided, let the state bowl games begin.
The Central Section’s Tulare, Golden West and Strathmore all were awarded a home game for the Regional Finals, the CIF State announced Sunday.
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Meanwhile, Central, Memorial and Caruthers each will head on the road to start the state postseason.
Tulare (13-0), ranked No. 33 in the state by Maxpreps.com, will host No. 28 Serra-San Mateo (11-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in a Division 2-AA regional bowl.
Bennett knows he faces two main challenges in getting the Tribe ready for the regional bowl:
▪ Serra’s talent.
▪ And refocusing his team after Tulare achieved what really was its primary goal of winning a section title.
“It’s all bonus from here,” said Bennett, whose Tribe team defeated Dinuba 49-21 for the Central Section Division II title on Nov. 24. “Whatever we do from here, doesn’t take away from what we’ve already accomplished and that we’ve had a good season.
“One of the motivations I’ll use is that the winner of this game get to play in just one of six state championship games that’ll be played in Sacramento. That’s a good motivator.”
The Tribe have the nation’s top scorer in running back Kazmeir Allen and his 70 touchdowns.
But does Tulare represent the Central Section’s best chance at winning a state championship or even making it past the regional finals?
Strathmore, which finished as state runner-up last season, is the section’s only team back in the CIF State playoffs.
Strathmore (14-0) will host St. Patrick-St. Vincent (11-1) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in a Division 6-AA Regional Final.
Should the Spartans win, they could play against another Central Section team with Caruthers also in the D-6AAA bracket.
The Blue Raiders (12-0) take on Orange (12-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at at El Modena High.
Golden West (11-2), meanwhile, might be coming off its first section title in school history with a win against Central Valley Christian.
But what the Trailblazers lack in deep postseason experience, Golden West gain an edge on other schools in the Division 5-AA bracket by having by far the largest school enrollment.
Golden West, with an enrollment size of 1,687 according to Education Data Partnership, will host Big Bear (13-1), which has a student population of 725.
On the other side of the D-5AA bracket is East Nicolaus (student enrollment of 315) and McClymonds (372), which is the defending state 5-A champ.
“Wasn’t sure where we’d play or what division they’d put us in, but I’m pretty pleased,” Golden West coach Paul Preheim said. “We’re playing well. Our leadership from our team is doing a great job. They lead themselves.
“I think we’ve got a good shot to win one or two games. And playing our first one at home will be big.”
Also heading on the road is Central (12-1), which travels to Folsom (14-0) in the Division 1-AA regional finals at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
And Memorial (11-2) will play at Southwest EC (13-0) in the Division 4-A regionals at 6 p.m. Saturday.
“We’ve got plenty left in our tank,” Grizzlies coach Kyle Biggs said following Central’s 28-7 win against Buchanan in the Central Section D-I championship. “We’ll see how far we can take take this.”
Central Section teams in CIF State playoffs
REGIONAL FINALS (all games at 7:30 p.m. Friday unless noted otherwise)
- Division 1-AA: Central (12-1) at Folsom (14-0)
- Division 2-AA: Tulare Union (13-0) vs. Serra (11-2) at Bob Mathias Stadium
- Division 4-A: Memorial (11-2) at Southwest EC (13-0) – 6 p.m. Saturday
- Division 5-AA: Golden West (11-2) vs. Big Bear (13-1) at Visalia Community Stadium
- Division 6-AA: Caruthers (12-0) at Orange (12-2)
- Division 6-AA: St. Patrick-St. Vincent (11-1) at Strathmore (14-0)