At just about every level of competitive sports from Pee Wee Leagues to the NFL, league champions are almost always rewarded with advantageous playoff positioning.
The Central Coast Section football playoffs are the rare exception.
A peculiar divisional realignment last season bumped Terra Nova High from Division III, where it won a 2010 championship, to the elite Open Division, where the Tigers were sent home after a 56-12 first-round loss to Bellarmine.
Ironically, Terra Nova, which won its third consecutive Peninsula Athletic League Bay title last season, would have had a much easier time defending their title had they had they not won their league (as runner’s up they’d have dropped to Division III or Division IV).
And with no viable solution on the horizon, the Tigers, or any other PAL Bay champion for that matter, figures to be punished for their success in the worst way again this year.
“For the champion of our league, regardless of who it is, it's s daunting prospect at best,” Terra Nova coach Bill Gray said of competing against some of the state’s top-ranked teams in the Open Division.
“Obviously, we are not pleased with this format.”
Nevertheless, Gray insists that a quirk in the playoff format does not change his team’s objectives.
"Our goal is always to win the league," Gray insists.
“What we do is we work hard and we try to compete at whatever level we have to. Our priority is to win the league, and then everything that happens after that we’ll take with a grain of salt and do our best.”
That the Tigers are off to a 0-2 start is not in itself cause for alarm for a team that’s struggled against a brutal nonleague schedule even in their best years (they lost their first two games on their way to a 2010 CCS championship).
But their inexperience is a concern.
The Tigers return just six players with varsity experience and just two skilled players on the offensive side.
Terra Nova, which plays at Pioneer of San Jose on Friday at 7 p.m., is coming off a 46-26 Week 2 to St. Ignatius. They lost their season opener to Sacred Heart Cathedral 30-14. Both teams are perennial Bay Area powers.
“We have a very tough nonleague schedule and we have at times played very well and at times played not very well,” Gray said. “That's why we play a tough nonleague schedule, to expose the things we need to work on.”
Gray cited the defensive secondary and special teams among areas that will need a little extra work, but said he needs more consistency on both sides of the ball.
“It's a team issue,” he said.
The Tigers have gotten solid play from their six seniors, wide receiver/defensive back Clark Tolero, offensive tackle/defensive end Dominic De Souza, offensive guard/linebacker Richard Auelua, center David Smathers, running back Tanner Piccolotti, and quarterback K’ren Spain, Gray said.
“They've all been very good in terms of responsibility and leadership,” Gray said.
Junior defensive backs Aaron Worthens and John Wallace and junior receivers Dominic Ortisi and Jaylen Jones have impressed too.
“They're good players but they’re juniors and they tend to have very good days and now and then a bad day,” Gray said.
Terra Nova grad Greg Reynolds (2003) completed his seventh year in pro ball earlier this month.
Reynolds, the Colorado Rockies’ No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 draft (he went ahead of Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw that year) started the year in spring training in big league camp with the Texas Rangers before being shipped to the minors.
Reynolds was 11-9 with a 5.30 ERA at Triple-A Round Rock in the Pacific Coast League, considered one of the most hitter-friendly leagues in the minors.