Terra Nova's football team was for a second straight year punished for its success.
A Central Coast Section selection committee over the weekend confirmed what the Tigers already knew; that their reward for winning the Peninsula Athletic League Bay was being placed in the elite Open Division where they are the longest of long shots and by just about every objective measure just don't belong.
On Friday, the Tigers (6-4) will play top-seeded Bellarmine (9-1) for a second straight year thanks to a decision that's unlikely to win CCS officials invitations to Terra Nova's annual banquet.
Terra Nova, which in 2010 won the Division III title for its first CCS championship in 22 years, lost to Bellarmine 56-12 in the first round of the Open playoffs last season.
Sacred Heart Prep, which shared the PAL Bay title with Terra Nova but was the No. 2 team for playoff seeding (based on the Tigers' 20-13 Oct. 12 head-to-head win) has considerably better prospects in the Division IV bracket.
The Tigers clinched the league championship Friday with a 42-7 trouncing of traditional rival Half Moon Bay in the annual “Skull Game.”
"We knew this was coming,” Terra Nova coach Bill Gray said. “It's not a shock."
Gray acknowledged that Bellarmine presents "compelling" challenges, but declined to publicly address the circumstances surrounding his team's placement in the Open Division.
"It's a compliment to our program to qualify for the Open Division and to play the top the top team in the Central Coast Section is a challenge that we're more than willing to accept and meet," he said.
Bellarmine's prohibitive favorite-status, however, can't be overstated.
Compared to Terra Nova, which fields a team from a relatively small co-ed campus of 1,000, Bellarmine draws from an enrollment pool to draw nearly four times bigger on an all-male campus of 1,800 carrying a reputation as a perennial Northern California power makes it a recruiting magnet for top talent throughout the Bay Area.
"It's a formidable challenge, but it's not impossible," Gray said.
And Gray insists that his team is approaching what will be its most formidable opponent as such.
“We have good work habits and we are dedicated to winning,” he said.
“Nobody but nobody is going to get on that bus on Friday that doesn't think we can win.”
In Bellarmine, Terra Nova will be playing an intensely physical team with size, strength and speed that plays as disciplined a game as you’ll see at the high school level.
But if the Tigers have any factors on their side, it’s a modern spread offense Bellarmine hasn’t seen much.
“They're primarily a grind-it-out running football team so we need to execute our passing game flawlessly and protect the passer,” Gray said.
The Jaylen Factor:
Terra Nova’s spread features receiver Jaylen Jones, who this season has emerged as one of the Peninsula’s most dangerous deep threats.
Jones leads the team in all meaningful receiving statistical categories with 65 receptions for 776 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“For our offense to work you have to have the component of speed that makes the defense back up and that creates spaces and windows where we can control the ball,” Gray said.
“Jaylen is very important in that regard.”
Jones is also a key factor on special teams, returning kickoffs and punts, and is a surprisingly effective downfield blocker too, Gray said.
Jones, a junior, is an excellent student and is also a basketball standout.
Gray said could play at the college level in one of the two sports.
“He's going to have some decisions for him to make,” Gray said. “There are going to be some athletic opportunities for him after (high school), we just don't know at what level and we don't know where.”
Alma Heights Christian’s amazing run ends:
Alma Height Christian lost for a second straight year to nemesis Woodside Priory 3-0 in a CCS Division V quarterfinal on Saturday.
The Eagles (19-6) were a perfect 10-0 in Private School League North play going into the playoffs.