St. Francis High is one of five schools in Santa Cruz County that qualified for the upcoming Central Coast Section football postseason, which begins this weekend with the quarterfinals.
The Sharks earned the No. 7 seed in the Division V bracket. They will take on No. 2 Cupertino (9-1), co-champ of the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League El Camino Division on Friday at 7pm.
St. Francis (7-3) finished unbeaten, 4-0, in PCAL Santa Lucia Division play to win its first outright league title, and second overall in the program’s history. In 2017, they were co-champs with Santa Cruz in the now-defunct Mountain Trail Athletic League Coastal Division.
St. Francis coach John Ausman and the rest of the team set the goal of winning a league title. He said achieving something they’ve been working hard at as a collective group is an amazing feat.
“It validates your hard work and your commitment, and dedication to something that’s bigger than you,” he said. “The kids are excited and I don’t think they think the stage is too big.”
It’s the fourth time in school history the Sharks have earned a postseason berth. Their most recent trip was in 2016 when they competed in the North Coast Section Division V playoffs against St. Patrick-St. Vincent, which Ausman said wasn’t quite the same experience.
“This year it definitely has that feeling,” Ausman said.
St. Francis qualified for the CCS playoffs in 2008 and 2009 when it played The King’s Academy in consecutive years. At the time, they had all-leaguers Chad Lucas, Jacob Miller, Gerry Norton, Zach Scurich and Ty Sambarilo, who went on to play in the NFL.
The Sharks have another talented, and healthy, group of players heading into this year’s postseason.
Leading the way is senior running back Johrdan Garibay, who finished the regular season with a little more than 1,000 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns.
Junior Nethaniel Madrigal-Hernandez had 400 yards rushing and five touchdowns, and junior Kyle Dyer had four touchdowns this season.
Dyer stepped in as the starting quarterback in a week three loss against Mission College Prep of San Luis Obispo. Since then, he’s helped lead the Sharks to seven straight wins.
Seniors Dez Litel and Garrett Lee have been his go-to receivers, and Charlie Valencia is an all-around player that can be utilized throughout the field.
Ausman said they went through a lot of adversity in the first three games of the season, which had to be played in a span of 12 days because of Covid-19 protocols.
There was also a rash of injuries on the team including Valencia, who was supposed to be the starting quarterback but he suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him for a few weeks.
Ausman said they also didn’t execute or control the field possession very well during that losing streak.
But, the good news is that the Sharks were able to fix those mistakes during the preseason and improve before hitting league play, which Ausman believes they did.
“Teams that have success in the playoffs are the ones that have done it a certain way all year and continue to trust that preparation they put in every week,” Ausman said. “Then they treat it like another week.”
But, it will be win or go home for the Sharks who take on a Pioneers team led by junior Jayden Hall, a dual-threat quarterback who led the team in yards passing (1,393), yards rushing (501) and total touchdowns (24).
Ausman said they have some size in the trenches and some athletic receivers including seniors Harry Singh and Joshua Ryland Jr., and juniors Carter Tsang and Benjamin Chen.
Singh leads the team with 576 yards receiving and eight touchdowns on 20 receptions.
On the defensive side, Ausman said the defensive backs are aggressive and they are well stacked in the front seven, which has recorded 18 sacks this season.
Junior Sandoval, a junior, has a team-high four interceptions for Cupertino, followed by Tsang with two picks.
“They pose a challenge just like every team and we have to execute the game plan,” Ausman said.
Other notable games include No. 8 Aptos (8-1) at No. 1 Saint Francis (9-0) of Mountain View in Division I. The Mariners were the runner-up in the Pacific Coast Athletic League’s Gabilan Division.
The Lancers stunned national power De La Salle earlier this season and went unbeaten in the powerhouse West Catholic Athletic League
No. 6 Santa Cruz (9-0) plays at No. 3 Wilcox (6-4) in the Division II bracket. The Cardinals, winners of the PCAL Mission Division, will face a Chargers team who was runner-up to Los Gatos in the SCVAL–De Anza division.
No. 8 Scotts Valley (9-1) plays at No. 1 Leland (8-2) in the Division III bracket. The Falcons, winners of the PCAL Cypress Division, will take on a Chargers team that won the Blossom Valley Athletic League–Mount Hamilton Division.
In the D-IV quarterfinals, No. 3 Soquel (7-3) hosts No. 6 Los Altos (7-3). The Knights, who finished second to Santa Cruz in the PCAL Mission Division, are the lone county team to host a first-round game. They’ll face an Eagles squad that shared the SCVAL’s El Camino Division title.
CCS D-V Playoffs
Who: St. Francis at Cupertino
When: Friday at 7pm