The debut of the Open Division and Small Schools Division brings the total of games to five, and gives four more schools the shot at winning a state title. The Home Depot Center is the site of all five games, with the Small Schools Division kicking things off tonight at 4 p.m. and the Division I Finals taking place tonight at 8 p.m. On Saturday, the D-III title game kicks off at noon, D-II at 4 p.m. and the Open Division finals will start at 8 p.m.
The marquee matchup is tonight's D-I finals, which is a rematch of the D-I finals from a year ago, when De La Salle of Concord held of Corona Centennial.
Here is a look at four of the five games, which will all be televised live on FSN Prime Ticket.
OPEN DIVISION: Sacramento Grant vs. Long Beach Poly
Grant, the winners of the CIF-SacJoaquin Section D-II playoffs, were the surprise selection for the Open Division. Many felt that either San Jose Bellarmine Prep or De La Salle would be picked for this game. But alas, Grant is the choice. This may be reparation for their 2006 team, who should have been in the finals instead of De La Salle, and was quite possibly the best team in all of California that year.
Grant doesn't have the elite recruit like in years past, there is no Terrance Pritchett, Marsellius Williams or Christian Tupou. But its a solid team for Mike Alberghini. The Pacers went 13-0, and beat two eventual state champions, from Utah and Idaho. But they do have some talent, like junior running back Devontae Butler, the 5-11, 180-pounder who's ran for 1,800 yards. Senior receiver Darvin McCauley is their leading pass-catcher, and their quarterback is Kipeli Koniseti, who's getting some college attention as a linebacker.
Long Beach Poly won the CIF-SS Pac-5 Finals, and comes in at 14-0. Surprisingly, this is the Jackrabbits, one of the most successful prep programs in the country, first trip to the state championship bowl games. A week ago, they used a big fourth quarter from Melvin Richardson, their star senior running back, to rally from a 10-point deficit and knock off Tesoro. Richardson would be considered one of the top running backs in California, but he's got some work to do in the classroom.
Where Poly gets it done is on defense, a defense that features five seniors with D-I offers, including defensive end Iuta Tepa, who is committed to Hawaii. Their secondary is led by Nebraska commit Lazari Middleton and Stanjarivus McKay. At linebacker, Hawaii commit George Daily-Lyles and Air Force commit Matthew Jones hold it down.
DIVISION I: Concord De La Salle vs. Corona Centennial
De La Salle makes their third consecutive appearance in the state championship, having won it in 2007 and lost in 2006. They'll face a Centennial team that they defeated last December.
De La Salle has already been down to Southern California once this year, topping Loyola in a wild fourth quarter. Their lone loss came to Don Bosco Prep of New Jersey. Since that loss, De La Salle has been playing better than they have all year. They are led by running back Kylan Butler, a commit to Arizona, quarterback Blake Wayne and receiver Jackson Bouza. Defensively, Blair Wishom, who's interception sealed the game for the Spartans in last year's game, leads De La Salle.
The Huskies may be the most talented team in California, and perhaps the West, and won the CIF-SS Inland Division title with relative ease, and come into the game, 14-0.
Their headliners are USC commit Vontaze Burfict and UCLA commit Ricky Marvray, who both had big games in the state championships a year ago. Nebraska-bound quarterback Taylor Martinez, in his first, and only year, as the Huskies starter, was the Big VIII Player of the Year, and he's hoping to do what Matt Scott didn't, lead the Huskies to a state title. Other top recruits for the Huskies include Arizona State commit Will Sutton, offensive lineman Gavin Pascarella and SMU commit K.J. Vaifate at safety.
DIVISION II: Stockton St. Mary's vs. San Diego Cathedral Catholic
Stockton St. Mary's earned their berth by winning the CIF-SacJoaquin D-I championship. A year ago, the Rams were in line to earn this berth before they were stunned by Napa in the championship game.
This year, led by senior quarterback, Cody Vaz, a commit to Oregon State, they're where they had hoped to be last year. Vaz has had a strong season and has all but wrapped up CIF Player of the Year honors. Aside from Vaz, the top playmaker for the Rams is junior receiver Josh Harper, one of the elite prospects in Northern California in the class of 2010. Harper has done it all, on both sides of the ball, for the Rams. But he's been nursing an ankle injury and its uncertain how effective he'll be. Up front, Josh Banks leads the Rams.
Cathedral Catholic comes in on a 20-game win streak, having won the CIF-San Diego Section D-III title for the second straight year.
Their headliner is senior running back Tyler Gaffney, who's considering Stanford, Notre Dame and USC, and offensive tackle Everett Benyard, a commit to Oregon. Cathedral also has several stellar juniors, led by defensive back Josh Jacko, linebacker Jordan Lance and offensive tackle Alex Crosthwaite.
DIVISION III: Santa Rosa Cardinal Newman vs. Ventura St. Bonaventure
Cardinal Newman is making their second visit to the state championship game. They first made it in 2006, losing in overtime, in heartbreaking fashion, to the ubertalented Oaks Christian squad. They come in 13-0, winners of the CIF-North Coast D-II finals.
The Cardinals are led by quarterback Randy Wright, who's had a senior season to remember, throwing 30 touchdown passes to only three picks. Senior running back Jeff Badger has carried the load in the backfield, rushing for 1,400 yards and 13 touchdowns. Up front, Jacob Gowan leads the offensive line, and he's one of the top linemen in Northern California.
St. Bonaventure is in the D-III finals for the second straight year, winning it last season over Modesto Central Catholic. They went 13-1 this year, winning the CIF-SS Northern Division finals, and their lone loss was a 12-7 setback against Long Beach Poly.
The Seraphs' star is Patrick Hall, the USC commit. Hall is one of the elite athletes nationally in the class of 2009. Cornerback J.B. Dock is a commit to Fresno State and linebacker Xavier Ramos has a handful of D-I offers. Most of their talent, though, is in the underclassmen. The Seraphs boast several top juniors, like quarterback Logan Meyer, the model of consistency this season, as well as elite cornerback Troy Hill, linebacker Dylan Davis and running back Devon Blackledge. Giovanni Dipaolo is one of the top lineman in the class of 2010. The player with the brightest future, though, may be Cody Kurz, the elite 2011 linebacker who's 6-2, 225
SMALL SCHOOLS DIVISION: Hamilton City Hamilton Union vs. San Juan Capistrano St. Margarets
Hamilton Union went 10-2 and won the CIF-Northern Section D-III title. The Braves became the first-ever team from the Northern Section to advance to the CIF State Bowl Championship.
San Juan Capistrano St. Margarets has been the premier small school team in Southern California the last three years, going 42-0 in that span. Their 42-game winning streak is the longest in Orange Count history. The last two years, they've won 28 games under Harry Welch, who is making his second trip to Carson in three years. The other visit came in the inaugural year, when he led Canyon to a D-I championship, with a win over De La Salle.