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This Week in 8-Man Football: (Playoff Edition)

This week in 8-man football, playoff edition.

Redding Christian’s Clark Smith runs down Princeton QB Joey Mills in their August meeting. The Lions travel to Princeton in the opening week of the 8-man playoffs on Friday. (Photo by Barbara Rogers)

8-Man North League Final Standings:
Team                                          League            Overall
1N Big Valley                          7-0                   9-0
2N Tulelake                             6-1                   7-2
3N Redding Christian       5-2                   6-4
4N Hayfork                             4-3                   4-6
Weed                                          3-4                   5-4
Dunsmuir                                1-6                   1-7|
Happy Camp                         1-6                   1-8
Butte Valley                           1-6                   1-9

8-Man South League Final Standings:
Teams                                      League           Overall
1S Los Molinos                   6-0                   10-0
2S Princeton                        5-1                   8-2
3S Greenville                       4-2                   6-4
Loyalton                                  3-3                   3-7
Westwood                            1-5                   2-6
4S Herlong                            1-5                   2-7|
Mercy                                      1-5                   1-7
McCloud                                                          7-1

Playoff Matchups:
4N Hayfork (4-6) at 1S Los Molinos (10-0)
Hayfork, the North fourth seed, got into the playoffs on the strength of a late-season surge that saw them make up for an 0-4 start with a 4-2 finish, including beating Weed, once it got all of their players healthy.  Hayfork is a much stronger team than it was in early season, but Los Molinos is a juggernaut.  Los Molinos, the top seed from the south, held all six league opponents scoreless, allowing 27 to McCloud and three to Tulelake for a total of 30 points given up all season.  They have scored 542 points, and because one game was a forfeit, the Bulldogs averaged 60 points per game.  They have the biggest roster in the section, the biggest players in the section, and are the top overall seed in the tournament, meaning they will play at home all three games if they continue to advance.  Most years, there seems to be one overwhelming favorite in 8-Man, last two years it was Big Valley, this year, it is the Bulldogs.

3S Greenville (6-4) at 2N Tulelake (7-2)
Greenville is the 3 seed in the south.  They opened the season with a 1-point loss to Big Valley, went on a win streak in mid-season, then lost by 10 to Princeton, and were blown out by McCloud and Los Molinos.  Greenville has a lot of returned experience from the last season playoff team that upset Redding Christian in the playoff opener 52-50, and ought to be a tough matchup for Tulelake.  Tulelake was blown out by Los Molinos in the season opener 74-3, then won seven of their last 8, losing to Big Valley by just 4 points.  As the season went on, Tulelake got stronger and better, and as a consequence, made the playoffs for the first time since 2012.  The Honkers and Indians seem to be evenly matched, but reality of 8-man football is that matchups matter greatly, and so strengths of each team are crucial.  The winner of this game will face the winner between Los Molinos and Hayfork in the semifinal.

4S Herlong (2-7) at 1N Big Valley (9-0)
I must be honest, I cannot figure out how Herlong is the four seed. The Vikings beat Westwood in the finale, but they forfeited twice, including to Mercy, one of the teams they are tied with, so I don’t know how they win a tiebreaker.  And I am not quite sure how the tiebreaker matters because Loyalton went 3-3 in league and were in fourth alone.  Regardless, here the Vikings are preparing for the playoffs.  They lost earlier in the season to Big Valley 49-0, but are coming off of their second win of the season, a 52-16 pasting of Westwood.  I have not seen them play, but one concern they had to have had was how few points they score.  Even in their opening win over Happy Camp, they only scored 16, but this game must give them confidence with that offensive output.  Big Valley was a juggernaut last season and has won every game this year, but faced a lot tighter competition with a one-point win over Greenville, four-point win over Tulelake, and seven-point win over Redding Christian.  They are disciplined and tough, and showed in coming back last week that they have resiliency.

3N Redding Christian (6-4) at 2S Princeton (8-2)
Princeton lost their finale by 17 to McCloud, but there is no shame in that, everyone except Los Molinos lost when they faced McCloud.  Princeton quarterback Joey Wills is excellent as a passer and a rusher, and despite a small roster, the Eagles have been great all season.  Princeton presents a defensive challenge because of their offensive balance.  Princeton’s defense is disciplined, staying in their positions, and tackling well.  When these two teams met in August, Princeton won 42-27.  But Redding Christian is a much better team than they were in August.  They started the season with 14 freshmen and sophomores, three seniors, and five juniors, just three of the five juniors with experience prior to this year.  Two of their three experienced juniors suffered season-ending injuries, but what has happened is that inexperienced players have stepped up.  Sophomore Anthony O’Connell and Junior Luke Zikan have stepped into a role as linemen, rotating with experienced linemen Caleb Steffen, Sam Standifer and Wyatt Hughes effectively.  The line has been a strength of this team, and the depth provided by these young men has been key.  In the early season, the Lions struggled to play defensive end well, but Junior Ryne Luaces has translated his soccer athleticism into this role, and sophomore Anthony Guido has provided depth in this role as well.  Sophomores Karson Molter, Taylor Brown, Josiah Van Denend and Clark Smith have anchored the defensive backfield effectively, greatly improving the play of the Lions defense against the pass and when running plays get past the line.  The Lions are much better now against the pass than they were when Wills shredded them in week 2.

Sophomores Karson Molter, Josiah Van Denend, Sam Chiu and Clark Smith have done a great job becoming assertive runners and more effective receivers, and have added depth to an offense that relied early in the season on quarterback Isaiah Van Denend to do it all.  Freshman Carson Piper has become a clutch receiver who makes great decisions and makes catches in traffic, that no one could make early in the season, and sophomore Trevor Dore provides a deep threat that the Lions didn’t have earlier.  And the players not mentioned, including most of the freshmen, have improved their play greatly and provide reliable depth on both sides of the ball in case of injuries or fatigue.  Despite the loss in the last game, the Lions have shown so much improvement, that I believe they will match up well with the Eagles and have a great chance in this game.  There is no doubt the Eagles have improved too, and this matchup could go either way.  The winner of this game will play the winner of the Big Valley-Herlong game in the semifinals.

Regular Season Stats:

  • Isaiah Van Denend of Redding Christian ran for 274 in his last game, and leads the section with 1,856 yards rushing for the season. Los Molinos, Greenville and Princeton all have athletes who have rushed for over 1,000 yards this season.
  • Tristin Clark of Greenville leads the section in passing with 1,367 yards. Isaiah Van Denend ranks third with 939 yards.
  • Martin Carini of Hayfork leads the section in receiving with 694 yards. The highest ranking Redding Christian player is Carson Piper, who is eighth with 328 yards on 14 receptions.
  • Hunter Landingham of Los Molinos leads the section with 29 touchdowns. Isaiah Van Denend ranks third with 21.
  • Hunter Landingham also leads the sections in tackles with 123. Clark Smith of Redding Christian ranks third with 105
  • Hayden Hamre of Los Molinos leads the section with 12 sacks. Sam Standifer of Redding Christian ranks second with eight.
  • Dylan Caylor of Los Molinos leads in interceptions with seven. Clark Smith is tied for second with six.
  • Jonah Osborne of Redding Christian is one of only three kickers in 8-man have kicked a field goal, and he leads in PATs with 32-of-46 made.

Other News and Notes:

  • McCloud went 7-1 in their first season back with football in 16 years. They lost by 11 to Los Molinos, and beat many of the teams they faced handily.  It was a great return to football.  They will be eligible to make playoffs next season.
  • Every team in the section won at least one game this season. Two teams finished undefeated, Big Valley, who has a 32-game win streak dating back three seasons, and Los Molinos, who is the overall top seed based on points allowed.
  • All games are played at home of the best seed. Semifinal games will be Nov. 9th and the section championship will be Nov. 16.

Wil Keepers is a teacher, coach, and writer, who now teaches Science and coaches Track and Cross-Country at Fall River High School. He has 18 years of experience as a teacher, 12 years experience as a cross-country coach, nine years experience as a track coach, and six years coaching middle school basketball. He began writing four years ago and in August 2018 began writing for Shasta County Sports. He has been married for 21 years, and has three daughters

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