BELLFLOWER, Calif. --
Another week, another step closer to a possible conundrum of epic proportions in California - one that happened last season as well.
SoCal football fans, and the California Interscholastic Federation Bowl Selection Committee, keep seeing the St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.)
football team zip its way past teams on the field, blazing a trail to a possible Pac-5 Division championship. But not far behind that group of young men wearing navy blue, gold and white comes a gray cloud of uncertainty about whether four forfeit losses will prevent one of the nation's best teams from battling for a state title.Vista Murrieta (Murrieta, Calif.)
experienced the same debate last season (under slightly different circumstances) and got left out of the State Bowl Games in favor of two-loss Pac-5 champion Santa Margarita (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.). Bosco has a few details pointing in its favor that show how Vista Murrieta's verdict may not be the precedent for future teams with forfeit issues, though.
Friday's 38-17 triumph over Tesoro (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.) in the first round of the playoffs
was reason No. 11 on the Braves' resume why they should be selected to play in a Southern California Regional Bowl Game. They have dispatched all 11 opponents and have done so in mostly convincing fashion, laying the foundation for a No. 6 spot in the national Freeman Rankings
With three more victories in one of the nation's most brutal brackets, the Braves will be eligible for selection for a Regional Bowl Game in the first year of the new setup that added a regional bowl game. They would tote an undefeated record in the top-notch Trinity League to go along with a Pac-5 crown, yet there would also be four nonleague wins vacated due to the use of an ineligible player.
Would a 10-4 record with the aforementioned titles be enough to sway the committee? Those at Bosco seem to think so.
"People understand that had we not had that ineligible player we would
have won those four games. Even with (the forfeits) it would be 10-4 winning the CIF Pac-5
championship," St. John Bosco coach Jason Negro said. "That is pretty hard to keep us out of a regional game, though I am
sure Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks, Calif.) is going to have something to say about it next week."
Vista Murrieta forfeited five nonleague contests last season and won the CIF Inland Division, thus going 14-0 on the field, but was not chosen for a State Bowl Game. Instead, Santa Margarita got the nod after winning the Pac-5 despite two losses in Trinity League play, one of which came to 4-6 Mater Dei. Had there been a Regional Bowl Game perhaps the Broncos would have made it in.
"I was very surprised that those losses were held against (Vista Murrieta). But with
no disrespect to anybody else I think the Pac-5 is looked at differently. I
think if you can go through the Trinity League and win the Pac-5, you're at
least going to get a regional game. Where they got (shortchanged) was there was no
regional game," Negro said.
Vista Murrieta coach Coley Candaele told the North County Times last season before his section title game that his team's forfeits stung.
"Our kids' skin crawled, their hair stood up on their necks and each one of them looked at me," he said at a luncheon that featured all section finalist teams before the finals. "I even paused when they announced (an 8-5 record). We just bit our lips. It still stings."
Defensive back Darion Williams said: "It gets to you when we see the record and we're 8-5. But we know we're 13-0 on the field. Nothing's going to stop us from achieving what we did, even if it those wins were taken away. We know we won those games."
So there are now more options to advance after the section playoffs. And the Pac-5 may hold more weight than the Inland Division.
But does the state's sanctioning organization really want a team with forfeits on its ledger playing in the Golden State's marquee prep football showcase? We will find out if Bosco wins three more.
Players on the team understand that their team will not be regarded as a 14-0 team if they win it all, but rather 10-4. The black-and-white viewpoint of the committee will almost certainly not factor in four games where the Braves dominated by a combined score of 217-22.
"We are just going to go as far as we can, as God allows us," said USC commit Nico Falah
, a lineman. "If He gives us
a state option, we’ll go there. And if not, then it's not meant to be."
Lost in all this is how the Braves have responded to the situation internally. The young man who was determined to be ineligible, who we have chosen not to identify per Negro's preference, is still playing a huge role even though he's no longer racking up tackles.
"It was tough because he's like a brother to all of us. He's team captain, ASB
president. It kind of devastated us. But we knew we had to fight through it," said running back
, whose 7-yard rushing score in the second quarter made it 10-3 Friday. "We were having a marvelous season and then our record was shattered
like that. It took a lot. But we got over it and we are still going to
reach our goal."
Walker said that players referenced the now-ineligible player Friday at halftime and it pushed the Braves to break a 17-all deadlock with a punishing 21-0 second half margin. That player's name is thrown around a lot to motivate the team. He still practices with the team and acts as a team captain.
"No one put him down. We all brought him up. He is going through a hard time," Falah said. "He'll never play high school football again."
Athletic Director Monty McDermott, when spoken to during a 17-17 halftime deadlock, said the team was taking things one quarter at a time. But he also said that the initial reaction to discovering the eligibility issue had nothing to do with State Bowl Games.
"My emotions were more about the kid and the family. At the end of the day a
decision was made by the section office and we support that decision," McDermott said, and it should be noted the school self-reported the issue. "We
decided to suffer for it and there was no intent on anybody's part to
gain an advantage."
In the end all the debate could prove to be wasted breath, as three wins in the Pac-5 playoffs don't come easy. Regardless, the Braves know they did the right thing.
"Obviously with what we are trying to do here as educators and as an
administration we had to do the right thing. We didn’t try to hide it. Chances
are nobody would have even found it," Negro said. "We couldn’t risk it and the young man and his
family didn't want to risk it."
And if the bid for Regional Bowl Game never comes, Walker said that won't deter from what is still a spectacular season.
"It would suck a lot because we've overcome everything that they threw at
us. To overcome that and be denied it would take a lot, but I'm pretty
sure if it did happen we would still be happy with winning CIF and
knowing we were the best in the Pac-5," he said.
By the way, lost in some of the talk of championships was the three touchdowns posted by Lonell Woodhouse
. Woodhouse scored on a 22-yard reception, a 6-yard run and an easy 5-yard catch. Watch more videos of St. John Bosco football