May 30, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PREVIEW: Portola can lock up share of PCL title but other teams in playoff hunt too

Portola players listen to Coach Peter Abe after a victory. (Photo Fernando M. Donado, For OC Sports Zone)

Portola’s football team can wrap up a share of its first Pacific Coast League championship with a victory over Irvine Friday night at 7 at Portola.

The Bulldogs (7-1, 3-0) have already defeated Beckman and Northwood, who are tied for second place with 2-1 records.

However, if Irvine (1-7, 1-2) pulls off an upset, it would make for some interesting scenarios going into the final week of the season. Irvine needs to win its last two games to stay alive. Woodbridge (2-6, 1-2) is in the same position with games Friday night at University and next Friday vs. Portola at University.

There is a lot on the line Friday night in both the Irvine vs. Portola contest and the Beckman vs. Northwood game, which will be at Irvine Stadium.

On paper, five of the six PCL teams are still in the CIF playoff hunt. Only University (0-8, 0-3) is out of consideration. It’s not clear whether two or three teams from the league will go to the CIF playoffs.

“Another ‘biggest’ week for the Bulldogs, as we enter the Irvine game against a well coached opponent who is hungry to keep their playoff hopes alive,” said Portola Coach Peter Abe. “Coming off of a tough fought win against Northwood last week, the Bulldogs can lock-up first place in the PCL, win the Dennis Toohey Fence Post Trophy (awarded to the city-champion in Irvine) and secure a PCL top seeded playoff spot with another.

“With wins over Beckman and Northwood, Portola holds the tiebreaker going into next week for first in the event Friday night does not go as planned, but we still have to win for sure to keep our playoff goals alive.  In the PCL, on any given night, you have to come to play or teams can all take one from each other.”

Abe, the former Irvine High player and assistant coach, said he expects a battle from Irvine, which is coming off a 39-7 victory over University last week.  

“Coach Ricci will have his guys ready, that’s for sure, and the Bulldogs are fired up and ready to take on this challenge,” Abe said. “(It) would be a huge opportunity for our program, school, and community to be able to bring this victory home, but we don’t allow ourselves to look ahead.  Irvine is the only focus, and we appreciate and respect what they’re capable of doing on the field.

“(We) will need to play another disciplined, physical game for 48 munutes to get the job done.  Locked-in, eyes on the prize, looking forward to an exciting ‘Friday Night Under the Lights’ at Portola High School.”

Irvine Coach Tom Ricci said his players are aware of what they have to do.

“Pretty cut and dry for us,”he said. “Our playoffs begin now.  We can’t afford to lose either of the next two games are we will be out. We are approaching these next two games like they are the beginning of playoffs for us.”

Northwood will be out to bounce back from last week’s 13-10 loss to Portola.

“The PCL is probably the most competitive small school league in Orange County, with five out of the six teams looking to secure a playoff spot,” Northwood Coach Paige Nobles said.

“Right now Portola is in the driver’s seat with the rest of us hoping to secure that last berth. It is going to be a great race to the finish because anyone of us can get that last spot.”

Nobles believes that the PCL will most most likely receive only two berths in the CIF playoffs.

“I believe all the third place teams or at large bids will be going to all the upper divisions,” he said. “Northwood, is going into our final two games of the season with confidence and our practices so far have been less intense, we are just having fun out there.”

Beckman Coach Marcello Giuliano said his team is focused on Friday’s game with Northwood and not all the possible playoff scenarios.

“I’m the last person you should ask about the playoff picture because there are simply too many variables in our Division; I’m an English guy, not a math guy,” he said.

“The only thing that is clear is that Portola will be in, and the only thing we can do is keep our focus on the process of preparation. We’ve been through it before and have hopefully learned that getting distracted by possible outcomes won’t help us be successful with a very challenging close to our regular season.”

Woodbridge Coach Rick Gibson said his team needs to win its final two games.

“We have to win our last two and we would have to get a little help,” Gibson said. “We would have to win outright third place so that would make it a little more difficult. Either Northwood or Beckman would have to lose out and we would have to win out. We just have to go one game at a time.”

Gibson predicted before the season there would be a battle up until the end.

“Portola being undefeated, they play a big game this week with Irvine and that puts them in at least a tie for the title if they win this week so that’s got to be a fantastic story,” Gibson said.

“That’a testament to Peter Abe and his staff and the school itself. It’s pretty impressive. Northwood is another one with a first year coach taking a program that hadn’t had a lot of success until last year. Beckman, same thing. They’re all right there. And Irvine went out (and won)…. there’s that chance and another first year coach (Ricci).

“That’s what you want, you want the parity.”

-Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com