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Playoff picture just beginning to take shape

By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Coaches will tell you it’s ludicrous to talk prep football playoffs in September.
But the Sac-Joaquin Section’s playoff format is so complicated and includes so many conceivable scenarios, it’s never too early to play with the possibilities. It’s tough to even determine which division certain teams will fall into, but it’s also kind of fun to try.
Here are the basics: 64 of the 128 teams (excluding Divisions V and VI) make the playoffs. The top two teams from each league make the playoffs, and 24 at-large berths will be granted based on overall records. Division I will be made up of the 16 qualifying teams with the highest enrollment. Division II will include the next 16 largest, and so on.
Last year presented some real drama locally as Del Oro landed in Division III in the bracket opposite Placer while Colfax and Bear River settled in to Div. IV, as expected.
After enrollment numbers were released earlier this month, it’s clear the Bruins (949) and Falcons (855) will be in the same boat this season, assuming they can land one of the PVL’s two automatic berths, or at-large entries.
Placer again appears to be on the bubble. An enrollment of 1,335 makes the Hillmen a strong candidate for Div. IV, but it will all depend on how the season shakes out and which teams make the postseason. Division III is still a distinct possibility.
If the Div. IV scenario plays out, Placer would be one of the largest schools in the playoff bracket, but not necessarily a favorite. There’s some really good football being played in the southern part of the section by Escalon — a Division III state bowl team from last season — and Central Catholic.
Del Oro (1,696) is an early favorite for a section title, but in which division? The Golden Eagles romped through the Div. III bracket last season, looking every bit like a Div. II power. This year’s Div. II field is loaded, with Folsom, Buhach Colony and Vacaville looking dangerous. Division III will be no cakewalk as Oakdale and Whitney are scary.
Considering league play is still weeks away, the playoff picture is beyond murky. But after four weeks of football, we at least have an idea of which teams could still be playing in November and December.

Bear River is one of those teams that looks destined for greatness this fall. The Bruins are bigger, faster and more balanced than they have been in recent seasons. They’ve also got a special leader in Jimmy Bamburg.
Not only does he have perhaps the greatest football name ever, he’s also a classic Bear River player. He’s short and stocky. He doesn’t need to lower his shoulder to deliver crushing hits.
Bamburg’s a prototype Bruin linebacker/fullback, carrying on a great tradition. He apprenticed under Cole White and roams the same territory Kevin Grimes and the Logue brothers once dominated.
Bamburg has plenty of help on the defensive side with defensive linemen Brandon Wooner and Dillon Huffman wreaking havoc. Fellow linebackers Cody Heard and Zach Winter are coming on strong as juniors.
Circle Oct. 7 on your calendar. Bear River hosts Placer in a game that will surely have a huge impact on the Pioneer Valley League title race.

Finding football players has not been a problem for the Placer program since coach Joey Montoya took the helm in Auburn. But the green and gold sideline during junior varsity games is shockingly bare this fall.
Coach Jim Packheiser had just 21 players dressed for Friday’s game at Casa Roble. Packheiser said more than half a dozen players from last year’s freshman team simply decided not to play this year. Some are playing other sports and some were perhaps discouraged after a less than stellar freshman season.
Placer’s 0-3 record this year isn’t pretty, but the JV Hillmen have played a nasty schedule. They opened with a 41-7 loss to Modesto power Central Catholic. They made things interesting against Sacramento’s best — Grant — in a 20-0 loss. Turnovers and penalties proved costly in a 43-27 loss to Casa Roble.
Packheiser is not discouraged.
“We’ve got great kids. We’re on the upswing,” the second-year coach said. “We’re 0-3, but the kids are staying positive.”