The road is never easy for CIF Southern Section football playoff teams at this point of the season. At least this year there weren't many suprises.
Four 11-man programs earned home games and nine overall qualified for the playoffs Sunday when the section released the playoff pairings.
Two teams — Vista Murrieta (5-5) in the Inland Division and Heritage (9-1) in the Eastern Division — were seeded. Chaparral (6-4) got a home game against Rancho Cucamonga Los Osos and Elsinore (7-3) hosts West Valley (5-5).
"I think they did a pretty good job with our bracket," Chaparral coach Ryan Tukua said. "Each bracket seems fair, and there's obviously a lot of great teams in (the Inland) Division.
"We're happy to have a home game. We'll take each day as it comes this week."
For the Pumas, Sunday offered a nice reward for a bit of a comeback season. After winning the Inland Division championship in 2009 over Vista Murrieta, the Pumas struggled to a 4-7 mark last year after negotiating an ultra-difficult schedule loaded with state powers. Coach Tommy Leach was let go and Tukua, his former assistant, was handed the program's reins.
This season, Chaparral opened the year with losses to San Bernardino Cajon, Oceanside and Corona Centennial before rebounding with victories in six of their next seven games. Particularly impressive has been the Pumas' defense, which held league opponents not named Vista Murrieta to a touchdown or less while shutting out Temecula Valley and Great Oak on back-to-back weeks.
"I think, No. 1, we've gotten the correct personnel out there," Tukua said. "And then the kids understand the scheme and are buying into it. They practice hard every day and spend time studying the game plan."
On Friday, that game plan will include stopping Los Osos (6-4), which played a tough schedule that included Upland, Rancho Cucamonga, Vista Murrieta and Redlands — all Inland playoff teams. Win Friday and Chaparral faces top-seeded Corona Centennial (9-1), the defending division champ ranked sixth in the state by ESPN Rise.
"It always seems like whoever gets second place in the Southwestern league is usually put in the bracket of four with Centennial," Tukua said. "I guess if we win, or Los Osos wins, that's our gift."
Southwestern League-champ Vista Murrieta hosts La Verne Damien (5-5) and, as the polls in recent weeks indicated, was not penalized for forfeiting five games for using an ineligible player.
Murrieta Valley (7-3), the Southwestern League's third-place team, must travel to third-seeded Upland (10-0) on Friday.
Heritage's No. 3 ranking in the Eastern Division held up in the seeding Sunday, as the Sunbelt League-champion Patriots (9-1) play host to at-large bid Hesperia Sultana (7-3). Heritage, in just its fourth varsity season under coach Kraig Broach, will look for a deeper run in the playoffs after Fontana Summit — the division's top seed this season — ended an undefeated bid last year in the quarterfinals.
Defending Eastern Division-champ Elsinore (7-3) plays host to the only all-area matchup at 7 p.m. Friday against West Valley (5-5), which placed second in the Mountain Pass League.
Paloma Valley (2-8), which finished third in the Sunbelt League, must travel to top-seeded Summit (9-1) on Friday.
"Certainly, you'd like to have momentum, and you'd like to have confidence," Tigers coach Tony Peralta said. "I think what the loss might have done for us, is that maybe it will provide a little more sense of urgency and desire for redemption."
Elsinore boasts two running backs — Daniel Rodriguez and Allan Stubbs — who have more than 1,000 yards. West Valley is close to that with Kishawn Holmes and Chris Anderson (988 yards).
"With their speed and agility, and the things they do, we have to be sound and tackle well, as they can score in a hurry," Peralta said.
Linfield Christian and Hamilton were the Valley's other playoff entrants. The Lions (5-4-1) got the at-large bid in the East Valley Division and travel to third-seeded San Juan Capistrano St. Margaret's (8-2). Hamilton (6-4), the Arrowhead League's second-place team, plays at second-seeded Arcadia Rio Hondo Prep (9-1) in a Northeast Division first-round game.