Poway freshman quarterback Tate Martell looks for an open receiver.
Looking up from the bottom provides an interesting view.
That’s what Poway and Steele Canyon have been doing this week heading into Friday’s first round of the newly created Open Division in the San Diego Section football playoffs.
The Open Division, whose teams were selected before the season began based on a formula involving records for the last five years, was established so the best teams in the region could battle it out for a championship.
That clearly did not happen this first season.
“If the Open is for the best of the best, then we don’t deserve to be here,” Poway coach Damian Gonzalez said. “Our record shouldn’t be good enough to be in the Open. We haven’t earned that right.”
Said Steele Canyon coach Scott Longerbone: “Why don’t we just pick the best eight and go from there?”
While the top of the Open Division features Mission Hills (9-1), Oceanside (8-2), Eastlake (9-1) and Helix (8-2), the bottom has Poway (4-6) and Steele Canyon (3-7).
Also in the Open Division are La Costa Canyon (7-3) and Torrey Pines (6-4).
Because schools were limited to jumping just two divisions the first year, teams like Cathedral Catholic (8-2), Madison (9-1) and St. Augustine (8-2) were blocked out of playing in the Open Division, where all eight teams automatically qualify for the playoffs.
Leaving Poway, which lost last year’s Division II final to Oceanside, and Steele Canyon, which has five losses by four points or less, playing with the big boys.
“I’m proud our program was deemed to be among the best,” Longerbone said. “Teams like San Pasqual (9-1) have waited like 10 years to compete again, but they can’t because the divisions were set before the year began.
“For us, I wouldn’t opt out of the Open because it guarantees us a playoff berth and at least one extra week of practice, which is invaluable for all my younger players.”
That doesn’t mean Longerbone is thrilled with the setup.
“It’s a frustrating system,” he said. “It’s not a bad thing that (Commissioner) Jerry Schniepp is giving something new a shot. Hopefully, by next year, things will all shake out for the better.”
So Poway and Steele Canyon have the odds stacked against them.
“No one thinks we can win a game,” said Gonzalez, whose team’s average loss is 42-6 this year. “We have nothing to lose.
“That makes us and Steele Canyon a little dangerous if teams overlook us and wonder who they’ll play in the semifinals. That’s going to be our approach to our playoff game.
“We’ll treat it like a bowl game and use the extra practice week for next year.”
Steele Canyon’s approach mirrors Poway’s with the extra practice time, but Longerbone thinks his Cougars have a good chance to spring an upset.
Included in their losses this year are close ones to St. Augustine (20-12), Grossmont (21-19) and Helix (14-13).
“We’ll play anyone,” Longerbone said. “We’ve played legit teams tough over the years.
“I know Poway thinks the same thing, but I wish we had the team we had three years ago for this.
“Who knows, maybe we’ll catch lightning in a bottle this week.”
Steele Canyon and Poway take on the top two seeds in Friday’s quarterfinals:
(8) Steele Canyon (3-7) at (1) Mission Hills (9-1), 7 p.m.
(5) La Costa Canyon (7-3) at (4) Helix (8-2), 7 p.m.
(6) Torrey Pines (6-4) at (3) Oceanside (8-2), 7 p.m.
(7) Poway (4-6) at (2) Eastlake (9-1), 7 p.m.