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Diluted playoffs lead to deafening silence

11/16/2013, 12:14am PST
By Don Norcross

Among the 91 teams playing 11-man football, 70 percent make the postseason.

Mater Dei’s Sebastian Kelley (left) tackles El Cajon Valley quarterback Deondre Wilson. Earnie Grafton • U-T

— Three minutes before Friday night’s El Cajon Valley-Mater Dei football game, the visiting stands were not exactly overflowing. Counting the three people ordering at the snack bar, there were 36 spectators. That’s including the 19 pep-band members.

Seconds before kickoff, with the stadium so quiet you could hear a penalty flag drop, one of El Cajon’s cheerleaders said, “Why is it so quiet?”

This, after all, was a Division IV playoff game. And not a very close one. Matei Dei, which features a fantastic pitch-and-catch combo in Marco Morales-to-Iman Chatman-Dixon, led by 42 points at halftime.

“Is this a consolation game?” someone asked.

Crusaders coach John Joyner kindly called off the dogs in the second half, settling for a 55-7 victory.

Some fans had to be recalling Jim Mora’s famous rant back in 2001, when a reporter asked the Indianapolis Colts coach about his team’s chances of making the playoffs.

“Playoffs?” Mora cried in a high pitch, his face contorting. “Don’t talk about playoffs. You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we win a game.”

Playoffs? The San Diego Section has diluted them, which no doubt contributed to the mediocre El Cajon Valley-Mater Dei attendance. On the home side, the stands were barely half full.

(Please, don’t use the damp conditions as an excuse. It’s football weather.)

Seventy percent of the schools in the section advance to the playoffs. Even the NBA and NHL aren’t that generous.

Heck, your kid’s 5-and-under American Youth Soccer Organization league is stingier in handing out playoff spots.

El Cajon advanced with a 2-8 record. Mater Dei qualified at 3-7. Braves coach Norman Whitehead, whose team was outscored 246-14 in its final five games, said his team shouldn’t have been invited.

“I understand they want to reward the kids, and blah, blah, blah, blah,” Whitehead said. “But they should have a better system so that not everyone goes to the playoffs.

“What that system is, I don’t know. Maybe you at least have to have a .500 record. If only six teams make the playoffs in Division IV, so be it.”

With the creation of the new Open Division, there will be six section champions. Toss in that many divisions, invite 12 teams in four of the divisions, and you’re looking at some teams with ugly records in the playoffs.

Division IV? Only one team, Sweetwater, finished with a winning record.

“My senior year at Patrick Henry in ’84,” Whitehead said, “we were tri-league champs. Tied with Mira Mesa and Point Loma. We didn’t go to the playoffs. Mira Mesa won it all.

“Yeah, right now there’s too many teams.”

Put everybody but Our Lady of Peace in the football playoffs, and you’re left with some ugly games. Try Hoover 61, Calexico 0; Morse 56, Bishop's 17; Eastlake 41, Poway 7.

One plus to Friday night’s church-like atmosphere was that you didn’t have to eavesdrop to hear conversations on the sidelines and in the stands.

When El Cajon running back Matthew Shearin exited for a first-half breather, an assistant coach made sure he got some water.

“Give him a squirt! Give him a squirt!” yelled the coach.

When a sprinkle turned into a halftime downpour, Mater Dei fans cried, “Get a domed stadium.”

It’s about the only thing the stunningly beautiful campus is missing.

And while the game was a rout, at least fans are treated to one more chance to catch Chatman-Dixon’s game. The tall, physical wide receiver who looks more than a little like Kobe Bryant — “I get that a lot, he said” — finished with four catches for 192 yards and two TDs.

“I’ve been around some good ones,” Joyner said. “And he’s as good as they get.”

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