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Warriors given second seed in grid playoffs

Host Imperial tomorrow night

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

The Oct. 28 CIF football playoff selection and seeding meeting went better for Fallbrook High School than the Warriors’ game the previous night, and the Warriors were given the second seed in the Division III playoffs.

Fallbrook was given a first-round bye and a Nov. 10 home game against seventh-seeded Imperial, who defeated 10th-seeded Valley Center in those teams’ first-round game Nov. 3.

A Fallbrook win would give the Warriors a home game for the Nov. 17 semifinal. The Division III championship game will be played Nov. 25 at Southwestern College. “If we can take care of business, that gives us two home games before we get to the CIF finals, so hopefully we’re able to do that,” said Fallbrook head coach Ross Johnson.

The Warriors finished the regular season with a 4-6 record and were 1-4 in Palomar League play. “It’s always hard to say happy with 4-6. Not thrilled with it, but not disappointed either,” Johnson said.

Last year’s Fallbrook team which reached the CIF Division IV final had a 9-4 overall record including playoff games, and the Warriors were 4‑1 in Valley League play to share the league championship with San Pasqual. Fallbrook was moved into Division III for CIF playoff purposes this year, and the Warriors were transferred to the higher-level Palomar League.

“Our strength of schedule is up significantly,” Johnson said.

Power rankings which are the primary basis for playoff seeding include strength of schedule as well as win-loss record. “We got better as a football team as the year progressed,” Johnson said.

The power rankings formula also accounts for the opponent’s playoff division. Ramona, whose 38-0 home win Oct. 27 against Fallbrook concluded league and regular season play for both teams, is in Division I. The Warriors thus earned home field advantage throughout the Division III playoffs despite their loss to the Bulldogs.

Ramona’s win over Fallbrook gave the Bulldogs a 5-4 regular-season record including 3-2 in Palomar League play for third place in the standings. “We did not play a good football game,” Johnson said. “We were sloppy in a lot of areas in the game. It was an ugly result.”

Johnson didn’t save any of his players for the post-season and used his regular depth chart against Ramona. “This was a game that should have been a competitive league game,” Johnson said.

They’re a good football team,” Ramona head coach Damon Baldwin said of the Warriors. “We had to bring energy.”

Fallbrook and Ramona were both in the Valley League in 2022 and opened their league season against each other in Fallbrook. The Warriors’ 24-7 victory ended Ramona’s streak of 10 consecutive league wins. Ramona’s touchdown was on an interception return by Jamil Kassab, who is a current senior but broke his collarbone in the Bulldogs’ Oct. 6 game and did not play against Fallbrook this year.

Ramona had a 3-0 lead at the end of the first quarter and a 10-0 advantage at halftime. “I was happy with the defensive performance in the first half,” Johnson said.

Ramona’s first-quarter score was a 37-yard field goal with 44 seconds left in the period. The Bulldogs had advanced to the Fallbrook 13 before the third-down play was a sack by senior Preston McCarthy which set the line of scrimmage back seven yards.

Ramona’s second-quarter touchdown was a 40-yard run which followed a four-yard sack by senior Noah Anzures. The Warriors stopped Ramona on downs at the Fallbrook 21 in the final minute of the first half.

Ramona’s defense held Fallbrook without a first down on the Warriors’ first three possessions, and Fallbrook did not cross midfield until the third quarter. Current Fallbrook senior Chris Bausch had one rushing touchdown against the Bulldogs last year.

Ramona overcame a 21-14 halftime deficit in 2021 for a 28-21 victory over the Warriors, and Bausch had two rushing touchdowns in that game.

Bausch, who had 200 rushing yards including four touchdowns in the Warriors’ Oct. 20 victory over Mount Carmel, only had two runs of more than 10 yards at Ramona. The Warriors, who obtained a first down 25 times against Mount Carmel, had seven in Ramona.

The only turnover by either team Oct. 27 was in the third quarter when Fallbrook fumbled and Ramona senior Jacob Raher recovered the ball at the Fallbrook 26. The Bulldogs’ third touchdown of the third period was scored 76 game clock seconds later.

“After last year, we were really upset about how we played, so we really had that game circled on our schedule,” Raher said of the 2023 contest.

Ramona’s touchdown with 6:15 remaining in the final period gave the Bulldogs a lead of at least 35 points in the fourth quarter, which triggered a running clock.

Johnson noted that the Warriors struggled fundamentally against Ramona. “We’re going to take it as a tough lesson. We’re going to learn from it,” Johnson said. “If we can learn from it then this can be a one-week problem. If we don’t, we’re going to get bounced from the playoffs.”

The Division III playoff teams with the four highest seeds were given a first-round bye, allowing the Warriors two weeks of practice before their playoff match. “A lot of it is going to focus on fundamental details that we were lacking,” Johnson said.

Imperial will take an 8-3 overall record into the Tigers’ game at Fallbrook. A 2-2 Imperial Valley League record gave the Tigers third place in the final standings.

The Tigers advanced to the quarterfinal with a 16-14 home win over Valley Center. “Both of them are definitely quality teams,” Johnson said.

Bill Dunckel, who played football at Fallbrook High School before Johnson was born, took over as Valley Center’s head coach after the Jaguars lost their first four games of the season. Imperial also defeated Valley Center in Imperial on Sept. 22; a field goal in overtime gave the Tigers a 25-22 victory. The Jaguars won their other five games with Dunckel coaching and shared the Valley League championship.

“Dunckel has done a tremendous job since taking over at Valley Center,” Johnson said. “They’ve been playing good football.”

Fallbrook and Imperial have not previously played each other. The Warriors and Tigers did not have any common opponents during the 2023 season.


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