This Friday night semifinal game is a cliché. The matchup is a stereotypical 'clash of styles.'
Pioneer Valley (1-7) heads to Morro Bay (5-6) in the semifinals of the CIF Central Section Division 6 playoffs.
Pioneer Valley is all about defense, though that may not be by choice. The Panthers have given up 143 points in eight games this season. But they've scored just 53.
Morro Bay, on the other hand, has scored 278 points in 11 games. The Pirates, though, have allowed 285. Morro Bay is scoring 25 points a game and allowing about 26.
Pioneer Valley averages not even seven points per game and has given up an average of 18.
Pioneer Valley is the No. 3 seed in these playoffs. The Pirates are the No. 2 seed. The winner will play the winner of the No. 1 Taft-No. 4 Woodlake game. If Pioneer Valley wins Friday at Morro Bay, the Panthers would host Woodlake if it beats Taft. Taft would host either Morro Bay or Pioneer Valley if it beats Woodlake. Morro Bay would host Woodlake as the No. 2 seed and would travel to Taft if that's the matchup in the Div. 6 final.
Friday's game at Morro Bay is slated to start at 6 p.m.
How did we get here?
Pioneer Valley is in the semifinals despite going winless during the regular season. The Panthers' only win this year came last week in the quarterfinals when they beat No. 6 Caruthers 14-7 in overtime. They didn't score until the game's final minutes, forcing overtime.
Quarterback Richie Robles ran in the game-winning score in the first OT period, then the Panthers stopped Morro Bay's offense to secure the win.
Though Pioneer Valley went winless during the regular season, the Panthers did play in the Mountain League against the area's top competition. They also had games canceled against Bakersfield Stockdale, Santa Maria and Fresno Hoover, playing just seven games during the regular season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The teams that Pioneer Valley did play this season finished 46-41. The Panther started the year with three straight one-score losses, falling to San Luis Obispo 6-0, Nipomo 26-20 and Templeton 7-0. SLO was the No. 2 seed in Division 5 and Nipomo was the No. 1 seed in Division 4.
The most lop-sided losses of the year was the 28-0 defeat against St. Joseph and a 34-7 loss to Arroyo Grande. The Panthers lost 15-6 at Paso Robles and 20-6 at Righetti in Mountain League games.
The Panthers are coached by Dustin Davis, who went 38-20 during five seasons at St. Joseph. Davis was the defensive coordinator at Lompoc before taking the PVHS job just weeks before the 2021 season started.
Pioneer Valley qualified for the postseason and earned the No. 3 seed in Division 6 thanks in part to the new playoff format in use by the CIF Central Section. Win-loss records don't factor into where a team lands in the postseason. A formula by state publication CalPreps is used to rank each and every team in the CIF Central Section based on this season's results.
The top eight teams went to Division 1. The next 16 teams were in Division 2, the next 16 in Division 3 and so on. It just so happened the Pioneer Valley's ranking put them in Division 6. Their rating was the third-best of all teams in the division, earning them the No. 3 seed. The CalPreps formula takes into account strength of schedule and other factors to appropriately rank teams.
Clash of styles
Morro Bay has scored at least 20 points six times this season. Pioneer Valley has done it just once. In fact, last week's 14-7 win over Caruthers was only the second time Pioneer Valley has scored in double-digits this year. Even then the Panthers were scoreless until the waning minutes of regulation, scoring to tie the game late in the fourth quarter and scoring again at the start of overtime.
Quarterback Richie Robles had his best game of the season, rushing for 165 yards while throwing for 144. Senior Adan Rubalcava has been the Panthers' best play-maker on both sides of the ball.
Robles said those doubting the team’s playoff credentials have motivated the Panthers.
“Yeah it does, even our own crowd was small last week,” Robles said. “(Our fans) probably thought we were going to lose, but Davis got us there and pushed us to get the win.”
Robles said of playing Morro Bay, “we’re ready. We’ve got some momentum going into the game. Hopefully our fans will come out and support us, it’ll be a good game.”
Morro Bay beat East Bakersfield 36-33 last week in the quarterfinals. Both Pioneer Valley and Morro Bay had first-round byes. The Pirates closed the season out with a disappointing 34-0 loss to Atascadero, which went 2-8 this year. They also lost to Ocean League champ Mission Prep 60-3. Their best win of the season may be the 31-28 overtime win over Templeton in a league game. They also beat Santa Maria 38-16.
Nicky Johnson, a junior quarterback, has powered the Morro Bay offense for much of the season. Dylan Turner is also a key play-maker on offense for Morro Bay at running back.