League play starts Friday in the Peninsula Athletic League. And just like last year the PAL's Ocean Division -- the league's middle division -- has four of its six teams with 4-0 records heading into league play.
Last year Hillsdale won the Ocean Division title and advanced to the Central Coast Section Division IV championship game. The Knights were moved up to the Bay Division this season as a reward.
Hillsdale won the Ocean Division crown thanks to a 37-34 win over Half Moon Bay. That was one of only two games the Cougars lost all season. (The other was a 38-28 loss to Terra Nova in the annual coastside rivalry Skull Game). They went on to win the CCS Division V championship in a 54-7 rout over Pacific Grove.
Half Moon Bay is one of the 4-0 teams this season. So is its opponent, Menlo School, which will host the matchup, Friday at 3:30.
"That should be a competitive game, I'm looking forward to it,'' Menlo coach Mark Newton said. "It's a very difficult opener for us. Half Moon Bay is a great team, really strong in all three aspects, well-coached.''
Half Moon Bay has wins over two "A" division teams, Burlingame from the PAL Bay and Saratoga from the SCVAL De Anza.
Woodside and The King's Academy are the other 4-0 teams from the PAL Ocean. Woodside, which opens with Sequoia, has a win over Hillsdale.
TKA has probably the best player -- certainly the most highly recruited -- in the entire PAL in sophomore quarterback Michael Johnson Jr , the son of the team's head coach. He already has offers from Cal, Arizona, Florida State, Louisville and Mississippi State, according to 247sports.com.
Four 4-0 teams, who should be considered the favorite?
"I think it's safe to look at Half Moon Bay,'' Woodside coach Justin Andrews said. "They might not be as flashy, but you can't argue with their success and results.''
Sequoia moved down from the Bay to the Ocean to switch places with Hillsdale and now has a league opener with neighboring Woodside.
"There's no secret this is one the kids have circled on the calendar,'' Andrews said. "And it being the first league game gives it added excitement.''
Marcelous Chester-Riley has rushed for 574 yards and nine TDs for the Wildcats.
Sequoia, which runs a version of the Oregon offense, is led by QB Nick DeMarco, who has passed for 824 yards and rushed for 265.
While the PAL Ocean is a combined 18-6 at this point, the PAL Bay, the league's top division, is a combined 12-13. Strength of schedule is certainly a factor, but Aragon, Burlingame and Hillsdale are a combined 2-3 against teams from the Ocean. Menlo-Atherton, Sacred Heart Prep and Terra Nova haven't played any teams from the Ocean.
Who is the Bay favorite? In my mind it's Menlo-Atherton (2-2). The Bears have played an extremely difficult nonleague schedule with wins their last two times out against Sacred Heart Cathedral and Los Gatos.
"I think the Bay is one of the top leagues in the CCS,'' M-A coach Adhir Ravipati said.
"Every year it's very competitive. Every week you're going up against a quality opponent.''
The Bears host Terra Nova (1-3 after a 49-6 win over Novato was ruled a forfeit loss). Senior RB Saini Saini leads the Tigers with 606 yards rushing and 10 TDs through four games. Junior QB Nate Gordon is the younger brother of record-setter Anthony Gordon, now at Washington State.
"The kids know what Terra Nova is all about, a perennial power in the PAL,'' Ravipati said. "Their offense is very prolific with a very impressive, athletic kid at running back.
Gordon's little brother is real squirmy in the pocket. Their defense is much improved. They could easily be 3-1 or 4-0.''
Speedster Jordan Mims has rushed for 683 yards thus far for M-A.
Sacred Heart Prep has played a schedule comparable to M-A's, and are 0-4.
"Last year we were 1-2 at one time and things didn't look so good,'' SHP coach Pete Lavorato said. "But then we did OK in league. So I look at this as a new beginning.''
SHP opens at Burlingame in a 7 p.m. start.
Aragon and Hillsdale don't begin Bay Division play until next week.
Palo Alto broke out its running game in a big way in a 44-31 win over Santa Clara in an SCVAL De Anza Division opener. A week after a shutout loss to Oak Grove the Vikings got 264 yards on 29 carries from Paul Jackson III and 143 yards on 10 carries from Sione Latu.
"We really stressed the notion of our guys getting upfield,'' Paly coach Danny Sullivan said.
A game at Saratoga is next on the schedule.
"It's a team I've known for a bunch of years,'' said Sullivan, the former Los Gatos assistant. "This is one of the best teams they've had in a long time. Their D-line is very good.''
Will Liddle, a third-year starter at QB for the Falcons, is someone Sullivan has worked with in the off-season.
While Sullivan was pleased with his team's showing in the running game against Santa Clara, he's very concerned about a couple of other issues.
"We have got to find some consistency in the passing game,'' Sullivan said.
Sophomore Jackson Chryst was 4 of 15 passing versus Santa Clara. On the season the team is a combined 30 of 92 (32.6 percent).
"That's frustrating on my part,'' Sullivan said. "And we scored 44 points while turning it over six times. That's something we've got to fix or it will cost us a lot more in games to come.''
Gunn (2-3, 0-1) will play at Cupertino at 6:30 in an SCVAL El Camino Division game. The Titans, coming off a 2-2 record in non-league play, lost to Fremont 49-21 in their El Camino opener. Cupertino (4-1, 1-0) is coming off a 28-20 win over Monta Vista.