The Open Division rarely has been more aptly named than it is this season.

Go ahead, try to line up a favorite.

Top-seeded Palo Alto and No. 2 Palma both finished the regular season undefeated but enter the postseason relatively untested compared to the rest of the field, which features five West Catholic Athletic League schools.

The WCAL champion, No. 3 Valley Christian, once was thought to be headed for a state bowl game, but the Warriors enter the playoffs without suspended star Byron Marshall.

Oak Grove, seeded fourth, has looked dominant the past six weeks but was shut out the only time it faced an Open Division squad this season.

Then there are the bottom four seeds, all from the WCAL and all holding marquee wins but also multiple losses.

"I don't think you can overlook anyone right now," said Valley Christian coach Mike Machado, whose Warriors were the presumptive favorite until a late loss to No. 7 St. Francis. "Every game is crucial. Everyone has made adjustments since the regular season."

Palo Alto will find that out right off the bat with a rematch against No. 8 Archbishop Mitty, a team the Warriors beat 20-7 Sept. 17.

The Monarchs have lost just once since, a two-point defeat to Valley Christian. But like Mitty, Palo Alto has gotten better since that first meeting.

Junior Dre Hill carried the load with three rushing touchdowns that night, but these days the Vikings pride themselves on balance.


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A strong rushing attack backs up quarterback Christoph Bono, who ranks among the Central Coast Section leaders in passing yards (1,968) completion percentage (66.5) and touchdown passes (23).

The senior said he's looking forward to another matchup with Cal-bound Mitty quarterback Kyle Boehm, who has 12 touchdowns on the ground and nine through the air.

"Kyle's a really good quarterback, and we were excited to face them the first time. With this being a more important game, hopefully we'll have just as much fun," Bono said. "We know that they're going to come out fired-up and looking to get back at us."

Despite being the top seed, the Vikings, Bono said, still view themselves as underdogs and know they may have to beat three WCAL teams to win the CCS title. The humble approach was solidified last week, when the Vikings fell behind 14-0 to Saratoga before rallying for a win.

"That was good for us," Bono said. "We've never really had to come from behind before, so we kind of proved some things to ourselves."

Like Palo Alto, Valley Christian rarely found itself behind on the scoreboard.

But the Warriors enter the postseason short-handed because Marshall was ejected last week for picking up two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. The ejection triggered an automatic one-game suspension, the second straight season the electrifying running back has been suspended for the Warriors' playoff opener.

"We're just going to have to overcome that," Machado said. "He's a good kid but made a mistake, and he'll be there cheering on his teammates from the sidelines."

Marshall had 19 touchdowns this season, including four in a 52-23 regular-season win against Serra, Saturday's opponent.

"Given the current circumstances, I don't think our guys are going to look past Serra," Machado said. "They're a lot better than they were before."

The intriguing matchups aren't limited to the Open Division.

Independence, seeded sixth in Division I, takes a powerful ground game to San Benito in Hollister for a rematch of last season's first-round game, which the Haybalers won 13-9. Led by senior halfback Robert Rodriguez, the 76ers average 267 rushing yards per game and have four players with at least five rushing touchdowns.

Saturday night presents a tremendous contrast in styles when No. 4 Los Gatos hosts No. 5 Willow Glen.

The Wildcats grind it out behind running backs Andy Heimer and Garret Zeiter, the CCS leader in rushing attempts. Running the spread offense, the Rams will go as far as quarterback Mitch Ravizza's arm and legs can carry them.

The junior leads the CCS in passing yards (2,672) and touchdowns (28), and has scored 14 rushing touchdowns.

For more on high school sports, see Alex Pavlovic's After School blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/highschools. Contact him at 408-920-5899.