The section large school prep football playoffs are a lonely gathering for Empire teams and the region's small schools are set up for games with familiar foes.
Rancho Cotate looks to keep a perfect season going, though the Cougars must wait a week with a first-round bye in Division 2. On the other side of the bracket is North Bay League rival Casa Grande, one of only two other league teams in the section playoffs and also holding an opening-week bye.
"Just put us in there and we'll go play," said Rancho Cotate coach Ed Conroy.
"We're having a great year. Hopefully it can continue."
Also placed in opposite playoff pairings were Analy and Cardinal Newman, in Division 3. Analy, the Sonoma County League champion, gets a No. 5 seed and home game against Tamalpais on Saturday. On Friday, third-seeded Cardinal Newman hosts Sonoma Valley.
With only three teams from each league making the playoffs, Empire large-school football clearly comes off a down regular season.
The NBL was strengthened with Casa Grande and Windsor moving in, resulting in teams beating up on each other. Piner and Elsie Allen moved over to the SCL, producing an apparently less competitive league that was reflected in Analy' going undefeated so far and still earning a lower seed.
The small school pairings present some interesting contests.
In Division 4, St. Helena hosts Healdsburg in a rematch from a year ago. St. Helena, seeded fifth, is favored to avenge last season's close playoff loss to Healdsburg. On the other side is Fort Bragg, seeded fourth. Justin Siena (8-2), of Napa, is the top seed out of the Marin County Athletic League.
A St. Helenaand Fort Bragg final isn't expected, but would be great football. Fort Bragg defeated St. Helena in overtime in league play.
"It's an interesting draw for sure. The thing about high school sports, you put your best foot out there and see how the kids match up," said St. Helena coach Brandon Farrell.
In Division 5, St. Vincent is the third seed and gets league foe Calistoga at home. Should the Mustangs and Tomales win, the rivals would meet in a semifinal.