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Division 8 Southern Section football playoff bracket preview: Muir is the team to beat

Muir is the favorite to win Division 8, but will face stiff competition.
John Muir Mustangs

The Southern Section released its 2021 high school football playoff brackets for all 14 divisions on Sunday. Ahead of the first round games on Nov. 4-5, we’re previewing every playoff division from D1 to D14. Since Division 1 won’t begin until next week, we started with D2, and are continuing to work our way down the list.

Here’s everything you need to know about the D8 bracket:

DIVISION 8 BRACKET | ALL CIF-SS FOOTBALL BRACKETS

TOP D8 FIRST-ROUND GAME:Temescal Canyon (7-3) vs. Serrano (7-3)

Neither of these teams have a bad loss to their name, nor any glaring weaknesses on the field. Temescal Canyon enters the game as the fourth-ranked team in the division, and it would've been at least third if not for a 44-34 loss against rival Elsinore to close the regular season. The Titans also lost games against San Jacinto and Yucaipa, but neither came in blowout fashion, and they've beaten both Heritage (D7) and Orange Vista (D8), so they're dangerous. The only knock against them is a lack of production at RB, but QB Koa Apana certainly produces like one while also throwing for 210 yards per game, so if that keeps defenses honest, then they'll be in good shape. Grant Givens is one of the top WRs in the division, and Zachary Horton is another receiving threat who can run when necessary, in addition to being a standout DB. Throw in LBs Robert Palumbo and Ray La Fontaine roaming the front seven, and you have a well-rounded team.

Similarly, Serrano got blown out by Apple Valley and Oak Hills in league play, as was expected, but has taken care of business otherwise. The Diamondbacks have a nice two-score win against Highland (D8), and played Alta Loma (D7) close in their only other loss. Their passing game leaves something to be desired, as running the ball through RB Payton Cornell is their top option and it's not a secret. But when they do pass, they avoid mistakes, and have two good targets in TannerChaffee and Trevor Sturdevant, who are both impact DBs as well.

While Temescal Canyon has the edge, Serrano is one of numerous low seeds in D8 who could prove to be real contenders. Both of these teams could use not only a win, obviously, but a statement win to garner some momentum for a longer run.

The pick: Temescal Canyon 27, Serrano 24

TOP PLAYERS TO WATCH & FIRST ROUND PREDICTIONS:

Muir (7-1) vs. Highland (8-2):

While their offense isn't overwhelmingly prolific, the Mustangs have the most well-rounded team in the division, and should be considered a mild favorite in every game the play. They got blown out 42-6 by Division 4 contender St. Francis, and also totaled just 18 points in the games before that and after that, narrow wins against La Salle and Cathedral. Still, their offense picked up after that, and other than the St. Francis game, they allowed just 42 points in seven games, all wins, good for just six points allowed per game. As usual for Muir, the defense features both serious production up front – where DLs Ethan Bowser, Adrian Ramirez, and Wesley Ekpo lead the charge for a team that's made 29 sacks in eight games – and some ballhawks, such as S Turran Williams and LB/SS Lessther Suarez. With QB Mahkhi Clark, RB Jakai Pulley, and WRs Issaiah Blade and Charles Bennett all featured threats in the offense, there's no part of Muir's game to exploit.

Additionally, 3-star WR Jeremiah Calvin reportedly in three games this season, and only on the defensive side of the ball. If that's true, and he's now healthy and ready to take on a bigger role, Muir might prove to be two divisions too low.

Highland is no stranger to deep playoff runs under head coach Richard Lear though. The Bulldogs went all the way in Division 9 and came three points away from winning a state championship in 2019, and were not hyped up as a championship favorite that season either. This season, they lost by nine points against Serrano, and also dropped another pre-league game against another good MRL team, Oak Hills. Other than that, it's been all wins, but their only test since then was Palmdale, who they did beat. Their offense, built around prolific RB Brandon Johnson, has been better and less one-dimensional since Justin Wyatt Jr. took over under center. Highland's defense has racked up a ridiculous 127 tackles for loss and 32.5 sacks this season with LB Aydehn Kingsberry leading the way and numerous others with a dozen or more TFLs. That would be a huge matchup problem for numerous teams in this bracket, and Muir might struggle with their front seven too, but the Mustangs still have numerous advantages across the field against almost everyone in the division.

The pick: Muir 24, Highland 14

Palm Springs (5-4) vs. California (6-4):

While the Condors don't have any particularly impressive wins, their losses all came against teams in higher divisions: El Toro, Downey, El Rancho, and La Serna, the latter two of whom they played closely. It's no secret that they'll play through RB Vance Johnson, who has run for 1,140 yards and 13 touchdowns in eight games on over nine yards per carry. DL Michael Flores leads a very good defense in which play-enders can be found anywhere on the field. The question is whether or not Cal's passing game will hold up in the playoffs, and if it does, they could go deep.

Palm Springs, even more than California, is a defensive-minded squad that struggles to put up a lot of points but is very comfortable executing in low-scoring affairs where one mistake can decide the outcome. So on a good day, the Aztecs can hold Palm Desert to seven points and hand it its only league loss; on a bad day, it's a shutout loss against Shadow Hills, or a disappointing loss against Rancho Mirage. 2-star CB Brayden Hapner is one of the top defensive players in the division, Mario Yanez leads a very strong linebacking corps, and WR Dylan Armendariz is the lifeblood of the offense. Both of these teams are one or two offensive breakouts from a possible finals run, but expect a low score in this one.

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