No surprise which is the team to beat in this division. Since its season-opening loss to St. Bonaventure and a come-from-behind win against Mater Dei in Week 2, Corona Centennial has put up 45 points or more in its last eight victories, all of which were over by halftime. The Huskies will need to weed their way through a handful of undefeated and one-loss teams to win a second consecutive Inland Division title. Here’s a breakdown of the division:
The seeds: No. 1 Corona Centennial, No. 2 Vista Murrieta, No. 3 Upland, No. 4 Redlands East Valley.
Best first-round matchup: Norco (6-4) at Redlands East Valley (10-0) -- Based on postseason history, this game can go either way. Norco is 20-6 in the playoffs over the last eight seasons and never lost in the first round in that span. Redlands East Valley, meanwhile, has struggled to get deep into the postseason, evident by its first-round exit last season after winning the Citrus Belt League title.
Toughest road: Vista Murreta (5-5) -- The Southern Section didn’t punish Vista Murrieta in the seeding order because of its five nonleague forfeits for using an ineligible player, but the second-seeded Broncos will likely face the toughest second-round opponent of any of the top four seeds. J.W. North (9-1) is coming off a 45-15 victory against Norco in the Big VIII League finale and also owns a victory this season against Alemany, the Serra League champion.
Potential shocker: Murrieta Valley at Upland, first round -- It’s easy for a team to get caught looking ahead when they have their sights on a bigger prize. Murrieta Valley is no pushover, however, losing by just nine points to Vista Murrieta two weeks ago. The third-seeded Highlanders need to play as if they deserved the second seed and they should do fine.
Darkhorse: Rancho Cucamonga (9-1) -- The Cougars have been laying low this season. They didn’t post a big-time victory but did beat Sierra League champion Charter Oak in nonleague play. Rancho Cucamonga also has a number of players back from last season’s team that lost to Vista Murrieta in the double overtime of the Inland Division semifinals.
Final analysis: The seeding committee dropped the ball by seeding Upland behind Vista Murrieta. Perhaps they took into account that Vista Murrieta beat Crespi, Upland beat Loyola and Crespi then beat Loyola, but Vista Murrieta has had issues on offense all season and now its defense appears to be springing leaks, allowing 58 points in the last three games.
Championship prediction: Upland vs. Corona Centennial – A number of teams with shiny records stand in the way of Corona Centennial winning a second consecutive Inland Division title, but in reality only Upland has what it takes on both sides of the ball to stay with the Huskies. Redlands East Valley and Vista Murrieta don’t appear to have enough talent on offense to win a shootout with Centennial, and J.W. North has some holes on defense that the Huskies have already exploited in a 52-34 victory during Big VIII League play, a final score that was much closer than the competition. If the Huskies can continue to get solid play from quarterback Hayden Gavett and running back Romello Goodman, and avoid any soggy conditions that hampered them in the state championships last season, they should make it to the end. Corona Centennial 42, Upland 35.