The Pacific Mountain West is a league that has somewhat snuck under the radar this season, largely because it’s made up mostly of teams moving up from DII after the creation of the California Conference pulled several formerly DI-AA schools up to DI-A.
But there are some pretty good programs, with good coaches and winning traditions competing for an automatic bid to the DI-AA Sweet 16 in the Pacific Mountain West playoffs this weekend.
Long Beach had back-to-back DI Final Four appearances in 1989 and 1990, Claremont Colleges won the DII National Championship in 2010 and Santa Barbara City College coach Kevin Battle led UCSB to the DI-AA final in 2011.
Claremont, SBCC and Long Beach all finished the season 6-1 having beaten each other, but it’s Long Beach that takes the league’s top seed into Saturday’s semis and will face Cal State Fullerton. Long Beach beat Fullerton 85-19 just two weeks ago and should be expected to cruise to Sunday’s final. Claremont and SBCC met last weekend, with the Dragons winning 34-13.
“They did a good job at the lineouts and the scrums, which is an area that we’ve been able to exploit with a lot of teams,” said Battle of Claremont. “I think it was probably pretty equal in the set pieces. They kicked well to the corners and pinned us deep in our territory. We made some mistakes that they capitalized on.”
“I think the biggest advantage we had last week was we really kept our defensive structure,” said Claremont coach Jeremy Ognall. “Because of our defensive pressure, and specifically the pressure we were able to get onto flyhalf Andy Jackson, we were really able to limit their attacking opportunities.”
Jackson actually suffered an injury in last week’s contest, and if he’s unable to go this week or severely hobbled, it will be a huge blow for SBCC. Jackson’s dad and brother actually help coach at Claremont, but his father has recused himself from coaching duties the last couple of weeks to avoid a conflict of interests.
Putting a lot of the pressure on Jackson were openside flanker and All American Jordan Badia-Bellnger and No. 8 Zack Tannous, a Pomona football convert.
“He has been our standout performer this season,” said Ognall of Tannous. “The level of physicality on both sides of the ball and his intensity is really made him problematic to a lot of our competition.”
Despite losing its only conference game of the season to Claremont, SBCC remains confident.
“I don’t have any doubts,” said Battle. “I think we’re pretty well matched against each other, they just certainly were a much better team on the day.”