The El Cerrito High football team enjoyed one of the best regular seasons in school history, racking up blowout win after blowout win en route to the Tri-County Athletic Lead-Rock Division title and the No. 1 seed for the North Coast Section Division III playoffs.
Now things get interesting.
The Gauchos (12-0) may get its most difficult test of the season Friday, as they play No. 5 Analy-Sebastopol (12-0) in the Division III semifinals at De Anza High at 7 p.m.. The Tigers have scored at least 35 points in each of its 12 victories this season, and is coming off a 38-34 quarterfinal win over No. 4 Campolindo last week.
The winner advances to the section championship game against either No. 2 Marin Catholic-Kentfield or No. 3 Cardinal Newman-Santa Rosa -- both perennial NCS Division III powers.
"We have to stay humble," El Cerrito coach Kenny Kahn said. "We're playing a team with the same record as us that is explosive on offense. But it's been an exciting week. Right now, the best four teams are left."
Perhaps the biggest challenge the Gauchos will face is how they defend Analy's prolific passing attack. Tigers quarterback Darin Newman has thrown for 2,542 yards and 36 touchdowns this season, and seniors Aaron Maher and Dylan Mathias have combined for 108 receptions and close to 1,800 yards receiving.
Kahn, though, is confident his team is up to the challenge, and referenced his defense's performance against Campolindo and Brett Stephens on Sept. 14. In that game, Stephens, a first-team all-Diablo Foothill Athletic League quarterback in 2011, completed 16 of 32 passes for a below-normal 144 yards. El Cerrito also capitalized on two fumbles to pull out a 16-14 win.
El Cerrito's defense is most noted for its secondary, which is stocked with Division I-caliber talent. Shutdown cornerback Marcellus Pippins has already committed to Utah, and juniors Jalen Harvey and Adarius Pickett have interest from a number of Pac-12 schools.
Besides the secondary, Christos Magganas and Johnny Tolliver anchor the defensive line and Bryson Singleton was a first-team all-league pick at linebacker.
"In the playoffs, there's no room for error," Kahn said. "Mistakes will cost you."