The Class 2A Southern League football playoffs don’t start until next week.
But for Mountain View and White Pine, the postseason might as well begin Thursday.
The Saints (4-5, 3-3) host the Bobcats (3-5, 3-3) at 3 p.m. Thursday with the fourth and final spot in the postseason up for grabs.
Mountain View is coming off a 39-22 win at Laughlin (2-6, 0-6) in which its offense continued to flourish, but the defense struggled against the run as Laughlin rushed for 311 yards.
“The focus is our Achilles’ heal,” Saints coach Ray LeBoeuf said of using practice this week to work on run defense. “It’s been our struggle all year long. If we can’t stop the running game against a strong, physical team like White Pine, we’re in trouble.”
Mountain View starts only three seniors on defense after it lost last year’s top two tacklers to graduation. LeBoeuf is pleased with how his young players are learning, but knows White Pine will present a physical challenge.
“White Pine strikes me as very physical,” he said. “They really get after it. They run hard and they don’t quit.”
The Saints haven’t had as many concerns on offense. Senior quarterback T.J. Engel has completed 64 percent of his passes for 1,184 yards and 17 touchdowns with only four interceptions.
“That goes with the kind of leadership T.J. provides on the field,” LeBoeuf said. “He does a good job caring for the ball in practice, and it carries over to the games. The players respond to him, and they follow his lead.”
Mountain View also has a do-everything weapon in senior slot back Justyn Anderson, who has 367 yards and six touchdowns on the ground to go along with 35 receptions for 596 yards and 12 TDs.
Freshman running back Jacob Duldulao leads the Saints’ rushing attack with 840 yards and six scores.
White Pine, shooting for its first playoff berth since 2005, is coming off a 32-6 home loss to first-place Agassi Prep.
The Bobcats lost seniors Jacob Henze, Jacob Ashby, Tyler Watts and Dalton Porter to various injuries during that game, but coach Paul Bingham said all but Porter are expected to play Thursday.
“Our spirits are high,” Bingham said. “Our guys are focused coming off that loss. They seem to bounce back harder every time they lose.”
Bingham said White Pine has focused this week in practice on “running the ball a lot more and making better decisions.”
He was pleased with the team’s defensive effort after holding Agassi Prep to its second-lowest point total in league play. It’s the same kind of effort the Bobcats will need against the Saints.
Junior middle linebacker Clay Mauro leads White Pine’s defense with 75 tackles and 8.5 sacks.
While White Pine is looking to extend its turnaround season, Mountain View will try to reach the playoffs for the third consecutive year after rising from 1A to 2A in 2008.
“It would be more than we had ever hoped for,” LeBoeuf said of possibly reaching the postseason the first three years at the 11-man level. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised with the start to the program.”