The high school football teams at Stockdale, Frontier, Wasco and Arvin have an important public-service announcement: Don't plan your schedule too far in advance.
A month ago, not many would have pegged Mustangs-at-Titans and Tigers-at-Bears as two of the biggest games of the year in Kern County, but here we are.
Stockdale and Frontier, both once 1-3, each ride four-game winning streaks into tonight's 7:30 p.m. clash. The winner will clinch a share of the Southwest Yosemite League title and have a shot at the No. 2 seed in the Central Section Division I playoffs.
"The games never cease to get bigger if you keep winning," Stockdale coach Mike Snow said. "We were 1-3 and having lost the last two games (by a combined score of) 78-12, and you question what's going on. It was a matter of, 'Let's get better, let's focus and get locked in.' We're real proud of how they've responded to that."
Since the rough start, Stockdale has scored more than 40 points in three of four games and taken out three Division I teams in Clovis-Buchanan, Centennial and Liberty. Against the Patriots, Stockdale (5-3, 3-0 SWYL) fell behind 17-0 and then scored the final 35 points of the game in a microcosm of the Mustangs' season.
"The team has matured," Snow said. "Obviously we're playing better, but it really showed what the character of our team is.
"We didn't panic."
Frontier’s task was different. The Titans were 1-3, but those three losses came to Lompoc, Moorpark and Clovis North — three teams that are a combined 23-1 heading into tonight.
“We felt like we could play with everybody,” Titans coach Rich Cornford said. “It was just a matter of getting over the hump and making plays in the end.”
Frontier (5-3, 3-0) did that last week in forcing five Bakersfield turnovers and scoring 21 straight points to beat the Drillers, 28-21. Now the Titans will try to find a way to slow Stockdale’s D.J. Martin, who comes in with 1,460 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns in the Mustangs’ wing-T offense.
“He’s so strong and powerful, with pretty good speed, too, so you’ve got to get to him before the line of scrimmage,” Cornford said. “If he gets that steamroller going, he’s hard to tackle.”
Same goes for Wasco’s stable of running backs: Isaiah Sharp, Terrance Grinner and Casper Lopez have combined for 2,970 rushing yards and 46 touchdowns, an average of nearly six per game.
Those three, combined with a massive offensive line, have Wasco rolling into Arvin with an 8-0 record. The Tigers’ closest game was a season-opening 52-20 victory over Mira Monte.
“This Wasco team is probably one of the best I’ve seen, not just there, but they compare to the best teams we’ve played in any year,” said Edgar Mares, in his 10th year as Arvin’s coach. “They’re big up front, they have two guys who can move and the defense slides around. They pretty much haven’t left any doubt on the field.”
Same goes for Arvin (6-2, 3-1 South Sequoia League) last week against Shafter. The Bears handed the Generals, who were 6-1 coming in, a 50-6 loss. In doing so, they kept their SSL title hopes alive.
“We all know Shafter’s a tough ballclub, but watching Arvin on film, they’re really big, super tough on defense,” Wasco coach Russ Prado said. “They’re a really, really good team. This is going to be smashmouth football.”
The winner in Arvin and at Frontier will know that another big game awaits next week.
“If you’re playing big games,” Cornford said, “that means you’re doing something right.”
• If both Garces (at East) and Tehachapi (at Foothill) survive road tests this week, they’ll set up a championship in the Southeast Yosemite League next week at Tehachapi.
• If Bakersfield Christian (6-2, 3-1) can beat Taft at home, the Eagles will remain in the SSL hunt with a game left against Arvin.
• Bakersfield (at Centennial) and Liberty (vs. Independence), once considered favorites in the SWYL, are a combined 2-4 in the league and are desperate for wins tonight.