There has been no West High miracle.
No moment of revelation, no star transfer and no one reason for the Vikings' playoff run, which has turned a 4-6 season into a chance at a championship.
No, it's nothing quite so dramatic. Just West High growing and playing a bit better each week under first-year coach Mark Camps.
"I know that's the old cliche, but it really has been one week at a time for us," Camps said. "You can't say you saw this coming, but we're gelling. We just really haven't gotten to big-picture thinking yet."
The big picture is that West is two wins away from turning a miserable 2011 into an improbable Central Section Division II championship. The Vikings, seeded 11th among 11 teams in the D-II playoffs, have already knocked off No. 6 Tehachapi and No. 3 Lemoore. At 7 tonight, they take on No. 2 Sanger in the semifinals.
"It's a blast," Camps said. "But the truth is, we can't really be that forward-thinking. We just wanted to get better, get the guys going in one direction. And that doesn’t happen overnight.”
West had some respectable regular-season results, but most came in losses: The Vikings led South for most of the game only to have the Rebels come back and win; they outscored SWYL champion Frontier in the second half but were too far behind for that to matter; they came up short in the fourth quarter against Porterville and Tehachapi.
“We knew we had players,” defensive back JaVaundre Howington said. “We knew we could be good. I guess we actually just finally did it.”
That’s especially true on defense. After allowing a touchdown on Tehachapi’s opening drive in the first-round game, West has given up just nine points in more than seven quarters.
Camps said that’s partly because of a new coaching staff learning where players fit best. The Vikings moved Howington moved from free safety to cornerback late in the season, and he has thrived. He caused a fumble against Tehachapi and intercepted two Lemoore passes in a 17-3 win.
“My whole high school career I wanted to play corner, but I’ve been playing safety to show (recruiters) I can tackle,” Howington said. “But this is where I want to be.”
Same goes for West, which was 1-8 last season — with the only win coming via forfeit from Stockdale and a 10th game canceled because of lightning. To most players, it felt like 0-10.
“It means a lot, going from 0-10 to the semifinals,” said running back Stanley Dubard, who leads the Vikings with 1,226 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns.
Still, when West reached the playoffs, received its No. 11 seed and saw the tough road ahead, there were no whoops and cheers just for being back in the postseason.
That would be far too big-picture for Mark Camps and his Vikings.
“Coach told us, ‘We’re not coming to the playoffs to be happy,’” said Patrick Marzett, who leads the team in tackles and forced fumbles. “‘We came up to Tehachapi to play hard.’ And we did.”
If West pulls off another upset tonight, it could face top-seed Garces (10-1) in the championship. The Rams, fresh off a 73-14 blasting of Kingsburg, face No. 5 Fresno-Sunnyside in the other Division II semifinal tonight.
Final Four Friday
Five other Kern County teams are one step away from the section championship in their respective divisions, including two who play each other: No. 1 seed Ridgeview and No. 4 Independence in Division III.
The Wolf Pack have won all five meetings between the southwest Bakersfield rivals, but both last year’s playoff meeting — a 28-21 Ridgeview win in the first round — and this year’s regular-season victory were close in the fourth quarter. The Falcons (6-5) already have won their first Southwest Yosemite League game in school history this season; now they’ll try for their first section-title game appearance. Ridgeview (9-2) made the title game last year, only to lose 41-34 to Kingsburg.
The game also is a meeting of two of the section’s best dual-threat quarterbacks: Independence’s Preston Hodges (1,187 yards passing, 1,154 yards rushing, 30 total touchdowns) and Ridgeview’s Kamari Cotton-Moya (1,136 yards passing, 1,776 yards rushing, 35 total touchdowns).
In Division I, eighth-seeded Liberty (7-4) will try to continue its run after stunning top-seed Clovis 25-23 with two fourth-quarter fumble-return touchdowns last week.
Tonight, the Patriots travel to No. 4 Fresno-Central (10-2), which beat Liberty 10-9 back in Week 1.
“I told my kids, ‘These things don’t come around all the time,” Liberty coach Tony Mills said. “There aren’t too many people practicing on Thanksgiving. It’s pretty special for these kids.”
Central struggled in the second half of the teams’ first meeting, hanging on because Liberty missed an extra point and a field goal, but the Grizzlies since have moved the explosive L.J. Moore to quarterback.
“He adds a whole new element to defending them,” Mills said. “He’s a guy that is kind of a home run hitter.”
If Liberty continues its run, it would face either No. 2 Clovis North or No. 6 Fresno-Edison in the D-I championship game.
In Division IV, the section’s only remaining unbeaten, top-seed Wasco (11-0), continues its march against No. 5 Chowchilla (9-3). In the other semifinal, No. 3 Bakersfield Christian (9-2) faces No. 2 Tulare-Mission Oak (9-2).
Wasco, ranked No. 4 in Cal Hi Sports’ Southern California Division III bowl rankings, could earn a spot in the CIF’s Southern Cal regional bowl game if it wins the school’s first section title.
The Tigers reached the championship game last year but lost to eventual state bowl champion Fresno-Washington Union.