Sam Tobias Field will be full to the brim for tonight's Central Section Division II football championship between Sanger and host Garces, but it's the one missing fan that will drive Dominic Frasch.
The Garces junior is one of many reasons the Rams' high-powered offense has scored 73 and 61 points in its first two playoff games; he's been clocked under 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
One of the people who knew this best is gone now: Merlin Frasch, Dominic's grandfather, was omnipresent when his grandchildren were playing, be it youth soccer for Dominic, high school tennis for sister Tessa or the section football playoffs.
"He never missed a game," Dominic Frasch said. "He came every time."
But two weeks ago, the night Garces beat Kingsburg 73-14 in the Division II quarterfinals, Merlin Frasch died of heart failure.
"It's a blessing in disguise," Dominic Frasch said. “He’s got a better seat now. I can feel him helping. He’s like a guardian angel for me.”
Garces coach Jim Maples said it’s been bittersweet.
“For the Frasch family, our hearts are heavy,” Maples said. “But it’s a great opportunity for Dom to play tribute to his grandpa. I think he’ll have a whale of a game.”
Maples, incidentally, thinks that’s true of Garces (11-1) as a whole. The Rams, who host the title game at 7 p.m., haven’t lost since Bakersfield scored twice late to nip them 34-24 in Week 2, and their average margin of victory since has been 39.7 points.
“If we play our game, I truly believe we can beat anybody in the state in Division II,” Maples said. “I have that kind of faith and confidence in these guys.
“I think we’re playing even better than we have all year. Just in talking to (assistant) coaches to finalize our gameplan, you can see the improvement of different guys each week.”
Of course, Sanger (10-2) represents one of the Rams’ toughest opponents, particularly on defense.
The Apaches, after beating Visalia-Redwood 17-14 in the quarterfinals, hammered West High 41-7 in the semifinals.
“They’ve got a strong defense; we know that,” Frasch said.
The key will be whether Sanger can account for all of Garces’ weapons: Quarterback Cruise Adams set single-season school passing records in yards and touchdowns, and he has the option of handing off to Frasch or sophomore Sheldon Croney, or throwing to Angus Bellue or Jake Sweaney. All have shown the ability to bust big plays.
If Garces does win, it will be the school’s first D-II section title and first overall since 2006.
“It’s been a tremendous honor to coach these kids,” Maples said. “Winning the first Division II championship at Garces would be a dream come true.”
For Frasch, it would be even more: One more chance to honor grandpa.
“Having that ring, thinking about all we went through as a family, that would be great,” Frasch said.
Three other locals go for gold
Bakersfield Christian coach Jerald Pierucci got some advice from an unlikely source Thursday night: His 6-year-old daughter drawing up plays for the Eagles to use against Wasco in tonight’s Divsion IV championship game.
The result is a swiggly thing of beauty that would make the Little Giants proud. Then again, Pierucci is willing to consider just about anything when it comes to beating Wasco (12-0), which thumped BCHS 49-0 in the teams’ first meeting.
“Their offensive front seven — because, really, they have seven offensive linemen — is so dominant,” Pierucci said. “I don’t know if they could last the war of attrition of a full season in the SWYL, but for one or two weeks, they could go toe-to-toe with anybody in the city. They’re that good.”
Wasco, meanwhile, is gearing up for the school’s third section title — and the first since 1953. If the Tigers complete the undefeated season, they would garner strong consideration for a CIF regional bowl game selection Sunday.
“But we’re not allowed to talk about that,” Wasco coach Russell Prado said. “We have BCHS this week, and that’s all we can control. That’s all we’re thinking about. We can’t have any distractions.”
Wasco’s single-minded focus on its wing-T rushing attack has resulted in 5,488 rushing yards with an average of 10.9 per carry. That includes 2,317 yards and 34 touchdowns from sophomore Isaiah Sharp.
It’s a far cry from when Prado took the job, in 2007. In the six previous years, Wasco was 21-40, with one playoff appearance. After starting with two losing seasons, Prado, now in his sixth year, has a 48-20 mark, including 23-2 the past two seasons.
“When I first interviewed, I said it was going to take three or four years,” Prado said. “You know me, I always hang my hat on the weight room, and I said it would take three or four years of hard, hard work. But I knew if (athletic director Raul) Rangel would give me a shot to take some bumps and bruises along the way, we could get here.”
Not that BCHS (10-2) is conceding anything. Pierucci said BCHS’ performance in the teams’ first meeting was marred by turnovers, an injury to 1,000-yard running back Matt Smith and a lack of confidence.
The latter two issues have been resolved, with Smith healthy and the Eagles flying high after winning 7-0 at Tulare-Mission Oak in the semifinals.
“It was a shot in the arm to our kids,” Pierucci said. “When you had no success against big teams, like we hadn’t against Ontario Christian and Wasco, beating a team like Mission Oak was huge.
“These guys were just as big as Wasco’s guys, so it was like, ‘What are we afraid of?’ I really feel like it’s going to be a good game. It’s not going to be like it was last time, I know that.”
Meanwhile, in Division III, top seed Ridgeview (10-2) shoots for the first section title in school history against No. 2 seed Dinuba (11-1).
The Wolf Pack escaped Independence 30-28 last week with a blocked punt, field goal and interception in the final 19 seconds. Now they can attempt to reverse a heartbreaking loss, 41-34 to Kingsburg in last year’s D-III final.
Wolf Pack coach Dennis Manning could not be reached for comment. Dinuba, which lost as the No. 1 seed in the D-III semifinals a year ago, won the 2009 championship in the division.