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Shelby Mack / The Californian Angus Bellue and Garces ran right past Golden Valley last week, but the challenge gets much more daunting tonight when the Rams invade Griffith Field to play state No. 5 Bakersfield.

The big, bad Drillers against the private power. Inner-city campus against Catholic school on a hill. Pride against pride. Strength against strength. Power against power.

Why did they stop playing this game again?

Never mind that now. The point is, the Bakersfield vs. Garces rivalry is back at 7:30 tonight on Griffith Field. And stakes could hardly be higher.

Bakersfield is ranked No. 5 in the state by Cal Hi Sports and has its sights on a 36th Central Section title and a CIF state bowl regional berth. The Drillers are also playing in front of one their all-time athletic greats -- Olympic wrestling champion and BHS graduate Jake Varner will do the coin toss with a replica gold medal.

Garces wants to play spoiler, but the Rams have their own designs on a Division II section title. This win would do wonders for them in section and state rankings.

"It's Jake Varner night at Bakersfield High, a game of this magnitude, on TV (Brighthouse Networks is showing the game on tape delay); this is a game of the ages, for us, at least," Garces coach Jim Maples said. "I tell the kids, 'You don't get these kind of opportunities often.' Both teams will be ready to play."They haven't met since 2009, when Bakersfield joined the Southwest Yosemite League and Garces was left behind in the Southeast Yosemite League.

In all, Bakersfield has a 24-9-2 edge in the series, and Garces has won just once -- in 2006 -- in 12 meetings since 1991. But it's a rivalry nonetheless, dating back to the first meeting in 1969, when Joe Harrison threw two touchdown passes to Jim Bowman, and the Rams won a battle of 5-0 teams 21-0, handing Bakersfield its first loss in 15 years at Griffith Field in the process.

"It's awesome for the Driller nation to bring it back," BHS coach Paul Golla said. "Our players didn't understand it, so we brought in (Driller Football Hall of Famers) Pat Skrable and coach (Pat) Preston and longtime Foothill coach) Ned Permenter. They were telling our guys what this is about . This is a huge game, tradition-wise."

Now, after a two-year hiatus, one of Kern County's most storied series is back. And there are stars on both sides ready to write their name into rivalry lore.

Garces (2-0), which has used a new spread offense to great effectiveness so far, features Cruise Adams (626 passing yards) and two receivers, Angus Bellue and Jake Sweaney, who have gone over 150 yards in individual games.

Bakersfield counters with a fast front seven and a secondary that has two players with Division I college offers, cornerbacks Jermaine Ervin and Kevin Hayes, plus promising sophomore safety Marcus Bruce.

"They are excited that we get to play a spread team," Golla said. "Those guys get to go out and play some seven-on-seven."

And don't forget BHS' triple-option attack with a bevy of capable backs. Kyle Pope is out for 3-6 weeks with torn cartilage in his ribcage, but seven other players have scored a rushing touchdown in the Drillers' first two games, including quarterback Asauni Rufus, who has rushed for 205 yards and thrown for 154.

"The first thing you have to control is that quarterback," Maples said. "When you've got a guy who can throw it and run with all that speed, it's a very daunting task."

If Bakersfield wins, it'll be another mile down on the long road to a possible section title or state bowl berth. After last week's trip to Southern California to play former Arizona state champion GlendaleCactus, the Drillers play at Long-Beach Poly next week in a matchup of the state's most winning programs.

"This could easily be a trap game," Golla said. "You look at Long Beach-Poly and how big of a game that is, but the one thing I think we've done a good job of is putting this game where it needs to be.

"This is a huge rival game. This is, traditionally, our biggest game."

But true to the spirit of this series, Garces isn't giving anything away the other sideline.

"If we pull off the huge upset, the David vs. Goliath, it would serve wonders for this program," Maples said. "We like to think this is a program on the rise, and when you beat teams like BHS, it can only attract other kids that would like to go to Garces. It would be tremendous for our program."

Other area teams also have a chance for a statement win tonight. Frontier welcomes in Moorpark, a 2011 playoff team in the state's toughest division, the Southern Section Pac-5. Stockdale travels to Inglewood and Centennial to Clovis. Liberty, which lost a 10-9 nail-biter to Fresno-Central last week, will try to rebound in Tehachapi, and South (1-0) hosts Arvin (2-0).