As Bakersfield wound down its 35-13 victory over Wasco on Friday night at Griffith Field, players from both teams began to have the same thought.
This just might have been one of the state's best big-school teams against one of the state's best small-school teams.
"We were saying to each other, 'Good luck, go win state,'" Bakersfield quarterback Asauni Rufus said. "Hey, if we both win, the county wins. We're rooting for each other now."
This one was a physical, surpisingly defensive affair played by normally explosive offenses. In the end, big plays made the difference.
The Drillers (1-1), coming off a 51-50 loss at Westlake Village-Oaks Christian, struck for three big plays in the first half. Rufus hit Johnathan Malone for a 46-yard touchdown pass, handed off to Malone for a 62-yard score and then scampered 55 yards for his own rushing touchdown.
Malone touched the ball twice in the first half and went for a total of 108 yards and two touchdowns -- without being touched.
"When I get that good blocking from the offensive line, I feel like I can do something with the ball," Malone said. "They played us really physical. They hit us in the mouth, but we hit them back."
Rufus finished 7-of-9 passing for 161 yards and two touchdowns, and he added 72 yards and a TD on the ground. Kevin Hayes caught four passes for 73 yards and a second-half touchdown, and Derrick Vickers had 88 yards on just six carries, including a 54-yard scoring run up the left sideline that put the exclamation point on Bakersfield's victory early in the fourth quarter.
"That's my job: Get it my guys," Rufus said. "My job is easy after that. I have the best seat in the house."
Junior running back Isaiah Sharp led Wasco with 119 yards on 19 carries, but he played only two snaps in the second half because of leg cramps. Several other Tigers battled cramps in the second half, too.
"We asked a lot of our guys," Wasco coach Rusvel Prado said. "A lot of them go both ways, special teams, they play every snap. I should have conditioned them better; that falls on me. But they fought for four quarters, and I'm proud of them."
Wasco cut Bakersfield's lead to 14-7 on Sharp's 4-yard run midway through the second quarter, and the Tigers added a late score when Austin Sutton completed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Grinner.
But in between, Wasco lost a fumble and turned the ball over on downs three times, including twice inside the Bakersfield 20-yard line.
In all, it was an admirable effort from a Division IV school that had won 14 straight games but hadn't played an opponent near this caliber.
"Hey, we're disappointed," Prado said. "We don't accept losing at Wasco, ever. That's a great team over there, but we don't believe in moral victories. You play a team like BHS, and you see really quick where you're weak."
Depth turned out to be the major difference in the teams, and Bakersfield coach Paul Golla said that was his hope.
"We play some guys both ways, but we have the luxury of subbing sometimes on offense," Golla said. "We thought if we ran a high-tempo offense, that was our gameplan. We thought we could be close and then kind of win it at the end."
Bakersfield's state bowl hopes took a hit when Long Beach-Poly, ranked in the state's top 10, lost 31-24 to Anaheim-Servite. Poly travels to Bakersfield in two weeks, and the Drillers were hoping for a shot at a signature win.
But for now, they'll take this: A convincing victory over a team that hasn't lost in a long time and might not again.
"That's a really good team," Golla said. "That offense is tough, and you don't see it very often. I have mixed emotions. I'm glad to get a win, but man, that was a tough game."