Sweet redemption for Kevin Hayes came in the form of a knockout punch for Centennial.
Minutes after dropping a sure touchdown pass, Hayes returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown with just three seconds left in the first half, sparking Bakersfield's 54-7 rout of Centennial on Friday at Griffith Field.
"I dropped that touchdown, and I had to make up for it somehow," Hayes said. "After that, it just felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders."
It also felt like the game was decided. Hayes' pick-six finished a 20-0 flurry for Bakersfield (7-2, 4-0 Southwest Yosemite League) that turned a close game into a 33-7 rout.
"Throwing the pick-six was huge," said Centennial coach Kevin Sneed, who coached even though he has had chemotherapy all week to treat throat cancer. "That was gigantic. It was kind of a knockout punch."
The teams traded touchdowns in the first quarter, with Centennial (5-4, 2-2) tying the game on Andrew Hansen's 1-yard keeper, and Bakersfield led just 13-7 into the final minutes of the half.
But then came this set of body blows:
* A 20-yard keeper from Bakersfield quarterback Asauni Rufus on third down, followed two plays later by Marcus Bruce's 26-yard touchdown run with 2:06 left in the half.
* A Centennial three-and-out. 1:34 left in the half.
* A three-play, 45-yard drive from the Drillers, with Rufus hitting Jeremiah Reddick for a 12-yard touchdown pass and a 26-7 lead with 1:02 left.
* Hayes' interception, which came at the BHS 40-yard line and went the other way in a hurry.
"We started moving the ball, spreading them out," Bakersfield coach Paul Golla said. "We just got some quick strikes and quick scores. And then Kevin is just silly."
Bakersfield kept rolling in the second half, with Rufus tacking on touchdown runs of 3 and 79 yards to make it 47-7. At that point, the clock started running and the Drillers emptied their bench.
In all, Rufus was 10-of-11 passing -- the only incompletion was Hayes' drop -- for 156 yards and a touchdown, and he ran 11 times for 134 yards and three more scores.
Rufus went over 1,100 yards rushing on the season, but Friday he proved the Drillers can throw when necessary, too.
"A lot of people don't think we can throw, just because we don't," said Rufus, who this week gave Nevada a verbal commitment to play safety. "We silenced the doubters."
Hayes caught five passes for 84 yards for BHS, which clinched a share of the SWYL title. The Drillers can win the title outright -- and likely lock up no worse than a No. 2 seed -- when they play Stockdale (3-1 SWYL) at home next week. Bakersfield is ranked 18th in the state by Cal Hi Sports, and its two losses are to top-15 teams Westlake Village-Oaks Christian and Long Beach-Poly.
"The playoffs are very close," Golla said. "We told the kids, our days with each other are limited, so we've got to come Monday and have an unbelievable practice. With our strength of schedule, and with the way we've taken care of business, we'd love to be home here at Griff in the playoffs."
Brandon Robinson, a sophomore, ran for 116 yards for Centennial. It was his sixth game over 100 yards this season; the other five all came in victories.
"They're ranked in the state for a reason," Sneed said. "That's a very good team, and they deserve the accolades they get."