Lots of enticing games this week and lots of tough predictions ahead. Better get down to it after a so-so Week 2.
Speaking of Week 2...
The good: Garces gave Bakersfield a tougher game than most expected, though my 48-28 wasn't too far off from the 34-24 final. Picking Mira Monte close over East was nice, as was coming close to nailing the Clovis-over-Centennial final.
The bad: My head told me to take Liberty by more than 8, but I felt nervous about picking on Tehachapi. Should have done it anyway. Also had the Arvin-South score flipped and was waaaay off on the West-over-North and Stockdale-over-Inglewood margins.
The ugly: Two of my uglier picks of the whole year: Golden Valley to rout Highland — and the Scots won — and Cuyama Valley big over Northwest Christian. Instead, the Guardians won by 50. Whoops.
Friday, Sept. 14
CLOVIS (3-0) AT STOCKDALE (1-1) — Basically from the moment the game was announced until last Friday night, I thought I'd be headed to Long Beach to cover the Bakersfield-Poly game between California's most winning programs. But Poly's lopsided loss to Narbonne last week has made me think twice, and there are plenty of other games to pick from. This one is at the top of the list — it's a rematch of the highly anticipated game last year that turned into a dud when D.J. Martin was declared ineligible and Clovis ran all over the Mustangs. It'll be closer this year, no doubt about it, and not least because Martin should be prominently featured. Still, I worry about Stockdale's ability to move the ball consistently against a very, very good front seven if it can't pass. A Stockdale victory wouldn't shock me, but like last year's initial pick, I'm going with the Cougars and their defense.
Prediction: Clovis 24, Stockdale 20
BAKERSFIELD (3-0) AT LONG BEACH-POLY (1-2) — The Drillers have gone from being the Central Section outsider in this series to the fairly uncomfortable position of being the decided favorites. I say uncomfortable because there's no way Bakersfield can take this game lightly and survive it. The Jackrabbits are down — two losses in three games, including a 56-0 beatodwn, is the kind of stuff that just isn't seen at Poly, ever (kind of like Bakersfield, come to think of it) — but they still have more talent and speed than most anyone, and they're capable of busting a couple of big plays early like they did against the Drillers in 2010. That year's team fell behind 14-0 in Long Beach before the game was a minute old, and they never made up that gap in a 42-28 defeat. This year's squad, however, has more experience, guile and talent. Poly will be angry after last week, but if Bakersfield takes the Jackrabbits' first shot and survives it, Poly could get down on itself. Expect a few big plays on both sides, but the Drillers will come home 4-0.
Prediction: Bakersfield 49, Poly 27
FRONTIER (1-2) AT CLOVIS NORTH (3-0) — Like Stockdale-Clovis, this was a Week 3 game last year — but just about any game in Bakersfield that Friday got postponed or, like this one, altogether cancelled because of excessive lightning. Remember that? It wiped out a huge Division II seeding battle (this was before Frontier had started its skid in close games). This year, it's a D-I seeding battle. Clovis North has positioned itself as at least one of the three favorites in the TRAC, if not the favorite over Central and Clovis. If that's the case, the Broncos need to take care of business here to guarantee a top-two seed. Considering that Clovis North beat up on Atwater-Buhach Colony, which hadn't lost a regular-season game in two years, last week without a few starters, they seem like a good bet to defend home turf here. Frontier has been close against two good teams in the past two weeks, but this feels like another moral victory. At some point the Titans are going to get really tired of those against a brutally tough schedule.
Prediction: Clovis North 28, Frontier 20
CLOVIS-BUCHANAN (2-0) AT LIBERTY (2-1) — And here's the third SWYL-TRAC battle. This is the weekend that will be discussed very heavily when the seeding committee meets in Porterville on Nov. 3. And of the three, this is the one the SWYL has the best chance to win. The Patriots have played three solid games in a row, including a one-point loss to Central that was just a mistake or two away from being a win that would have propelled Liberty into the discussion for a No. 1 seed itself. If Liberty plays that way again, I don't think Buchanan has the experience or the depth to win on the road, particularly because the Patriots have added a dangerous passing game to their arsenal. Quarterback Josh Medina was 13-of-14 for 179 yards and three touchdowns last week in Tehachapi, and senior Kenny Davis has developed into one of the section's best receivers.
Prediction: Liberty 31, Buchanan 21
INDEPENDENCE (1-1) AT HIGHLAND (1-2) — A week ago, this wouldn't have been much of a discussion. Highland hadn't done much against lower-division teams, and now they had to face a Division III squad in Independence that was used to facing the SWYL. But last week changed all of that. The Scots came up with a huge win at Golden Valley, scoring the winning touchdown in the final minute and picking up an emotional boost on their way to this one, which, by the way, Highland won last year. Still, I don't see the Scots getting such an emotional boost that they'll run past the Falcons. Highland is still a young team, and though it's improving, it'll be prone to fluctuations in level of play. This won't be a blowout, but Independence wins comfortably.
Prediction: Independence 33, Highland 17
NEWHALL-HART (1-1) AT RIDGEVIEW (2-1) — The Wolf Pack has done a fine job taking care of business since its ugly four-turnover loss at Frontier in the season opener, but that was against Independence and Foothill. Neither are walkovers, but neither are at the level of Frontier or Hart, either, particuarly up front. Ridgeview's biggest issue against Frontier — besides turnovers, of course — was getting a consistent push on the offensive and defensive lines. This is a team with a lot of weapons, Kamari Cotton-Moya first and foremost, but it's going to have trouble gaining leverage and open space in this one. Such are the breaks with a tougher schedule.
Prediction: Hart 27, Ridgeview 14
ARVIN (3-0) AT TEHACHAPI (2-1) — At the middle of the Bears' 3-0 start has been their fourth-quarter prowess. They've out-scored their three opponents 33-8 in the final period, including a tie-breaking touchdown against South last week that really makes you think about Arvin as a legitimate SSL and Division IV section title contender. Here's the flip side: The result of all of these rallies is three victories by a total of 15 points, and Arvin hasn't really played a powerhouse yet. Tehachapi isn't its usual self, at least not yet, but the Warriors certainly have more pedigree than any of the Bears' opponents thus far. Combine that with one of the section's best home-field advantages and what should be a fired-up Tehachapi team after last week's beatdown from Liberty, and I think Arvin is looking at its first loss here.
Prediction: Tehachapi 28, Arvin 21
WASCO (2-0) AT GOLDEN VALLEY (1-2) — For a Golden Valley team that has given up season-high point totals and yardage totals to each of its three opponents — Taft, Garces and Highland — the sight of Wasco on the schedule can't be a welcome sight. That's especially true considering the Bulldogs are blessed with a lot of girth up front, and the Tigers most certainly are. If GV doesn't find a way to make a lot of plays in the backfield and/or force a lot of turnovers, Wasco could run for 500 yards in this one. That's how powerful and efficient this running game is. Golden Valley likely will find itself in another shootout, but that's potentially bad news, too, because the Bulldogs have been really turnover-prone. Wasco will pull away.
Prediction: Wasco 55, Golden Valley 28
SOUTH (1-1) AT EAST (0-2) — This feels like a bigger game than the records woudl indicate — South easily could be 2-0 with a nice win against Arvin, but the Rebels made too many mistakes last week. East, meanwhile, could be 2-0 but blew fourth-quarter leads at both West and Mira Monte. That's painful for a team that excelled at winning the close ones a year ago. So what gives here? I think South's defensive front seven will get enough pressure on East quarterback Marcus Rojas to limit opportunities for the Blades' best player, wide receiver Tevin Beasley. On the other side, Eddy Perez knows how to use his weapons in the Rebels' new spread offense. I like South to come up with the goods on the road here.
Prediction: South 34, East 22
FOOTHILL (0-2) AT MIRA MONTE (2-1) — The favorite's role in the Battle for Highway 58 has shifted to the south, with Mira Monte expected to win after playing a good second half against Wasco and taking out North and East in consecutive games while Foothill has struggled in losses to Arvin and Ridgeview. In reality, I think this matchup is actually very even. But I tend to favor the Lions because (a) when in doubt, go with the home team, and (b) I think Cowboy Ruiz and Josh Cantu are capable of a couple of big plays every night. I'm not sure Foothill has that quick-strike ability, despite the emergence of Brandon Fanning as one of Kern County's best running backs. Fanning will churn out another big night, but Mira Monte will answer quickly enough times and then pick up a big stop or turnover in the fourth quarter to become — how about this? — 3-1.
Prediction: Mira Monte 23, Foothill 21
DELANO (1-1) AT NORTH (0-2) — The jury is still very much out on the Tigers: A lopsided loss to Liberty is nothing to be ashamed of, and a 15-0 victory over Chavez might be pretty good, considering the Titans have won their two other games, but neither result exactly confirms that Delano is a Division III contender, either. What we do know is that North is really lost right now. The Stars have been out-scored 95-0 by Mira Monte and West — combined record 3-16 last year — as they try to implement a new offensive system. Nothing will be easy for North from here on out, especially not against a perennially solid program like Delano's.
Prediction: Delano 42, North 0
BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN (1-1) AT EXETER (2-1) — I mentioned early in the season that if BCHS could get by Ontario Christian in Week 0 that the Eagles had a legitimate shot at being 6-0 when they traveled to Wasco in October. But while BCHS has sleep-walked through a 31-7 loss to Ontario Christian and through at least the first half of a 21-0 win against Central Valley Christian, a couple of the other teams on their schedule have picked up a lot of respect. One is Shafter, which BCHS plays right before Wasco. The other is Exeter, which hung tough with Tehachapi and then beat Woodlake and Taft handily. I still think the Eagles have a good season in front of them, but unless a bye week did them a lot of good, they're still priming the engine a little too much to go on the road and win beat Exeter. I'll take the Monarchs in a close one.
Prediction: Exeter 21, Bakersfield Christian 17
LINDSAY (1-1) AT SHAFTER (3-0) — You could argue Arvin, but because I thought the Bears had a chance to be pretty good, I feel safe in saying that no team in Kern County has raised its stock since the beginning of the year more than Shafter. The Generals have gone from SSL afterthought to a team that could challenge for the top seed in the section's Division V playoff bracket. Ricky Ishida's preseason proclamation that a .500 record would be a disappointment suddenly looks prescient. In fact, at this point, barring injuries, anything less than 7-3 might be a disappointment.
Prediction: Shafter 38, Lindsay 14
TAFT (0-3) AT CORCORAN (1-1) — There doesn't appear to be an easy end in sight for Taft's slide — every team left on the schedule has a winning record except 1-1 Bakersfield Christian, and this week's opponent, recent Division V powerhouse Corcoran. Unfortunately for Taft, it's tough to envision a road victory this week — the Panthers have a good home-field advantage, and Taft has scored a total of 13 points in road games the past two weeks.
Prediction: Corcoran 28, Taft 13
CHAVEZ (2-1) AT PORTERVILLE-GRANITE HILLS (0-3) — Last we left Granite Hills, they were getting waxed by Shafter. And the time before that, the Grizzlies were providing Kennedy with the first win in school history. Chavez, meanwhile, hasn't played a world-beater of a schedule but is more than happy to be 2-1 with wins over Roosevelt and Strathmore. Now they'll look for their first road win. Might be a sluggish start for the Titans in their first game outside of Delano, but they're much better than Granite Hills and should pull away.
Prediction: Chavez 33, Granite Hills 10
KENNEDY (2-1) AT HANFORD-SIERRA PACIFIC (0-3) — The Thunderbirds were probably the Central Section's worst team each of the past two years, so new coach Shawn Austin did the smart thing and scheduled some other bottom-feeders to build confidence for his team. It's working, with the most notable evidence being the 2-1 record. But it's also safe to say Kennedy is no longer the section's worst team. That honor might actually belong to this week's opponent, a newer school which plays in Division VI. Sierra Pacific has lost three games by a combined 104-13, and those opponents have combined for just one win otherwise.
Prediction: Kennedy 34, Sierra Pacific 14
McFARLAND (0-2) AT KERN VALLEY (1-2) — It's way too early to tell if the return of Jim Fragoso will improve McFarland's program, but his third tenure at the school has begun with a couple of unimpressive performances. That doesn't inspire any confidence that the Cougars will hang up at Lake Isabella, where Kern Valley could use its own boost. KV, after playing Division IV Southern Section school Morro Bay last week, will reap the benefits this week. McFarland will be smaller and slower, and Kern Valley should roll.
Prediction: Kern Valley 35, McFarland 7
ARCADIA-RIO HONDO PREP (2-1) AT BORON (3-0) — The game of the week among Kern County's Southern Section teams, and there isn't a close second. The Bobcats and Kares have developed quite a rivalry over the past couple of years, with Boron knocking out Rio Hondo in the playoffs two years ago and the Kares returning the favor last year, winning first an overtime game in the regular season and then getting a big road playoff win in Boron en route to a Division XIII section championship. The Bobcats have been rolling through the first three weeks, and they'll have had this one circled on the calendar ever since last Thanksgiving. The playoff meeting could go differently, but I like Boron to make a statement here.
Prediction: Boron 31, Rio Hondo Prep 24
YERMO-SILVER VALLEY (1-2) AT DESERT (2-1) — What a strange season it's been thus far for Desert. After a tight victory over a floundering Vasquez program, the Scorpions blew the doors off a solid Desert Christian team before turning around and losing big to Boron. OK, so that last one isn't so strange. Boron does that to everybody. But for Desert, it's hard to know what to expect. But no matter which Scorpions team shows up, it should be good enough to get past Silver Valley.
Prediction: Desert 47, Silver Valley 16
MAMMOTH LAKES-MAMMOTH (0-3) AT ROSAMOND (1-1) — One of the more difficult games of the week to call here. Rosamond did get its first victory of the year last week, in overtime against Vasquez, but the Roadrunners still aren't the kind of team you'd bet the farm on every week. So in comes an 0-3 Mammoth bunch that has played a pretty difficult schedule — Kern Valley was the easiest opponent — and should be used to playing teams bigger and faster than Rosamond. I'll bite my lip and take the visitors.
Prediction: Mammoth 27, Rosamond 23
BURROUGHS (1-2) AT LANCASTER-ANTELOPE VALLEY (2-0) — Here's another really tough one to call. After a flat performance against Palmdale to open the year, the Burros rebounded to play Tehachapi down to the wire and rout Lancaster. Antelope Valley is somewhere in the middle of all of those teams, so this should be interesting. After the lackluster road performance in Week 0, though, and especially against a higher-division team, I'll have to pick against Burroughs here. Could go either way, though.
Prediction: Antelope Valley 28, Burroughs 24
DOWNEY-CALVARY CHAPEL (2-0) AT MOJAVE (2-1) — So much for the theory that Mojave will spend at least a couple of years as an 8-man powerhouse after moving down from a successful 11-man football program. It ain't that simple, apparently, and the Mustangs even had trouble last week with Chula Vista-Lutheran, which hasn't won a game in two years. That's not true with Calvary Chapel, which has won two games by an average of more than 50 points. Trouble could be brewing for the Mustangs here.
Prediction: Calvary Chapel 45, Mojave 35
Saturday, Sept. 15
FRESNO-SAN JOAQUIN MEMORIAL (1-2) AT GARCES (2-1) — I suppose there's a small possibility of a Garces letdown here, after the Rams played toe-to-toe with Bakersfield last week for 43 minutes, but that's doubtful, considering this is the Holy Bowl and Memorial has handed the Rams painful losses each of the past two seasons in this series. And even if there is, Garces appears to be one of the very best teams in the section, especially in Division II. Memorial is down, having lost its first two games in lopsided fashion to out-of-section teams before beating winless Tulare Western last week. Cruise Adams, Jake Sweaney, Angus Bellue and the Rams' passing offense will hit more big plays here, and Garces will go into next week's biggie with Stockdale with some momentum.
Prediction: Garces 45, Memorial 20
MARICOPA (0-2) AT LOS OLIVOS-DUNN (0-0) — Ah, 8-man football, where scheduling dates are mere suggestions. The Earwigs hav ehad almost a month to ruminate on their awesome nickname since the rest of California started playing football, and now they'll finally get going. Because this is a season opener and unpredicatable 8-man ball to boot, there's no telling how this will go. But based on Maricopa's first two games, both blowout losses, I can't take the Indians.
Prediction: Dunn 35, Maricopa 21
LUCERNE VALLEY (0-2) AT IMMANUEL CHRISTIAN (0-2) — Lucerne Valley is better than it was last year, and it has played a very tough schedule. That leads me to believe it'll win this battle of winless teams. Immanuel Christian won't go winless — Aaron Gage runs too solid of a program for that — but this is a down year, and the search for victory No. 1 goes on for at least another week.
Prediction: Lucerne Valley 42, Immanuel Christian 34
Last week: 18-7 (.720)
This year: 56-14 (.800)