It's not a full week, but that doesn't make picks any easier. A couple of losses ruins my percentage for the whole week, and there are lots of sneaky tough games to pick.
First, a look back at a mostly solid Week 4:
The good: I believe for the first time in my career, I nailed the exact score of a game: Wasco 56, East 17. I also came close on Santa Barbara over Centennial, Bakersfield over Buchanan and Golden Valley over North.
The bad: Margin was waaaay off on Garces over Stockdale, which I thought would be a close game. I gave Ridgeview lots of love and a chance to scare Liberty, but I didn't pull the trigger on what turned out to be a big Wolf Pack win.
The ugly: Taft has made me look bad two weeks in a row, this time almost flipping the score I predicted as an Arvin victory. And yet another big Southern Section snafu — Maricopa scored 86 points when I picked them to lose.
Friday, Sept. 28
TULARE UNION (1-3) AT CENTENNIAL (1-3) — Two programs who aren't used to having that kind of a record next to their names meet with one more chance for a big Division I win before league play begins. The game might be more cruicial for the Redskins, who won't play another D-I team and risk being the bottom seed in the playoffs if they lose here (and play in the postseason at all). Centennial at least has other chances for big wins in the SWYL, but there's no doubt the Golden Hawks are desperate for something good to happen, too. They were competitive up at Clovis and really should have won at Santa Barbara last week before a late turnover proved costly. That's the kind of growing pain you'd expect from a young team, but at some point the "pain" needs to stop and the "growing" needs to start. That time might be arriving for the Golden Hawks. Back at home against a team that has given up at least 28 points in every game thus far, Centennial should turn a corner and get the big Division I win it needs headed into the SWYL.
Prediction: Centennial 38, Tulare Union 17
CLOVIS-BUCHANAN (2-2) AT STOCKDALE (1-3) — This is another matchup that will go a long way towards determining who's at home and who's on the road in the first round of the D-I playoffs. On the other hand, remember that Stockdale has a school policy with little wiggle room that its teams must be .500 to play in the postseason. Lose this one, and the Mustangs are 1-4. Anyone think they can go 4-1 in the SWYL? Me neither. That makes this all but a must-win for Stockdale. And as hopeful as I was after the Clovis loss — the team looked genuinely dangerous but couldn't stay out of its own way — I was very unimpressed with how the Mustangs responded when things went against them at Garces. The body language was bad, the tackling was bad and the rest of the game was worse. That said, Buchanan is not a good defensive team. If there's ever a moment the Mustangs are going to circle the wagons, this is it. Give Stockdale a rebound win and a glimmer of hope.
Prediction: Stockdale 31, Buchanan 28
EAST (0-4) AT INDEPENDENCE (3-1) — While several Bakersfield teams — particularly in the SWYL — have beefed up their schedule and let their record suffer for the sake of testing themselves, Independence has done the opposite. And it's worked out just the way the Falcons wanted. After a hard-fought loss to Ridgeview in its opener, Independence has rolled past McLane, Highland and Mira Monte and should do the same to East here. The result is a boost of confidence for the Falcons and likely a 4-1 non-league record that, even if Indy has another winless SWYL season, should result in a decent Division III seed. As for the Blades, they have been hard-luck losers in close games a couple of times already this year, but they won't be close enough to be a factor here.
Prediction: Independence 45, East 17
SHAFTER (5-0, 1-0 SSL) AT TAFT (2-3, 1-0) — Here's how well the Generals' season has gone: They reached coach Ricky Ishida's minimum expectation of 5-5 last week — and nobody noticed. All of the talk about Shafter has shifted to the possibility of the Generals being undefeated deep into the season, possibly as deep as the Week 10 trip to rival Wasco. It's a tantalizing thought, but here's where things start to get tricky: After a shootout loss to Golden Valley and two blowouts, Taft has righted the ship in a big way with road wins at Corcoran and Arvin. Now the Wildcats return home to what should be a big crowd ready to knock off the undefeated Generals. That's the type of atmosphere that breeds upsets, but I've developed quite a bit of faith in Shafter, especially on offense — and I still have question marks about Taft's D, even after back-to-back solid efforts. Shafter will score enough to win and guarantee the program's first winning season since 2006, when it also started 6-0.
Prediction: Shafter 37, Taft 27
KENNEDY (2-3, 0-1 SSL) AT BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN (3-1, 1-0) — Thunderbirds coach Shawn Austin got the seemingly hard part out of the way, getting Kennedy the first win — and now the second — in school history. But now he's got to settle in for the slog of trying to get Kennedy competitive in the SSL, which is going to prove even tougher. Shafter's re-tooled offense lit up Kennedy last week, and Bakersfield Christian has even more weapons. Running back Matt Smith, who had been averaging more than 200 yards a game, "settled" for 122 last week, ceding the spotlight to Hayden Kuchta, who caught seven passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns as quarterback Jake Thompson finished 15-of-23 for 215 yards and three scores. The Thunderbirds aren't a punchline anymore, but they also have no hope of slowing down this offense for four quarters.
Prediction: Bakersfield Christian 54, Kennedy 14
CHAVEZ (3-2, 0-1 SSL) AT WASCO (4-0, 0-0) — Even with the rise of Shafter and Arvin in the first half of the season and a good start for BCHS, there's no reason to differentiate from the coaches' preseason poll in the SSL, which declared Wasco a unanimous favorite. The Tigers have looked the part in blowing through four overmatched non-league opponents (and that includes a couple from higher divisions, by the way). Now begins the grind of league play. Wasco's schedule is back-loaded; the Tigers get both Delano schools first, which means they should be an easy 6-0 before dealing with the remainder of the old SSL. Chavez has a solid defense, but even including last week's game against Matt Smith and BCHS, the Titans haven't seen anything like this rushing offense.
Prediction: Wasco 49, Chavez 13
TEHACHAPI (3-1) AT WEST (2-2) — This is an interesting road test for Tehachapi, which hasn't looked dominating at any point this year but continues to win games against teams it should beat. This qualifies as another one of those. West can be tricky, but remember that the Warriors have practice day in and day out against a wing-T team with significantly more experience than the Vikings have accrued in half a season under Mark Camps. It's a testament to Tehachapi's program that they have a good chance to be 8-1 with Garces coming to town in Week 10 in what most have considered a "down year" on the mountain.
Prediction: Tehachapi 31, West 14
FRESNO-WASHINGTON UNION (0-4) AT RIDGEVIEW (3-2) — Before the season started, this looked like it very well could be the marquee matchup of the week, but Washington Union, a year after winning a state bowl championship in Division III is 0-4 with a couple of lopsided losses included. The Panthers are up in D-III for the section now, and Ridgeview appears to be the cream of that crop. The Wolf Pack's running game will roll, and the defense will do the rest. One of the few section teams that hasn't had a bye yet will move to 4-2 with four SYL games between them and likely the top seed in D-III.
Prediction: Ridgeview 38, Washington Union 13
GOLDEN VALLEY (2-3) AT FOOTHILL (1-3) — If you're looking for a competitive game, this is probably your best bet. Both teams have looked good at times (Golden Valley rolling over North and winning at Taft, Foothill sticking with Arvin and beating up on Mira Monte late) and pretty bad at others (GV vs. Highland, Foothill last week vs. South), so this one is really difficult to project. I'm going to go with the Bulldogs because I like the idea of an explosive offense (Alex Soto, Demetric Fair, et al) changing a game more than a methodical one (Brandon Fanning), and because GV seems to be trending up while Foothill struggled last week.
Prediction: Golden Valley 28, Foothill 24
HIGHLAND (1-3) AT MIRA MONTE (2-3) — Who knows if the trend will continue, but right now, when you look at Highland's results, the victory over Golden Valley sticks out like a sore thumb. Were the Bulldogs just off that week? Is Highland capable of playing that way more often? Or are the Scots going to be offensively challenged all year long? Lots of questions. More answers coming in this one. Mira Monte has its share of questions, too, but the Lions' outlier is a 26-6 loss to Foothill in which the Lions lost four ejected starters when they were down just 7-6. From that perspective, I'll take the home team and see what happens.
Prediction: Mira Monte 24, Highland 14
NORTH (0-4) AT SOUTH (3-1) — The Rebels have flown under the radar, but they're one late touchdown conceded against Arvin from being 4-0. They'll be heavily favored to win the Civil War Sword, too, and so South should be 4-1 heading into the SYL, where they'll likely be favored in every game except against Ridgeview. I'm extrapolating here, but we could be talking 8-2 record (a game against Bakersfield Christian is also tough, so maybe 7-3) and a pretty good seed in Division III. South has to be counted among the season's most pleasant surprises. North, on the other hand, is one of the most unpleasant. South's defense is way too good to lose this one.
Prediction: South 42, North 6
DINUBA (4-1) AT DELANO (3-1) — This is the second great out-of-Bakersfield game of the week, with Shafter-Taft being the other. This actually turns into a huge game for Division III seeding purposes, also. Delano's East Yosemite League schedule is tough, but of the other contenders in the league, only Porterville is the only D-III team. So a win here would go a long way towards securing a nice seed for the Tigers. Dinuba is tough, though, with a 10-0 season last year and solid wins over Madera and Porterville already. The Emperors' balanced offense, behind quarterback Marcus McMaryion and running back Michael Wright, reminds me too much of Liberty's to pick Delano here. Remember, the Patriots sliced and diced the Tigers in Week 0.
Prediction: Dinuba 31, Delano 17
AVENAL (4-1) AT McFARLAND (0-4) — The records here don't indicate that these teams are actually somewhat evenly matched — the Cougars' schedule has been significantly tougher — but until McFarland competes for four quarters in a game, I'm not going to pick them. The Buccaneers have learned how to win, even if it's against bad teams, and they'll pick up another win here.
Prediction: Avenal 28, McFarland 13
L.A.-RIBET ACADEMY (5-0) AT FRAZIER MOUNTAIN (3-1) — The Fighting Frogs (ribbit, Ribet, get it?) are one of the state's great turnaround stories, going from 1-8 to 5-0 in the early season. Right up there with Shafter. However, Frazier Mountain has its own turnaround going, and the Falcons are easily the toughest team Ribet has played so far. I'm going with Frazier at home to improve to 4-1. Playoffs are a distinct possibility for this team just two years after the El Tejon School District basically waived funding for the football program.
Prediction: Frazier Mountain 28, Ribet Academy 21
PANORAMA CITY-STE. GENEVIEVE (3-1) AT CALIFORNIA CITY (2-2) — Speaking of the best opponents a team has faced, Ste. Genevieve qualifies as that for Cal City, which has gone 2-2 against a slate that doesn't yet include a winning team. The Ravens' 45-20 loss to La Quinta last week was especially troubling, considering the Aztecs had scored 54 points in three combined games before that. Cal City is a young program on the rise, but it might just be hitting a speed bump this year.
Prediction: Ste. Genevieve 44, California City 27
YERMO-SILVER VALLEY (2-3) AT KERN VALLEY (2-2) — An interesting non-league slate for the Broncs had them playing traditional desert powerhouse Boron and big school Morro Bay — and pairing those toughies with games against also-rans McFarland and Mammoth. Silver Valley is much closer to the latter category than the former, which means Kern Valley — one of four High Desert League teams that came into this week 2-2 — should head into league play with a winning record.
Prediction: Kern Valley 34, Silver Valley 17
PALOS VERDES PENINSULA-CHADWICK (3-1) AT ROSAMOND (2-2) — For a downtrodden Roadrunners program, this season has been a bit like Kennedy's: They've taken a step up this year in that they're able to beat some of the worst teams in the area, but competing with everyone else will take more time. Chadwick isn't great, but I'm thinking it's a step ahead of where the Roadrunners are at this point. HDL play will be interesting for the first time in years in Rosamond, though.
Prediction: Chadwick 30, Rosamond 19
MAMMOTH LAKES-MAMMOTH (1-4, 1-0 DML) AT BORON (4-1, 1-0) — My initial thought when I saw this game was that it sure seems like Boron has been home a lot (and yep, confirmed: The Bobcats are in their friendly confines for the fifth time in six games). My second thought is that this has a good chance to be among the most lopsided battles for first place in the state this year. Mammoth got to play Desert Mountain League newbie Riverside Prep in its first league game and won in a rout, but with Mojave out of the way and Desert Christian having a down year, there's no one to stop Boron from walking all over the DML.
Prediction: Boron 48, Mammoth 7
Saturday, Sept. 29
NORTHWEST CHRISTIAN (3-1) AT ALPAUGH (1-3) — This is the first of two meetings between the Central Sierra League-mates. This one won't count in the standings, which makes you wonder how of a gameplan either team will unveil. Could be like the 8-man football version of the NFL preseason. Whether that's the case or not, Northwest Christian has been really hot since its season-opening loss to Mojave, and the Guardians will be good enough up front to push around Alpaugh without giving away too much for the meeting that counts on Oct. 19.
Prediction: Northwest Christian 67, Alpaugh 17
MOJAVE (3-1) AT SYLMAR-CONCORDIA (0-4) — Mojave's best performance since the opening win over Northwest Christian came last week in a really good win over Calvary Chapel of Downey. Safe to say Concordia isn't as much of a challenge, so if the Mustangs can avoid a letdown and deal with the 2 p.m. start time, they'll be fine.
Prediction: Mojave 55, Concordia 21
TRONA (1-2) AT IMMANUEL CHRISTIAN (0-4) — Bad news for the Crusaders: They've started 0-4, with only one of those games being competitive. Good news: The Hi-Lo League presents several opportunities to win some games and even a chance to get into the 8-man Southern Section Division II playoffs. Bad news again: Trona is probably the class of the league (which has a collective 2-15 record). Immanuel Christian's first win will have to wait.
Prediction: Trona 45, Immanuel Christian 21
Last week: 19-4 (.826)
This year: 93-25 (.788)