Liberty has now been responsible for two of my bigger shocks in five years at the helm of the Californian's prep football coverage: A victory over Centennial in Week 9 of the 2010 season that handed Cody Kessler's seemingly unbeatable crew its first loss, and now this week, when the Patriots became the first team to leave Griffith Field with a win since Clovis-Buchanan did it in 2009.
That's Liberty under Tony Mills: The giant-killers. I'm sure they'd like to be known as giants themselves, but they haven't won enough in the playoffs quite yet. But beating good teams is a good start.
I've caught more flak over my Bakersfield-over-Liberty pick last week than the rest of my predictions this year combined. Which is funny if you think about it, because I can't think of a single person (outside of Liberty's locker room and perhaps group of parents) who actually thought the Patriots were going to win that game. I wasn't picking on Liberty; it's one of those games where the underdog just came up big.
Anyway, I lost that pick, and Bakersfield Christian's comeback on Shafter got me in another big game. But other than that, I was very good in Week 6. We'll see if we can transfer that success to the big games this weekend.
The good: Nailed a close victory for Frontier over Centennial and a good day for the Stockdale running game against Independence. Also hit every game in the SYL and SEYL, though I needed a gutsy South comeback to win that one.
The bad: Two fourth-quarter interceptions and a botched punt led to a 20-0 fourth quarter for Bakersfield Christian, which came back to beat Shafter and my pick.
The ugly: I said Bakersfield's big plays would be the difference, but when the Drillers' two biggest plays were called back by penalties, Liberty rolled and shocked us all.
Friday, Oct. 12
BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN (5-1, 3-0 SSL) AT WASCO (6-0, 2-0) — Last year, this game had a similar buildup — BCHS was unbeaten in league, and Wasco was considered a league favorite — and the Tigers rolled into Bakersfield and posted a rout. A few things have changed, though: (1) Tehachapi is no longer in the league, ensuring that this will be nearly a league championship (Shafter still has a say in Week 10 against Wasco, though with a win here the Tigers are on their way to at least a co-championship). (2) Bakersfield Christian is better, having shown off a tremendous offense for four weeks now and coming back to knock off 6-0 Shafter in a tough road environment last week. (3) BCHS quarterback Jake Thompson, hopefully, won't get hurt on the first drive of the game this time around, like he did last year. The Eagles scored a touchdown on that drive and then didn't score again. Still, it's hard to imagine Wasco's vaunted rushing attack slowing down a whole lot, which means BCHS is going to have be perfect to keep up. And if the Eagles do fall behind, perhaps no team in the Central Section is better equipped to run time off the clock than Wasco — if the runs don't go for 20 yards a pop, like they have been. The Tigers might start slow, because this is by far their best opponent thus far, but once they get rolling, they'll win going away.
Prediction: Wasco 51, Bakersfield Christian 27
LIBERTY (4-2, 1-0 SWYL) AT FRONTIER (3-3, 1-0) — One thing last week's Liberty upset did is make every other game in the SWYL more important, and that's especially true for this one. The winner here is in really good position to win at least a share of the league title (Frontier still has to play at BHS, but even with a loss there could be 4-1; Liberty could be on its way to 5-0 with a win). It's premature to say that in such a good league, but this one certainly feels important. The question is whether Liberty can avoid a letdown after such an enormous win. The week after the Patriots stunned Centennial in 2010, they looked lethargic at Bakersfield, and it would be understandable if they did it again. I don't know, though. I get the feeling this team really circled the wagons after the loss to Ridgeview and is pretty focused here. That doesn't mean Frontier isn't good enough to win, anyway, but it seems like the Patriots just have as complete a team as anyone. Triton Douglas will get his yards, but Liberty will come up with enough big plays on both sides of the ball to get another huge road win.
Prediction: Liberty 28, Frontier 24
STOCKDALE (3-3, 1-0 SWYL) AT CENTENNIAL (2-4, 0-1) — These teams seem to be headed in different directions, but this is actually a pretty good matchup. Centennial, despite some poor results, has actually been pretty good in run defense; Frontier's 219 rushing yards last week were the most given up by the Golden Hawks this year, and that includes games against Mission Viejo and Clovis — and the Titans needed 46 carries to get that. Having said that, Centennial hasn't faced a running game like this yet, nor a running back like D.J. Martin. The surging senior has gone accumulated more than 600 yards in the past two weeks, and he's almost a shoo-in to pop a big one at some point in every game. Centennial's offensive struggles make me think they can't keep up; their only points against Frontier last week came courtesy of a fake-punt run by Andrew Daughtery and a short field set up by another blocked punt. Big special-teams plays are great, but you can't rely on them every week.
Prediction: Stockdale 34, Centennial 20
INDEPENDENCE (4-2, 0-1 SWYL) AT BAKERSFIELD (5-1, 0-1) — From a Bakersfield High perspective, Friday night's loss was the equivalent of all of the air going out of a big home baseball playoff crowd when the visiting team hits a three-run homer. The boisterous Driller faithful are suddenly mute, not sure what happened or how it happened. The good news for Bakersfield players is that they have a whole week to get the taste of their mouths and prepare for a Falcons team that is dangerous but unable to match BHS skill player for skill player. Something tells me we'll see one of Bakersfield's better performances of the season this week, and that's really bad news for Independence.
Prediction: Bakersfield 56, Independence 14
RIDGEVIEW (5-2, 1-0 SYL) AT SOUTH (5-1, 1-0) — Another pivotal league game, this one in the South Yosemite League, which is stronger than you think. So, too, are the Rebels, who stormed back to win 25-24 at West last week and now can start thinking about a really good seed in the Division III playoffs if they can find a way to pull this one off. South will have to get off to a better start, though, and Ridgeview gets Kamari Cotton-Moya back after he missed a week because of a disciplinary suspension. South's defense is athletic, but Ridgeview has proven throughout the year it can run the ball on pretty much anybody, particularly with Cotton-Moya under center. I don't think South is necessarily overmatched here, but I don't think the Rebels offense, which relies on big plays, is consistent enough to chip away at Ridgeview and control the clock. This could be a back-and-forth battle for a while, but eventually the Wolf Pack will score 14 or 17 unanswered points and keep its distance.
Prediction: Ridgeview 38, South 23
WEST (2-4, 0-1 SYL) AT GOLDEN VALLEY (3-3, 0-0) — This is a tricky pick, because while I was impressed with the way the Vikings took it to South for the better part of three quarters last week, but you have to wonder about West's psyche after losing what would have been a big-time win — for the second time this season, with Porterville being the first. Plus, Golden Valley is coming off its bye week, which usually lends players time to heal from nicks and bruises and coaches extra time to plan for the next opponent. That said, I really like where West is headed right now under Mark Camps, and I think Golden Valley struggles defending the run enough to run into some serious trouble if the Bulldogs fall behind. In one of the most competitive games of the night, give me the Vikings by a field goal.
Prediction: West 33, Golden Valley 30
NORTH (0-6, 0-1 SEYL) AT GARCES (5-1, 1-0) — I have a story coming Friday about Foothill's 50th anniversary celebration and a big honor for Trojans coaching legend Ned Permenter, so I had the privilege of sitting down the coach for an hour this afternoon (one reason this post is late, actually). One of the many profound things he said was about North High and its big struggles this season: (paraphrasing) When a team starts to lose game after game, even when they play well and stay in a game, it's always in the back of their heads: How are we going to lose this one? You're just waiting for the axe to fall. Maybe it's a kindness that the axe will fall relatively early in this one. North plays hard, but so does Garces, and the Rams' talent is immense right now.
Prediction: Garces 59, North 0
TEHACHAPI (5-1, 1-0 SEYL) AT HIGHLAND (2-4, 0-1) — Maybe it's because the one loss was so lopsided, or maybe it's because people just expect Tehachapi to have a good record no matter what, but this Warriors team has made its way to 5-1 awfully quietly. This is their third consecutive trip into Bakersfield, and it should be a third straight win. Highland is plucky, but beating Golden Valley and MIra Monte isn't the same as tangling with the mighty Tehachapi wing-T. Keep an eye, too, on the Warriors defense, which seems to be getting more and more opportunistic as the season goes on. Jacob Cross had two picks last week, and Tehachapi set up more points with defense than it did with offense against East. If the Scots want to stick around, they've absolutely got to hang on to the ball and force Tehachapi to go the length of the field.
Prediction: Tehachapi 42, Highland 6
CHAVEZ (3-4, 0-3 SSL) AT TAFT (2-4, 1-1) — Like West-Golden Valley, this has the potential to be a really good game on the "undercard," assuming you look at games like Wasco-BCHS, Liberty-Frontier, Ridgeview-South and Stockdale-Centennial as the main events. Chavez is salty, and Taft has really found a way to get its offense moving in the past three games, even though one was a narrow loss to Shafter. The Wildcats are coming off of a bye week and have a tremendous home-field advantage, especially against a team that has to travel a good 90 minutes to get there. The one vertical passing game the Titans have seen this year was Bakersfield Christian, and the Eagles lit up Chavez to the tune of 215 yards and three passing touchdowns in a 46-18 victory. Taft doesn't quite have the balance BCHS does, but they're dangerous enough to win this one and inch closer to .500.
Prediction: Taft 27, Chavez 17
ARVIN (4-2, 1-1 SSL) AT KENNEDY (2-5, 0-3) — Back-to-back losses to Tehachapi and Taft took some momentum away from the Bear train, but Arvin got back on track in Delano last week and again can make the trip up the 99 to find a defense that should be quite generous. Orlando Perez belongs in the conversation of best running back in a league that has a few really, really good ones (Sharp, Smith, Grinner), and he should rack up big numbers here. And if not, Arvin's defense won't allow too much either. Bears guarantee themselves at least a .500 season with another road win.
Prediction: Arvin 48, Kennedy 8
DELANO (4-2, 1-0 EYL) AT TULARE UNION (2-4, 1-0) — This is the game of the week in the East Yosemite League, with two unbeaten teams coming in and only one surviving to challenge Mission Oak in the coming weeks. Delano is a young team that has done what young teams are supposed to do: Take your lumps but generally improve as the season goes along. The Tigers have still yet to beat a with a winning record, though, and even though the Redskins don't fit that criterion, they are a competitive Division I team. Tulare Union is explosive but inconsistent. If Delano doesn't take advantage of every mistake the Redskins make, they'll get beat by a big play or three in the second half.
Prediction: Tulare Union 34, Delano 24
McFARLAND (1-5, 0-0 ESiL) AT OROSI (4-2, 1-0) — The Cougars got off the schneid last week with a rout of Riverdale, but now it's back into the frying pan against the team I think is the East Sierra League favorite. Orosi features a big-play wide receiver in Martin Gonzalez and an offense plenty explosive enough to poke holes in McFarland's D, which pitched a shutout last week but before that had allowed at least 28 points in four of five losses. It'll be one step forward, one step back for McFarland.
Prediction: Orosi 35, McFarland 14
LEMOORE-KINGS CHRISTIAN (3-3, 0-0 CSiL) AT NORTHWEST CHRISTIAN (5-1, 1-0) — There is no playoff system in 8-man football in the Central Section, so the Guardians are three wins away from winning the Central Sierra League and the de facto Valley title. It would be their first since 2007 — when current coach Jeremy Trammell watched his two little brothers lead then-Lighthouse Christian to a league championship. This is by far the toughest remaining league game for the Guardians, but they've been spectacular since losing their opener at Mojave and should take care of business at home.
Prediction: Northwest Christian 57, Kings Christian 31
CALIFORNIA CITY (3-3, 1-0 HDL) AT BISHOP (4-2, 1-0) — Still hard to figure Cal City, which has lost to some pretty poor teams and then beat some decent ones, like in its league opener against Rosamond last week. One trend in the last three weeks is troubling, though: The Ravens have given up more than 30 points in each of them. That's not good news before a trip to Bishop, which can move the ball with the best of the desert teams, no matter the size.
Prediction: Bishop 47, California City 18
DESERT (3-3, 0-1 HDL) AT FRAZIER MOUNTAIN (4-2, 0-1) — Frankly, I'm terrified of all of these High Desert League picks. There's no rhyme or reason to some of the results out there this year, and Desert is another team that falls in that category. I'm going to go with the home team here, because we're getting to the time of year when a trip up to Frazier Mountain is no fun for a team used to playing in 80-plus degree weather. Also, Desert has coughed up 47 or more points in three of its past four games. The Falcons won't do that to them, but they will control the ball and win the game in what amounts to a playoff elimination contest.
Prediction: Frazier Mountain 28, Desert 20
KERN VALLEY (4-2, 1-0 HDL) AT ROSAMOND (3-3, 0-1) — One HDL team that has been pretty consistent is Kern Valley, and that fits with what we know about the Broncs over the past five or so years. This is a solid program that hasn't taken that step into elite status, but KV can still be counted on to beat teams it's better than. That list includes Rosamond, though the Roadrunners have improved to the point that this isn't a gimme road trip. Still, when you're into league play and the games that really matter (especially in the Southern Section, where league finish dictates playoff spots), it's safer to go with the more established program.
Prediction: Kern Valley 30, Rosamond 17
ORO GRANDE-RIVERSIDE PREP (1-4, 0-2 DML) AT BORON (6-1, 3-0) — No drama in this one: The Bobcats, who have the county's most prolific passer in coach's son Austyn Fink, and second-most prolific wide receiver in Jadrian Wiser, should move up and down the field at will against Riverside Prep. A win makes Boron among the first Kern County teams to seven wins (with Wasco also able to reach that plateau with a win).
Prediction: Boron 63, Riverside Prep 6
APPLE VALLEY-GRANITE HILLS (0-6, 0-1 DSL) AT BURROUGHS (3-3, 1-0) — One of my better picks last week was taking the Burros at home over an apparently evenly matched Barstow team; the Burros came through with a 44-18 shellacking and all but assured themselves one of the three playoff spots out of the Desert Sky League. Next week's road trip to Victorville-Silverado likely will decide the DSL title, and Burroughs has been much better at home, but that's to worry about next week. This is about cementing that playoff bid, and Burroughs should have no trouble.
Prediction: Burroughs 48, Granite Hills 17
MOJAVE (5-1) AT COALINGA-FAITH CHRISTIAN (1-4) — Big-time win for Mojave over Valencia-Trinity Classical Academy last week, probably the Mustangs' biggest of the season (at least since the season opener over Northwest Christian). In its first year of 8-man ball, the Mustangs have traversed a very good freelance schedule successfully. The last three weeks are about staying sharp for the 8-man playoffs.
Prediction: Mojave 56, Faith Christan 20
MARICOPA (2-3, 0-0 CVL) AT NEW CUYAMA-CUYAMA VALLEY (5-1, 2-0) — The Indians have had two really impressive offensive performances in a row after starting the year 0-3, and that should make this game competitive. But Cuyama Valley is a thorn in Maricopa's side even in years in which the Indians have good teams. Maricopa must win two of its final three games to make the playoffs, and I think they'll need to be 2-for-2 after this one.
Prediction: Cuyama Valley 52, Maricopa 27
Saturday, Oct. 13
EAST (0-6, 0-1 SEYL) AT FOOTHILL (2-4, 1-0) — The real story here will be the fanfare surrounding Foothill's 50th anniversary celebration: A full day of festivities begins at 10 a.m., with historical sports memoribilia on display, an old-time band playing, and booths set up for classes from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Oh, and then there's the football game, which starts at 2 p.m. and which will feature a halftime ceremony naming Foothill's stadium after legendary coach Ned Permenter (see more in Friday's Californian). The visiting Blades are simply supposed to be sacrificial lambs, but I don't think it will work that way. East is 0-6 but has been competitive in many games, and Dave Thorp won't tolerate a team not playing hard. Still, it's pretty hard to see Foothill losing a game on such an important day for the school, isn't it? I'm certainly not going to dampen the mood by picking against the Trojans, that's for sure.
Prediction: Foothill 24, East 13
LEE VINING (0-5, 0-2 HLL) AT IMMANUEL CHRISTIAN (1-5, 0-1) — Fresh off its first victory, a 22-0 shutout of L.A.-Pilgrim, Immanuel Christian gets another game it should win, this one a league tilt against the Tigers of Lee Vining. The Tigers have lost every game by at least 15 points this season, and it says here that trend continues against the Crusaders.
Prediction: Immanuel Christian 48, Lee Vining 14
Last week: 18-4 (.818)
This year: 130-31 (.807)