There weren't nearly as many upsets in the Central Section football semifinals as there were in the quarterfinals, but somehow this Friday managed to be arguably more crazy than last. That mostly centers on the wild finish at Independence-Ridgeview, but there were also some big offensive fireworks, flat road performances from Liberty and West and a big upset from Bakersfield Christian in Tulare. Plenty to talk about before we head into championship week.
Ridgeview 30, Independence 28: You could watch football for a long, long time and not see an ending quite like this. First a quick recap, then the crazy ending and its aftermath. This was a battle royale between two athletic teams, and, in particular, their two dual-threat quarterbacks. Independence's Preston Hodges ran for an 80-yard touchdown on the game's first play from scrimmage. He finished with 225 rushing yards and three TDs, plus 80 passing yards and another TD. Ridgeview's Kamari Cotton-Moya finished with slightly better numbers: 234 yards rushing and three TDs, plus 86 passing. Hodges' 49-yard run on fourth-and-2 in a 21-21 game early in the fourth quarter was one of the plays of the year, and it set up his short touchdown run two plays later to make it 28-21 Independence. Cotton-Moya answered with a power running drive that he capped off with a short TD run, but Ridgeview went for two, and Indy stuffed Cotton-Moya.
Enter intrigue. Independence went three-and-out (the night's first punt) and Ridgeview had 3:13 and all three timeouts to try to win the game. Cotton-Moya looked like he would get it done, but on a carry that took him inside the 20, he was stripped by Hodges (who else?) and Independence had apparently won the game with 1:06. Falcons coach Sean McKeown ran down from the press box shouting "Victory, victory, victory" (he was calling down a kneel-down formation, not bragging), Ridgeview players trudged to the sideline and various reports went out across the Valley saying Independence had won (at least one reached Dinuba, where the No. 2 Emperors were under the impression they'd be hosting the D-III final instead of traveling to Ridgeview). But, three Independence kneel-downs still left 19 seconds on the clock when the Wolf Pack called its final timeout, and the rest you know by now: Preveon Alexander blocked the punt, Juan Ceja hit a 23-yard field goal with 3 seconds left and Cotton-Moya (who else?) intercepted Hodges on the game's final play, a Hail Mary. Ridgeview, somehow, some way, will host Dinuba for the first section title in school history next week.
A quick addendum: The game story from Saturday morning contains a McKeown quote in which he says the Falcons should have been able to run out the clock and that the officials or timekeepers made a mistake. He went so far as to say he'd consider launching a formal protest of the game. But I talked to McKeown tonight, and he said he backed off that immediately once he saw game film Saturday morning. He said his team made some errors in running down the clock and left 10-15 more seconds on the clock than it needed to. Give McKeown credit: He's obviously still hurting two days later, but he manned up and took the blame for the stunning outcome, probably more blame than he deserves. Instead, give Ridgeview plenty of credit; the Wolf Pack was given a surprise opportunity and it cashed in, big time.
Fresno-Central 35, Liberty 14: A week after pulling off the stunner of the season in Division I at Clovis, Liberty was tied at halftime with Central when the momentum finally started to run out. And when it started to run out, things went south in a hurry. Rasean Jones scored on runs of 41 and 49 yards to open the second half and then osh Medina, who had thrown exactly one interception all year, threw a pick-six to make the score 25-7. Just like that, the Liberty season was over. It's no real surprise the Patriots couldn't sustain the momentum from the past two weeks; their season has been up and down all year long, and it was due for a down note. It is somewhat surprising — and a lot of credit goes to Central here — that the Grizzlies controlled the second half so much after it was Liberty that out-played Central after half in the teams' first meeting back in Week 1. This time, Liberty had only 59 total yards in the second half. Not gonna win that way.
Garces 61, Fresno-Sunnyside 33: The truth for Garces: It is so much better than most Division II opponents that the Rams can afford a boatload of special teams mistakes and give up big plays on defense and make up for it with an offense so explosive that teams simply can't keep up. On this night, Sunnyside pulled into a 26-26 tie just before halftime and had to feel great about itself on the road against the top seed. Then, boom. Cruise Adams (287 yards, five TDs) hit Jake Sweaney (4 catches, 152 yards, two TDs) on a post route that turned into a 76-yard touchdown and 32-26 halftime lead. Garces kept it going after halftime, scoring the first 29 points of the second half and putting the game completely out of reach. Sheldon Croney finished with 170 yards and four TDs on just 13 carries, and Garces stormed its way into the Division II championship game. Still, No. 2 seed Sanger has to have some hope simply based on the Rams' sloppy execution on special teams and defense in the semifinals. But the Apaches will need to find a way to limit those big plays.
Sanger 41, West 7: Sanger certainly did fine against the West High offense, completely dominating the Vikings from the word go and allowing them just 121 yards of offense. Offensively, the Apaches' stats weren't eye-popping (QB Ryan Ramirez ran for 92 yards, passed for 96 and accounted for three TDs), but the Sanger defense continued to set the team up in great field position, allowing just 15 yards in the first half and forcing three turnovers in the second. West's brilliant effort in the past two weeks in upsets of Tehachapi and Lemoore just wasn't the same in this one. Sometimes the magic just runs out, though the Vikings can certainly build on this for next season.
Wasco 63, Chowchilla 13: It's a testament to this Tigers team that they seem to play their best against better opponents. In an earlier meeting with Bakersfield Christian, and now here against the Redskins, Wasco threw 28 first-quarter points up before the opposition had a chance to answer, or breathe. Here, give Chowchilla some credit for coming up with two second-quarter turnovers and cutting the gap to 28-13 at halftime, but Wasco just poured more on after halftime. Casper Lopez was the leading rusher with 156 yards, proving that even if you attempt to limit Isaiah Sharp and Terrance Grinner, the Tigers have backs who will hurt you behind that big line. Now, in a surprise, it's BCHS again. That actually doesn't do Wasco any favors in its quest to reach a regional bowl game, but it certainly makes the Tigers heavy, heavy favorites to win the school's first section title in 59 years.
Bakersfield Christian 7, Tulare-Mission Oak 0: We save the biggest upset for last. Without having seen the game, it's pretty amazing that the Eagles' under-sized defense was able to shut out Mission Oak, even though Hawks quarterback Corbin Quinones completed 16 of 21 passes for 116 yards. Two of the five incompletions were Josh Jackson interceptions for BCHS, and the Eagles finally broke a scoreless tie with about seven minutes left in the fourth quarter on a short Jake Thompson to Matt Smith TD pass. Mission Oak had one more good chance, but Jackson came up with a pick in the end zone to send BCHS to what has to be the biggest win the program has had post-Derek Carr. Now a chance to atone for a 49-0 loss to Wasco earlier in the year. Not gonna be easy, but I'm sure BCHS is thrilled to have the chance.
Here's the replay of this week's BVarsity Live, which actually didn't air live because of technical issues. Then a look at the section finals.
D-I: Fresno-Central (11-2) at Clovis North (11-1): First big-school final for Central, which lost the first meeting 50-7
D-II: Sanger (10-2) at Garces (11-1): The Apaches beat Edison, so don't doubt that they can hang
D-III: Dinuba (11-1) at Ridgeview (10-2): Question now: Will Ridgeview be happy to have survived the semifinal, or can the Pack ride that wave of momentum?
D-IV: Bakersfield Christian (10-2) at Wasco (12-0): Lots of storylines here, but will the game be competitive?
D-V: Corcoran (7-5) at Liberty-Madera Ranchos (11-1): Traditional power in this division is Corcoran, but the Panthers will be underdogs in this one