UPDATED, 1:58 a.m.: For those who missed it, be sure to catch up tonight's action, complete with highlights and analysis with this BVarsity Live episode:
UPDATED, 9:50 p.m.: Your section champions:
Division I: Clovis North 27, Central 10
Division II: Garces 49, Sanger 24
Division III: Ridgeview 55, Dinuba 14
Division IV: Wasco 29, Bakersfield Christian 22
Division V: Liberty-Madera Ranchos 35, Corcoran 12
Division VI: Mendota 34, Farmersville 21
Tune in for a championship edition of BVarsity Live at 11 p.m. with myself and host Louis Amestoy. Log on to bakersfieldcalifornian.com and hit play.
UPDATED, 9:21 p.m.: Garces will run out the clock with backups in, and the Rams will take the Division II championship, 49-24. Congrats to the Rams, who will wind up 12-1.
Wasco's Terrance Grinner just intercepted Jake Thompson with 45 seconds left, and the Tigers are going to hang on and beat Bakersfield Christian 29-22. What a game up there.
Ridgeview up 55-14 on Dinuba, early in the fourth quarter there. Looks like three section champions for Kern County.
UPDATED, 9:15 p.m.: Congrats to the Liberty-Madera Ranchos Hawks, who win the Division V championship, 35-12 over Corcoran. Clovis North leads Central 21-10 entering the fourth quarter in Division I. Last update from Ridgeview was 49-14 in favor of the Wolf Pack.
Here, it's 49-17 Garces, but Sanger drives inside the Garces 10.
Wasco has just scored with 3:00 on the clock to take its first lead of the second half, 29-22 over Bakersfield Christian. Tigers looking to hang on now and take their chances with the regional bowl committee after by far their closest game of the season. Course that's not a sure thing yet.
Sanger just punched it in on a 3-yard TD from Sayer Paboojian. But it's Garces coach Jim Maples who gets the Gatorade shower. 49-24 Rams with 1:55 left.
UPDATED, 9:07 p.m.: Sanger loses another bad pitch. Jack Anspach scoops it up and returns inside the 10 to the Apaches' 8. Nightmare second half for Sanger, but that's exactly what Garces did last week, too.
The game to watch is undoubtedly in Wasco, where BCHS faces a third-and-11 in the Wasco red zone. Now fourth-and-2 at the 4. Whoa, what will Jerald Pierucci do? He'll go for it. Wasco holds! Tigers have the ball deep in their own end midway through the fourth. Still 22-22.
Garces throws incomplete with backup QB Jake Pavletich on third down. Now fourth down. Pavletich to pass again. He'll keep, running left. Around the corner. Inside the pylon. Touchdown. But a holding call on Garces. It'll be fourth-and-goal back at the 21. Pavletich throws incomplete. Sanger will take over with 5:45 left and Garces up, 49-17. All eyes on Wasco at this point.
UPDATED, 8:58 p.m.: Sweaney going deep again, and Adams throws a laser right to his numbers. 46-yard TD makes it 49-17. Probably time to call off the dogs here if you're Garces. The title has been won.
UPDATED, 8:56 p.m.: BCHS has answered Wasco and is back up 22-15 on a Jake Thompson to Hayden Kuchta TD pass. The Eagles aren't backing down up there, and they're now less than 10 minutes from an enormous upset. Meanwhile, Ridgeview is up 42-14 on Dinuba midway through the third quarter.
Here, the third quarter has come to an end after one play of Sanger's drive. Garces leads 42-17.
A short run sets up third-and-10 in the fourth, and Ramirez's pass falls incomplete. Receiver slipped trying to come back for the ball. Sanger is lining up to punt. Good one from Villagamez, and it rolls past the returners and all the way down to the Garces 10. Exactly 11 minutes left in this one. Hunter Barnes in at tailback for the Rams, but the first-string offensive line is still apparently in. They just plowed a big hole for Barnes for a 9-yard gain, and now an even bigger one. Barnes hardly plays, but everybody on this team has speed. He's all the way up past midfield for a gain of 33.
Isaiah Sharp just busted a 68-yard TD run to make it 22-22 in Wasco. Twos are wild. Very wild.
UPDATED, 8:47 p.m.: They're headed to the fourth in Wasco still tied at 15, with BCHS driving in Wasco territory. Stay tuned.
Here, Garces is driving, with Sheldon Croney over 200 yards with a couple of big burst on this drive. It's first down at midfield. Adams is going deep, looking for Sweaney. Jump ball — and Sweaney just stole it out of midair. Touchdown. This team has some incredible athleticism. 42-17.
UPDATED, 8:42 p.m.: A nice drive here from Sanger, which has turned to the air. And guess what? Ryan Ramirez can wing it a little bit, too. He finds Chris Torres wide open along the right sideline for 26 yards to the Garces 34, then Steven Villagamez for 21 down to the 13. Next play is a fade in the end zone. That's ... caught? Yep. Way to stay with the play by Daniel Macias, who really went down low to make that catch, out of my view. So Sanger answers and now trails 35-17 with 2:54 left in the third quarter. Maybe the Apaches are more of a comeback team than I thought.
Meanwhile, Wasco finally busts a big one, a 48-yard TD run from Casper Lopez. Two-pointer also good, and it's 15-15, Tigers and Eagles.
UPDATED, 8:35 p.m.: Sanger to start at its 23 with 5:44 left and in the shotgun, spreading it out a bit. Desperate times call for change, but the first snap is another option. Ramirez keeps it and has a seam, now breaks a tackle and gets up past the 40. That's a gain of 20 and the first big play for Sanger's offense since the early touchdown pass.
Now the Apaches give it almost all back. Ramirez pitches under pressure, and it's wild. The running back fell on it at the 29. That makes second and 24. Ramirez to pass deep. Mason Marotta just sitting out there playing center field, and he makes the interception of the underthrown ball. Garces takes over at its 41. This is getting out of hand quickly, especially if the Rams can cash in this turnover.
Sheldon Croney for five. I bet Sanger gets a big dose of him from here on out. Croney again, big hole. Off to the races. Blockers downfield with him. Touchdown. Good night. 35-10 Garces, just like that, and the Rams are on their way to their first section title in six years.
Wasco just turned it over on downs for a third time, inside the BCHS 10. Upset bid getting serious there.
UPDATED, 8:28 p.m.: Sanger's offense struggling now. Apaches go three-and-out, the last a fumble that backs them all the way up to the 9. Steven Villagamez will punt out of his own end zone, and it's not a good one. Flutters out of bounds at the Sanger 40, so great field position for Garces.
And the Rams go for the juggular. Adams deep for Angus Bellue. Hit him perfectly in stride. Touchdown. Pitch and catch. It's 28-10 Garces, and the Rams are threatening to run away with this one.
UPDATED, 8:23 p.m.: Croney and Adams combine for 5 yards on two runs, and it's third-and-5 for Garces. Crucial that Sanger gets a stop on this drive; the Apaches offense isn't built for a big comeback if the Rams go up three scores.
But Croney picks up six on a third-down draw, and the Rams will keep driving. Only one really big play for Garces, but it has done enough to move the sticks. Croney for four more. Garces going with the same gameplan that beat Tehachapi in poor weather four weeks ago on the mountain. Croney four about four more, and it's third and short. Again, Sanger is desperate to get off the field here and give its offense a chance. Fumbled snap! Just what the doctor ordered for the Apaches — but Garces got it back. Wow. Close call there, but the Rams will have to punt. We'll see if this punt goes better than the first for Adams.No messing around this time. Three steps and kick, and Sanger makes a fair catch back at its 23. 7:57 left in the third quarter.
UPDATED, 8:18 p.m.: Had to fight the crowds for the bathroom, so here's some quick halftime stats. Garces has a 235-131 edge in yardage. Sheldon Croney 16 carries, 118 yds, TD. Cruise Adams is 8-11 for 97 yds and a TD. Jake Sweaney 3-49 receiving, Dominic Frasch 3-37 receiving. Second half about to kick.
UPDATED, 7:59 p.m.: Sanger will start at its 25 after a touchback. Only 19 seconds for the Apaches, who go with a Ryan Ramirez keeper up to the 29 and elect not to call a timeout. It's going to be Garces 21, Sanger 10 at halftime.
Elsewhere: BCHS 12, Wasco 7 at the half. Wowzers.
UPDATED, 7:57 p.m.: Garces will start at its 26 and a called run for the quarterback Adams has a lot of room on the left side. He's up to the 40 for a gain of 14. Croney slips on the next play, but now a swing pass to Frasch, who jets across midfield to the 47. Fourteen yards and a first down. Croney gets four now as the clock rolls under four minutes. Croney on a pitch back, gets inside the 40 but is about two yards short. Third and 2. Handoff to Croney, and he's got a nice push from the line. First down to the 34. Clock down to 2:30. Both teams have two timeouts. Adams looking deep for Sweaney. Looks like he might have been held, but the pass was overthrown anyway. Second and 10. Sanger stuffs Croney, and it's third down as the clock rolls under two minutes. Admas in the shotgun. Looking right, and he's got Sweaney open at the 20. Low throw, but Sweaney falls to a seat and makes the catch. First down. Clock momentarily stopped at 1:40. Swing pass to Frasch, who's down to the Sanger 12. Second down. Handoff to Croney, and he has first and goal down at the 6. 48 seconds on the clock. Garces huddling? Wow. Clock down to 30 seconds at the snap. Croney. Fumble. He's on it in the backfield, but a loss of four there, and Garces will call timeout with 23 seconds left. That's their second.
Elsewhere, Ridgeview just got a defensive touchdown to extend its lead over Dinuba to 21-7. BCHS now leads Wasco 12-7 in the second quarter. Shocker brewing there, or will Wasco eventually take over?
Now a crucial end to the first half here. 23 seconds, one timeout for Garces. Second down on the 11. Adams fakes the handoff to Croney rolls right and fires. Angus Bellue is there. Touchdown Rams. Robertson's PAT is good, and with 19 seconds left in the half, Garces gets a crucial score and leads 21-10.
Now hearing that Ridgeview score is 28-7. Looks like the Wolf Pack got over its scare last week and is rolling towards the school's first championship.
UPDATED, 7:46 p.m.: Josh Moreno takes the kickoff deep and does a wonderful job of following blocking. He's got a nice burst and is run down by the last two guys he had to beat at the Sanger 46. Good field position for the Apaches, down 14-7 early in the second quarter.
Now Sanger jumps offside, so it's first-and-15. That's important against an offense that needs to stay on schedule. Ramirez keeps and is swallowed up by Cameron Pacheco in the backfield. Lost three. Second-and-18. But Shufford has a hole on a draw play and gets about 10 of that back, so it's a manageable third-and-8. Still not what this offense wants. Ramirez to pass, now he's quickly under pressure. Tries to tuck it, but Matt McNally took him down behind the line. Loss of one, and we'll have our first punt of the night. First, Garces is gonna call timeout. Looked like they had some substitution issues. Rain coming down harder now. Might really become a factor in the second half.
Adams will swing it out to Croney, a forward pass, but Sanger had it well-covered and he gets nothing. Second down. Now looking for Frasch on the other side. Over his head. Maybe the rain is already having an effect. Garces still in a spread, though, on third-and-10. Adams looking deep down the middle for Sweaney, who dives but can't come up with the ball. Three-and-out for the Sanger defense, and the Apaches needed that. They'll get the ball back with plenty of time left in the half.
Adams to punt, and he's running around a lot back there. Is this a fake? Finally, he'll kick it — right into the chest of Jose Padilla! That's even better than a turnover for Sanger, which is set up at the Garces 12 with 6:43 left in the half.
Pitch to Torres, but he's strung out and didn't get much, maybe a yard. Moreno gets a couple, but it's third-and-long. How big would a stop be for Garces after the special teams mistake? Pitch back to Beau Bradley, but Jack Anspach is all over that. Loss of a yard. Sanger will have to settle for a field-goal try. 27 yards for Steven Villagomez, It's up, plenty long ... and good. Sanger gets three off of the blocked punt and now trails 14-10, with 5:20 left in the half.
UPDATED, 7:33 p.m.: Croney on a draw play to start the second quarter picks up about 3 on first down. Garces inside the Sanger 30 on its second drive; the first ended with Croney's 75-yard TD run. Now Croney with the snap, rolls right and fires complete to Sweaney, who falls down to the 11. 16 yards there and another first down. Rain starting to fall now, just sprinkling but definitely coming down.
Croney has a hole over right guard. He bangs down to about the 4. Now Croney again, close to the goal line. Not in, but that'll be a first down inside the 1. This time Adams takes the snap and keeps, diving right behind his center. Touchdown, and Garces re-takes the lead as confetti flies into the press box. Robertson's PAT is good, and it's 14-7 Rams with exactly 10 minutes left till halftime.
UPDATED, 7:27 p.m.: Late first quarter, and Garces getting the ball for just its third offensive snap. That's something to look out for — Garces defense could get very tired if it can't get off the field and the offense is scoring quickly (or not scoring quickly).
Here, on second and 9, Cruise Adams throws a beebee to Jake Sweaney on a slant pattern. Gain of 19. Croney gets 4 more on first down. Now he bangs his way through a tackle to the 49. Third and 1. First third down for the Gares offense. Handoff to Connor Carlovsky, the fullback. Didn't get much, but I think he got it. He's right on the midfield stripe, and the series started just shy of the 40. First down Garces.
Wasco got a turnover back from BCHS and punched it in for a 7-6 lead. That might have been the first time the Tigers have trailed all year, though I'm not positive on that.
Croney for about 5, then a swing pass to Dominic Frasch, who blazes forward all the way down to the 30. Man, that kid is fast. That's the end of the first quarter. 7-7 game, with Garces driving, but I'd say this is exactly the type of game Sanger wants to play.
UPDATED, 7:22 p.m.: First touchdown in Wasco goes to ... Bakersfield Christian on a 45-yard pass play. Not gonna be 35-0 after 15 minutes tonight. Eagles lead 6-0 there.
Here, Sanger is on the move again, with 11 yards from Moreno, then 8 from Torres. Now they face a third-and-2 from the Garces 37. Pitch to Beau Bradley, and Jake Sweaney makes a great open-field tackle for Garces. No gain, maybe a loss. They'll go again. Handoff to Shufford, and he fights his way through a tackle to get the first down and a little more. Disaster averted for Sanger, which needs points after driving into Rams territory for the second time. Now just a yard for Bradley up the middle, though, and the Apaches burn a timeout before the next snap.
And look out: Wasco has just turned it over on the BCHS 5. Eagles have all the momentum early in that one.
Out of the timeout, here. Ramirez on a play-action pass. Drilled as he releases it, but Torres is open, and he's got it! Wide open, and he waltzes in for the touchdown. Similar to the play that burned Garces twice in its only loss, at Bakersfield. Point after from Moreno is good, and it's 7-7 with 3:13 left in the first quarter.
UPDATED, 7:13 p.m.: Garces starts at its 23 after the turnover on downs. Sheldon Croney, the sophomore phenom, gets the call and picks up about 2. The Rams can ground and pound if they want to, though the high-flying spread gets all the attention.
Now Croney with a hole — breaks a tackle, and he's off to the races! Sanger's secondary came up to the line, and there's no one back. Croney cuts back to the outside. It's a footrace. A DB touched him at about the 10, but only a slight stumble on his way in. That's a 75-yard TD for Sheldon Croney. Reed Robertson's PAT good, and it's 7-0 Rams. Drive took 38 seconds. That's how explosive this team can be.
UPDATED, 7:11 p.m.: Fireworks at the end of the national anthem. Goosebumps, baby. Gametime.
Short delay here, but now Reed Robertson has the ball on the tee for the Rams. His short kick is taken at the 20 and returned by Lucky Lee to about the 25. That's where the Apaches will get us started.
Sanger's veer option offense starts with an inside handoff to Josh Moreno for about five. Moreno again, with a hole over right tackle. Closes quickly, but not before he gets about six more and a first down. Apaches would love to use as much clock as possible every time they have the ball. Flag on that play, but it's just going to be an early sideline warning against Garces. Little too excited over there.
Now Chris Torres on a sweep to the left, gets about six more. Moreno now, taken down about a yard short. Third down. Moreno up the middle, got enough to the Sanger 48. Apaches doing what they want to thus far, methodically moving it down the field. Now Moreno stutters his way to the other 48 on already his fifth carry of the night. Gain of four. Pitch to Jacob Papaleo and a lot of room there. Good blocking from Sanger. Popping Garces in the mouth right now and a first down at the Rams 30. Now another ball carrier, Elijah Shuford. Not much there up the middle, maybe 2. Now the first keeper of the night from quarterback Ryan Ramirez for about two more. Third and six. MIght be four-down territory for the Apaches. Ramirez will pass. Looking deep for Papaleo but overthrew him by just a touch. Incomplete, fourth down. Sanger will go for it, like I thought they might. Ramirez rolls right and then turns and throws to the left flat for Shufford. Garces wasn't fooled. He's stopped at about the 23, well short of the first down. Garces gets a stand. Scoreless, 7:56 left in the first.
UPDATED, 6:57 p.m.: Garces just entered the field by walking down the stadium steps, in front of an adoring crowd and then out its inflatable tunnel, all to the tune of AC/DC's "Hell's Bells." Pretty cool. Sanger goes for the more traditional route, running on between two rows of cheerleaders. Also pretty cool in a traditional sort of way.
Garces won the coin toss and deferred. Sanger will take the football first and defend the north goal, working from my left to right in the first quarter. Garces will kick off from right to left.
We're a national anthem away from championship football.
UPDATED, 6:47 p.m.: Sanger still out on the field warming up, wearing white pants, white jerseys with dark blue numbers and red trim, and red helmets with their Apache logo. Garces is back in the locker room; the Rams are in their dark green jerseys with white numbers, gold pants with green trim and gold helmets with the Garces Memorial logo.
Now Sanger huddles in the north end zone, which is to my left. Word is there's rain at Ridgeview; still none here, though it has gotten noticeably colder since I arrived about an hour ago. Air is heavy with anticipation, too; this might be D-II, but these are top-notch teams. A win here means a lot.
Now Sanger heads back to its locker room, and we wait. Oh, the waiting.
UPDATED, 6:40 p.m.: Two pretty good-looking football teams warming up out there, which I suppose you'd expect in a championship game. I'm of the opinion that Garces would stack up very well in Division I this year, but Sanger is a D-II championship-level team. That theory will be put to the test.
Sanger is a tight-knit community that LOVES its Apaches, and I was told nine rooter buses made their way to Bakersfield for this one. The visiting stands are probably only 60 percent full right now, so there might be more Sangerites (Sangeronians?) on their way. The home stands are predictably packed about 25 minutes before kickoff. And still lots of cars searching for parking in the neighborhood north of the school. Forget the parking lots; they're long since filled.
A common theme across all five Central Section championship games tonight: Teams that came up just short last year looking for redemption at home. That applies to Garces (lost to Clovis North in the 2011 D-II final), Ridgeview (Kingsburg in D-III), Wasco (Washington Union in D-IV) and Liberty-Madera Ranchos (Fowler in D-V). All four of those teams play at home tonight and are, at least in seed, favored to take home the gold.
Two of them, Ridgeview and Liberty-Madera Ranchos, have never won section gold in football. Wasco hasn't won since it took back-to-back titles in 1952-53. Compared to that, these two teams are neophytes when it comes to championship droughts. Still, no player on either roster has been around for a title, and they'll be as hungry as any.
Can Cruise Adams, Jake Sweaney, Dominic Frasch and the Rams get it done? Or will it be Sanger's stable program, led by longtime coach Chuck Shidan and dual-threat quarterback Ryan Ramirez? We're about 20 minutes from finding out now.
UPDATED, 6:04 p.m.: I have arrived at Sam Tobias Field, weeded my way past tailgaters, found a decent parking space and climbed up into the white stucco press box here, sitting on about the 48-yard line until they move me later.
Bad news is I have to lurch to see the scoreboard, but the good news is that right now, the weather is stunningly perfect about 70 degrees and overcast with a slight breeze. The other bad news is that it might not stay that way, with a possibility of rain in the forecast. That actually might be good news for the visitors from Sanger, who run the veer option and would love nothing more than a muddy track to slow up Garces' spread offense.
This is the Division II Central Section championship, and either Sanger will win its first title since 2003, or Garces its first since 2006 — and first ever in D-II. We're still about an hour from kickoff, but I'll have some tidbits on this and the other championship games going on tonight between now and then.
ORIGINAL POST: It's Christmas morning for high school football fans in California, with presents under the tree all over the state. Here in the Central Section, we get five nice ones: Valley titles on the line in the top five divisions, including three in Kern County.
(Also, on a personal note: Happy second birthday to my wonderful daughter, Hannah. Had to get that in there, right?)
The live blog will come to you tonight from Sam Tobias Field, where Sanger and host Garces will contest the Division II championship.
Across town at Ridgeview, the Wolf Pack will try to keep its magic going from last week's stunning comeback against Independence; Ridgeview plays Dinuba for the D-III title tonight.
And finally, up in Wasco, the Tigers look to complete the Central Section's only unbeaten season — and then hope they get chosen for a regional bowl game to put it on the line again next week and keep state championship hopes alive. Wasco's opponent will be familiar: Bakersfield Christian, which lost 49-0 in Wasco last month but has won five in a row since, including last week's semifinal upset at Tulare-Mission Oak.
The games kick off at 7 p.m.; I'll fire up the live blog a bit early tonight, probably between 6 and 6:30. In the meantime, check out overall section rankings, championship predictions and our webcast, which is chock-full of information about the games and the regional bowl implications for Clovis North (which plays Central in the D-I championship), Wasco and Bakersfield Christian.
(All games 7 p.m.; seed in parentheses)
Central Section championships
(2) Clovis North 27, (4) Fresno-Central 10
(1) Garces 49, (2) Sanger 24
(1) Ridgeview 55, (2) Dinuba 14
(1) Wasco 29, (3) Bakersfield Christian 22
(1) Liberty-Madera Ranchos 35, (6) Corcoran 12
DIVISION VI (last week)
(1) Mendota 34, (2) Farmersville 21