Any week of high school football season is fun, but this one is particularly so because of the number of massively important games. We've been talking about this Friday night for a couple of weeks now. It's going to shape the entire season.
Speaking of great games, BVarsity streamed a terrific volleyball match last night, with Stockdale out-lasting Tehachapi in five close games. You can check it out here if you missed it. We'll be streaming a Volleyball Match of the Week every Tuesday or Thursday.
Also, be sure to check out the BVarsity Preview Show for Week 3, live on bakersfield.com at 2 p.m. Thursday. Louis Amestoy and I will be joined by a special guest, Mike Guarabascio of the Long Beach Press-Telegram, to talk about Long Beach Poly. Mike has written a book on the history of Long Beach football, so he's the authority on all things Poly.
Then, of course, we'll bring you Poly at Bakersfield live, starting with a pregame show at 6:30 p.m. Friday night. Tim Hartnett, the former Bakersfield, Golden Valley and Highland coach, will be my color analyst for the night. It should be a tremendous broadcast.
That brings us to the picks. Here's a quick look back at last week:
The good: Most all of it, somehow. I almost nailed the score from Clovis-Centennial, North-West and Ridgeview-Foothill, and I had Liberty and Stockdale both winning big. All in all, there wasn't much to be ashamed of.
The bad: I really thought Garces would stick around longer with Bakersfield — or at least counter-punch a little bit. Very wrong on that front, though I did have the Drillers winning comfortably.
The ugly: Not sure any of my picks were ugly in the truest sense of the word. I severely underrated Exeter (again), though I did have the Monarchs beating Taft, and I picked Shafter to beat Selma close. The Generals lost a late lead instead.
Friday, Sept. 20
LONG BEACH POLY (2-1) AT BAKERSFIELD (2-1) — One of only two matchups this week between teams ranked in Cal Hi Sports' top 20 is at cozy Griffith Field, where the Driller faithful and many interested non-partisans will pack the place. (Advance tickets are available at the BHS administration office during school hours until noon Friday, and if you've never been to Griffith, know that the parking situation can be hairy. Arrive early.) It also happens to be another matchup of the state's two most winning teams of all time — the teams split two previous meetings, both in Long Beach, with Poly winning in 2010 and Bakersfield taking it last year. I really expect the game to live up to the billing. Both teams have tremendous speed and several Division I caliber playmakers. The Jackrabbits seem to be a team that needs motivation — two weeks ago, sitting on top of the high school football world, they lost a game they shouldn't have to Servite. Last week, after a week of being doubted, they held powerful Corona-Centennial well below its season averages in an upset win. This week — who knows? It's a huge opportunity for Bakersfield and for the Central Section, and the Drillers can absolutely go toe-to-toe with anyone. But Poly should be motivated after losing to Bakersfield last year, and the defense is good enough to force Bakersfield to throw, which can be sketchy for the Drillers. Meanwhile, I think Poly will throw enough to pop a few big plays on the BHS defense. A couple of turnovers on defense and a couple of big plays on offense is the recipe for success against Bakersfield. Good one here, but I favor the Jackrabbits slightly.
Prediction: Long Beach Poly 31, Bakersfield 26
CLOVIS NORTH (2-1) AT FRONTIER (2-1) — If it weren't for a trifecta of results last week — Bakersfield's big win at Garces, Frontier's loss at Moorpark and Long Beach Poly upsetting Corona-Centennial — this would be not only the game of the week in Kern County but perhaps the game of the entire non-league season. It's a huge game for seeding implications, as are the two TRAC vs. SWYL battles below. But this one brings together the defending Division I section champs and a Frontier team that has already notched impressive wins against Ridgeview and Lompoc. A win here, and the Titans would only have to avoid an upset against West to go through a very difficult non-league schedule at 4-1. The Broncos won this game last year with some big plays in special teams and with quarterback Christian Rossi, but Rossi was part of a big graduating class and this team isn't quite the same, having been waxed by (extremely good) St. John Bosco and having to hold on to beat Buhach Colony. Frontier is different, too, but I like the balance of this Titans offense even more than last year's SWYL championship team. This has shootout possibility, and you wonder if Frontier can keep up if that happens, but the Titans are at home, and I like them in a slight upset to get a big win for Kern County.
Prediction: Frontier 27, Clovis North 23
STOCKDALE (1-1) AT CLOVIS (2-1) — Here's the game that could signal a shift in league power structure in the section, at least for this year. Clovis, while it has had to escape with wins against Lemoore and Centennial the past two weeks, still figures to finish in the top half of the TRAC along with Clovis North and Central. For Stockdale in the SWYL, that's very much a question mark with the presence of Bakersfield, Liberty and Frontier (and even a rapidly improving Centennial team). So it would speak volumes if the Mustangs were able to go on the road and beat the Cougars. And it could happen. Clovis hasn't exactly been a rock against the run this year, and Stockdale will test that severely. But I have to think that at some point, Stockdale will need to pass to win this game, and that has meant lost productivity and turnovers for the Mustangs in the past, particularly against this Clovis team the past two seasons. Stockdale has a great chance for a signature win here, but I can't go against home-field and the recent history between these teams. The Cougars find a way again.
Prediction: Clovis 31, Stockdale 21
LIBERTY (3-0) AT CLOVIS-BUCHANAN (0-2) — Here's the least intriguing of the three big TRAC-SWYL showdowns. Liberty's defense has been a force thus far, and the offense hasn't been far behind, with Anthony Mariscal quickly emerging as a star. Buchanan has had trouble defensively, and I don't see a way the Bears keep up with Liberty if the Patriots get going. Josh Medina and Mariscal will see to it that they do. What could be more interesting here is how the final score compares with Bullard's 54-14 beatdown of Buchanan in Week 1. If Liberty can't come close to that margin, Bullard's stock will rise. But I think the Patriots, like the Knights, are a top 5 team in the section. Even on the road, I'll take Liberty by a comfortable margin.
Prediction: Liberty 35, Buchanan 10
GOLDEN VALLEY (2-1) AT WASCO (1-1) — It's been two long weeks for the Tigers, who lost their first game in almost two years at Bakersfield, then had to sit through a bye week. It's a safe bet that Rusvel Prado and staff had Wasco in the weight room just about every day in the interim. This is a team that doesn't take it easy, and it usually shows on the field. The good news for Wasco is that there isn't another opponent — or another team in Division IV, though Exeter is looking increasingly salty — that is close to the caliber of Bakersfield. There might not be anyone close to the caliber of Wasco, either. Golden Valley has done well to win two of its first three, but Wasco is more like Garces (49-14 loss) than either of the other two teams GV has faced.
Prediction: Wasco 49, Golden Valley 13
HIGHLAND (0-3) AT INDEPENDENCE (1-1) — Highland has had as rough a three-week stretch as anybody to open the season, losing three games against teams the Scots probably figured they had a chance against before the season started. It's not going to get any easier here, because new-look Independence can still put up points, as evidenced by a 41-35 shootout victory over Lancaster-Eastside last week. If the Falcons start scoring — and even against a pretty good Highland defense, they'll hit some big plays — Highland is in trouble, because its offense is in a big-time funk. I like Independence big here, showing the Falcons are still a D-III contender and that Highland still has a long way to go.
Prediction: Independence 42, Highland 7
TEHACHAPI (1-2) AT ARVIN (2-1) — It's too early to say Tehachapi is down this season; the Warriors actually played Exeter closer than anyone, beat a decent Burroughs team and lost big to Liberty but held the powerful Patriots in check at least for a half. Tehachapi's defense looks to be up to snuff. Before Liberty's 28-point explosion in the third quarter, the Warriors had allowed just 33 points in 10 quarters of football. But it's safe to say there's something amiss with the offense. That's not a usual statement with Tehachapi, and you'd think that as the schedule gets a big softer, there will be improvement. Arvin's defense isn't bad, so this could be a slugfest. But even on the road, I have more faith in Tehachapi's ability to rebound than for Arvin, which had its own lopsided loss last week, to South. Give me the Warriors in a game that could signal a long winning streak.
Prediction: Tehachapi 21, Arvin 13
EXETER (3-0) AT BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN (0-2) — Before the season, I saw this one as a likely BCHS victory, and I'm sure I wasn't alone. The Eagles were coming off a 10-3 season that saw them take Wasco to the very brink in the Division IV section title game. Exeter was 5-6 and bowed out in the first round of the playoffs (BCHS won the game between the teams 42-41 in double overtime). But the Monarchs have flipped that script this year, already winning at Tehachapi and Taft behind a stingy defense and junior running back Austin Cardoza, who already has 736 yards and 7 touchdowns rushing. If you don't want to do the math, that's ... 245 yards per game. I still say the Eagles will get things turned around this season, but as September rolls into its final stages, it's tough to see that first victory coming here.
Prediction: Exeter 38, Bakersfield Christian 25
EAST (1-1) AT SOUTH (2-0) — Last week's victory over Mira Monte was an interesting game for East, which ran only 32 plays but got 250 yards out of them and forced three Lions turnovers, including a pick-six from sophomore Malik Nichols. That kind of opportunistic play will take the Blades a long way, but it's going to be tougher sledding against South. The Rebels looked much more polished in their second game after dealing with an emotional Week 1. Keith Evans is a difference-maker for South, but they also have a more traditional running game with Asonte Johnson doing the heavy lifting. The offensive and defensive lines also might be the best South has had for some time. The Blades are more than capable of throwing a few counterpunches, but the Rebels are the pick here.
Prediction: South 33, East 21
NORTH (1-1) AT DELANO (1-1) — The Tigers rebounded nicely from a Liberty whipping in Week 0 to beat crosstown rival Chavez behind a three-headed running attack (David Ibarra led with 105 yards and a touchdown) and a strong defense. Delano won't be a powerhouse this year, especially not in what looks like a deep East Yosemite League, but rarely is this team not competitive. North would take that this year, and so far the Stars look the part. After a comeback win at Mira Monte, they lost at West and now hit the road for a third straight week. This could be pretty close, especially if David Reyes continues to pick up chunks of yardage, but Delano's program is still in a better place than North's. Give me the Tigers pulling away in the second half.
Prediction: Delano 30, North 21
MIRA MONTE (0-3) AT FOOTHILL (0-2) — As losses start to mount, pressure starts to increase on players and coaches alike, so this is an important game from that respect. Each team just wants to get a number in the left side of the ledger. It's tough to know much about teams with relatively new coaches and not much recent success, so any pick here is a bit of a gamble. Mira Monte seems to have a couple of things in its favor: The Lions look like they can throw the ball a bit — Eric Madrigal averages over 90 yards a game, and Mira Monte coach Brett Clark is in his second year while Jason Oliver is still in his first at Foothill. That little bit of extra stability can make the difference in a close game. Still, Madrigal has thrown two touchdowns against eight interceptions, and the Lions seem mistake-prone. It's a tough call, but I'll take Foothill to win at home and get USC alumnus Oliver his first win for a different color of Trojans.
Prediction: Foothill 21, Mira Monte 19
CORCORAN (0-2) AT TAFT (1-2) — South Sequoia League play begins next week already, so these SSL teams are looking for one final tuneup before getting down to business. For the Wildcats, this is a winnable game against a Corcoran team that has opened with a couple of losses to smaller schools. Taft has been up and down in three games, but the defense showed up well against Coalinga a couple of weeks ago at home, and I'd expect the same thing here. Taft gets a bit of momentum before an important league opener with Arvin next week (in what will be the Wildcats' fourth consecutive home game).
Prediction: Taft 23, Corcoran 17
SHAFTER (2-1) AT LINDSAY (2-0) — The Generals took a step backwards last week, losing a late lead against Selma after easy wins the first two weeks. Now the competition level steps up again, with Lindsay among the early favorites in the section's Division V. That means this could be a huge win for the Generals, if they can get it. But it won't be easy. Lindsay quarterback Alex Jara has thrown for 478 yards in two games with a 6-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and Shafter struggled to defend Selma's passing game late last week (the Bears were 11-of-16 passing for the game and won the fourth quarter, 13-0. The Generals also had a lot of trouble with Bakersfield Christian's passing attack a year ago. That's a potential problem for Shafter in this one, and I can't ignore it.
Prediction: Lindsay 35, Shafter 24
PORTERVILLE-GRANITE HILLS (0-3) AT CHAVEZ (2-1) — This is the true definition of a tune-up game for Chavez, which plays its second straight bottom-rung opponent. All the talent in Porterville has clearly gravitated to Porterville High, because Monache is struggling and Granite Hills is about as bad as it gets in the section. The Grizzlies have won one game in the past two years, and they won't get No. 2 in Delano on Friday. The Titans will be able to play the second string by the midway point of the third quarter in this one.
Prediction: Chavez 49, Granite Hills 0
HANFORD-SIERRA PACIFIC (0-3) AT KENNEDY (2-1) — Speaking of bottom of the barrel, we present Sierra Pacific, probably the worst team in Division VI. However, the Golden Bears did get their only victory of the season last year over Kennedy, in a 14-9 game that ... well, it was played, we know that. The Thunderbirds should be out for revenge here, and Kennedy has a legitimate shot to surpass last year's win total despite the late departure of coach Shawn Austin. Kennedy likely will struggle in the SSL again, but this program continues to take baby steps. Getting victory No. 3 for the first time would be another one.
Prediction: Kennedy 27, Sierra Pacific 13
KERN VALLEY (2-1) AT McFARLAND (1-1) — The Broncs flashed how talented they could be for three quarters last week, beating a much bigger school in Morro Bay, but the tide slowly turned and what was once a big Kern Valley lead turned into a 37-27 loss. Still, KV won't have to step up in class like that again, and the combination of quarterback Dalton Gallis and receiver Cody Littles will be too much for most small schools. That's true of McFarland, which missed a big opportunity to start 2-0 with a loss to Kennedy last week.
Prediction: Kern Valley 45, McFarland 6
FRAZIER MOUNTAIN (2-1) AT ACTON-VASQUEZ (1-1) — One thing Frazier Mountain has done particularly well over the past two seasons is schedule. The Falcons play a bunch of non-league opponents that aren't walkovers (an 82-22 victory two weeks ago against Santa Clarita-Einstein notwithstanding) but are beatable. Vasquez falls in that category, too, and even on the road, I like the Falcons and a rushing attack that features five backs who average at least 50 yards per game. That would make Frazier 3-1 with another winnable-but-not-easy game coming next week against Flintridge Prep. The caveat here: Frazier Mountain played much better the past two weeks at home than it did in an opener on the road, so this will be a test to see whether the team travels better.
Prediction: Frazier Mountain 28, Vasquez 20
ROSAMOND (0-3) AT LYNWOOD-FIREBAUGH (0-3) — The Roadrunners have been nothing short of terrible, losing games by scores of 56-8, 40-8 and 47-0, but this is a chance to right the ship for new coach Kris Krempien. Firebaugh (this is not the Central Section Firebaugh) hasn't won a game since Oct. 14, 2011, and you'd like to think Rosamond is getting better quickly with a new coach implementing his way of doing things. I do this with reservation, but I'll take Rosamond.
Prediction: Rosamond 22, Firebaugh 17
NEW CUYAMA-CUYAMA VALLEY (1-1) AT NORTHWEST CHRISTIAN (1-1) — Sophomore running back Deven Hillberg has four touchdowns rushing and is averaging nearly 9 yards per carry for the Guardians, showing that there is life after a big senior class departed after winning a championship last year. Cuyama Valley is a quality 8-man school, but Northwest is showing that it's building quite the program, too. I'll take the Guardians at home.
Prediction: Northwest Christian 38, Cuyama Valley 27
LANCASTER-ANTELOPE VALLEY (1-1) AT BURROUGHS (0-2) — It's been a rough start against a good schedule for the Burros, and it continues this week. Antelope Valley features running back Cameron French, who torched Boron for 211 yards on just six carries in the opener and then came back to run for 124 yards on 13 carries against a really good Redondo Union team. So Burroughs is going to have its hands full, even though it's tradtionally a much better team in Ridgecrest. By season's end, this might still be a Southern Section playoff team, but at this point I think the Burros are staring at 0-3.
Prediction: Antelope Valley 24, Burroughs 13
LA CANADA-FLINTRIDGE PREP (0-2) AT BORON (0-2) — One team that certainly isn't used to being 0-3 (or even 0-2) is Boron, and I think the Bobcats will pop off in a big way this week against an opponent that has struggled in its first two contests. Jadrian Wiser, who led Kern County in receiving last year, is finding life tougher without quarterback Austyn Fink, but now that the schedule lightens up a bit, expect his numbers to go up.
Prediction: Boron 41, Flintridge Prep 17
MAMMOTH (1-1, 0-0 DML) AT DESERT (1-2, 1-1) — Losing to Silver Valley isn't a great thing for the Desert program as it enters a new era; that's a team that doesn't figure to be competing for Desert Mountain League titles, and the Scorpions gave up 52 points. But I still have faith in the consistency of this program over time, and I'll take another shot with Desert at home here against another team that figures to be in the bottom half of the league standings.
Prediction: Desert 27, Mammoth 19
IMMANUEL CHRISTIAN (1-1) AT LUCERNE VALLEY (3-0) — The Crusaders came up with their first victory last week in an 8-6 barnburner against Victor Valley Christian, but Lucerne Valley happens to be one of the best eight-man teams in the state. Immanuel coach Aaron Gage has to hope his boys stay healthy and compete here, and that'll be enough for this week.
Prediction: Lucerne Valley 51, Immanuel Christian 6
Saturday, Sept. 21
GARCES (1-2) AT FRESNO-SAN JOAQUIN MEMORIAL (3-0) — You had to read down (or scroll down) to get to this one, but it's a big game both because it's one of the section's best rivalries and because it's going to affect the Division II seeding picture quite a bit. If Memorial can pull off a win, the Panthers will be a win against Sanger in league play away from having a pretty good claim on a top-two seed in the D-II playoffs. Garces, meanwhile, despite a couple of ugly losses, hasn't yet played a D-II team, so that slate is pretty clean. Memorial has won with smoke and mirrors a couple of times, beating Centennial despite a yardage deficit and squeaking past Tulare Western last week. Garces, on the other hand, is a young team that should get better and has a couple of legitimate big-play threats against anybody in Sheldon Croney and Dominic Frasch. The Garces defense is still a big question mark, but I'm taking the Rams here in a victory that could well turn its season around.
Prediction: Garces 35, Memorial 28
CARPINTERIA-CATE (2-0) AT MOJAVE (3-0) — You've got to hand it to Mojave coach Cash Achziger and his predecessor, Larry Satterfield. When they decided to move the Mustangs to 8-man ball, they went all out, scheduling the best teams in the Southern Section, figuring out how to alter strategy for a different type of game and then beating the tar out of most of the teams in their way. A rare 8-man slugfest developed last week when Mojave beat Trinity Classical Academy 13-6 in a game that could well end up a match between the Southern Section's Division I and Division II champions. Cate is good, but I'm not picking against a rolling Mojave team at this point.
Prediction: Mojave 37, Cate 27
Last week: 20-3 (.870)
This year: 56-13 (.812)
All-time: 1,136-326 (.777)