I had a conversation with Liberty coach Bryan Nixon a couple of weeks ago in which he kept mentioning how his staff likes to talk about the season in "phases," — i.e., non-league play, league play and the playoffs. This is hardly a unique concept, because I think we all think that way in some form or fashion, but the terminology gave it a new ring, so I'm going with it.
Phase One is complete.
See? Didn't that sound better than "non-league play is over" or "the league season is starting?" Man, it was so boring when I used to say stuff like that. Now I say Phase One is complete, and other cool things like:
Phase Two has commenced.
Truth be told, league play has already begun for teams in the South Sequoia League and a few other places, and there are a handful of non-league games left. But by and large, Week 5 was the final week of non-league pl—err, was the final week of Phase One.
Let's get to recapping.
South 20, North 7: In some ways, this game is what I expected. South had some big plays, none bigger than Asonte Johnson's 90-yard interception-return touchdown, and North wasn't able to consistently move the ball against a speedy Rebels defense. But in some ways, it wasn't what I expected. Aside from the big plays, South really didn't consistently move the ball, either, especially not after a long opening drive that ended in a fumble. North is playing a lot of close games for a reason: The Stars are really good at the running game-and-defense plan, and had they prevented a couple of big plays, they would have been in a position to pull off a major upset. Of course, South is 5-0 because big plays are what the Rebels do. The rest of October is huge for South: vs. West, at Ridgeview, vs. Bakersfield Christian. Hold on tight.
As a bonus, here's my complete interview with Cody Kessler, who joined our broadcast in the middle of that South-North game:
Centennial 41, Tulare Union 25: Speaking of holding on tight, Southwest Yosemite League play starts next week. The SWYL, despite several of its members playing brutal schedules, went 20-10 in non-league play. Now comes the part where those teams beat on each other. The biggest revelation in the league so far? You could argue it has been Liberty's dominance, but I'll take Centennial, which went from afterthought following a 2-8 season last year and a loss to Memorial in the season opener, to contender after a 3-1 stretch that culminated in a second-half beatdown of Tulare Union. TU led 18-14 at halftime, but the Golden Hawks out-scored the hosts 27-7 after the break. Noah Frazier had 203 rushing yards and Branndon Robinson added 194. With both guys healthy for the first time all year, and with mobile quarterback Andrew Hansen a threat, too, this is suddenly a scary-looking offense.
Shafter 21, Taft 17: The game of the week on paper turned out to be just that on the field. There were three major phases — there's that word again! — of this game. In the first, Shafter jumped out to a 14-0 lead behind quarterback Kyle Millwee, who threw for over 200 yards. In the second, Taft came storming back with a rally that started when Joseph Sanchez returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown and ended when the Wildcats, driving for a score that might have sealed victory, lost their fourth fumble of the night. That brought on phase three, a mad dash by Millwee and Shafter that produced the game-winning touchdown, a 3-yard pass to Michael McManus, with 21 seconds left. We haven't had enough exciting games like this so far this year, so congrats to both teams. Shafter now can take its shot at Bakersfield Christian next week.
Wasco 57, Chavez 3; Bakersfield Christian 83, Kennedy 0: Ho-hum on the results for both SSL juggernauts, who are on a Week 7 collision course. Wasco actually took the air for a lot of its damage in this one, with Austin Sutton completing 4 of 6 passes for 160 yards. But the real talking points here surround the BCHS annihilation of Kennedy: (1) Quarterback Brandon Jones threw for nine touchdown passes, a Central Section record and also tied for the second-highest total in state history, and (2) one of those TD passes came after halftime in a 62-0 game. I won't make a judgment about running up the score in a game I didn't see, but I would like to know why, exactly, BCHS felt the need to throw the ball with its starting quarterback even once after running up a 62-0 margin in the first half (and I'll get an answer and report back when I do!)
Tehachapi 48, West 6: Uh oh, Southeast Yosemite League. Uh oh, Division II. Turns out Tehachapi is back to its old tricks, shaking off a slow start and getting better and better until it's suddenly blitzing through the middle portion of the schedule. Remember, the Warriors lost to West in the first round of the playoffs last year, so this figured to be a pretty good test. Instead, Tehachapi rolled up almost a 300-yard edge and never gave the Vikings much of a chance. Skylar Valencia and Christian Terle both went over 100 yards on the ground, and the defensive effort was mountain football at its best. The Warriors have a tricky Saturday game at East next week for the Blades' 75th homecoming, but after that, it should be smooth sailing until the Garces trip on Nov. 9. As for West, it suddenly looks like the Vikings aren't even a safe bet to finish in the SYL's top three anymore.
Golden Valley 47, Foothill 0: Here's why I wonder about West, which seemed like a solid threat to Ridgeview atop the SYL at the beginning of the season: South has clearly positioned itself as a title contender next to Ridgeview, and now Golden Valley seems like it's coming on strong at the right time. The Bulldogs, one of the few teams yet to take its bye week, are now 4-2 and absolutely pasted a Foothill team that had been mostly competitive to this point. The scariest part for SYL opponents is that sophomore quarterback Tyler Waters seems to be finding his way while running back Andrew Dean, who had 227 yards and four touchdowns rushing in this one, continues to produce in a big way.
Independence 36, East 6: Kenny Wiley hit D.J. Reed on two 50-plus-yard touchdown passes in the first quarter, and the Falcons cruised in their final tuneup for the SWYL. My head says this team still isn't quite on par with the rest of the power league, because there's too much talent lost from a team that went 1-4 in the SWYL a year ago. But Kenny Wiley has done a pretty good Preston Hodges impersonation so far, and Indy has looked really good during a four-game winning streak. Now we see what happens in league, starting next week with Stockdale. Either way, the Falcons will be a tough out in the Division III playoffs again.
Elsewhere... Stockdale needed a win desperately, and the Mustangs came through, beating up on Buchanan, 34-16. School policy at Stockdale dictates a sports team be .500 if it wants to enter the postseason, and that makes next week against Independence basically a must-win, too. A win there would make Stockdale 3-3, and a split of the final four games will still be a challenge. ... I'm officially worried about Ridgeview. The Wolf Pack losing big to Newhall-Hart and Liberty is one thing, but going on the road and getting shut out 26-0 by a 1-3 Division III team? Oof. Washington Union has a history of success, and the Panthers might end up being pretty good, but this is still major cause for concern in Wolf Pack-land. Good thing the antidote might be coming next week in the form of winless Mira Monte. ... Highland beat Mira Monte 28-13 for the Scots' first win, and like any good battle of winless teams, this one was a field goal fest. Seriously, though, Joey Cooper hit five field goals, four in the second quarter alone, and that's darn impressive in a high school game.
Here's a replay of Friday night's BVarsity Live, followed by next week's big games. If you've been paying attention this week, you know what No. 1 on the list will be...
And now for the big ones of a very big, Phase Two opening Week 6:
Bakersfield (3-2) at Liberty (5-0): Well, duh. This looks like the game of the year in Kern County and could decide a top-two seed in Division I
Centennial (3-2) at Frontier (3-2): The winner here emerges as the main threat to whoever survives Bakersfield-Liberty in the SWYL
West (2-3) at South (5-0): Before the season, it looked like a toss-up. Now, it could be a big-time statement from South about the Rebels' SYL intentions
Shafter (4-2, 2-0 SSL) at Bakersfield Christian (3-2, 2-0): Last year's meeting was a high-flying shootout. Could be again — BCHS can't afford to look ahead to Wasco
Kern Valley (4-1) at Frazier Mountain (4-1): With Bishop scuffling, this could be the High Desert League championship right off the bat. And with Lindsay losing last week, the top seed in Division V is there for the Broncs, too.