What's that sound you hear? It's the sound of (near) perfection, coming from this corner. For the second straight week, I (almost) picked every game in the county correctly. (Almost) perfect weeks are rare, so I'm going to sit here and bask in my (nearly) undefeated record.
OK, OK. So I missed one game again. You know what? I'll take it.
From last week's light schedule (I was 20-1 overall) before we dive into a huge Week 6 (there's also a Saturday SEYL game this week, so check out the bottom of the post, too):
The good: Again, I'll take 20-1 any week, but part of that is that weren't many upsets. I was close on the final scores for Centennial over Tulare, Stockdale over Buchanan and Bakersfield Christian over Kennedy (hey, at least I had the shutout). And picking Shafter over Taft in the pick-em game of the week was a nice touch.
The bad: My margins were off elsewhere, with North keeping it much closer with South than I guessed and Independence taking out East and Golden Valley beating Foothill much easier than I expected.
The ugly: Ridgeview. Oh, Ridgeview. I had the Wolf Pack beating Washington Union by 18 on the row, but perhaps I should have known better for a team coming off of two blowout losses. Washington Union rolled instead.
Friday, Oct. 11
BAKERSFIELD (3-2, 0-0 SWYL) AT LIBERTY (5-0, 0-0) — It's the game of the year in Kern County. I've been thinking about this pick all week, and even as I sit here typing, I'm not completely sure who I'm going to pick. The Drillers are perennial favorites in this town, it seems, but that might not be the case here. CalPreps predicts a 34-31 Liberty victory, and the Patriots certainly seem capable of moving to 6-0 and setting up a scenario where they could be the top seed in the Central Section and a legitimate contender for a state bowl game. Josh Medina has been a wizard under center, and the Patriots have been much more balanced than Bakersfield, which has struggled the few times it has been forced to throw. Then again, the Drillers and QB Asauni Rufus have been able to run on just about anybody — even, at times, against the elite defense of Long Beach Poly. Liberty beat Central, which is a great win, but that game was essentially a toss-up. Other that than, the Patriots' only Division I win is against winless Buchanan. Bakersfield has played a much more difficult schedule, week in and week out, and that should work to the Drillers' advantage. And here's the kicker: I just like the position Bakersfield is in here. Last year, BHS was expected to win this game by three touchdowns, and anything less than that was going to be a disappointment. Liberty came to Griffith Field, hit the Drillers in the mouth, collected a fortunate turnover or two and came away with what turned into an amazingly easy win. This year, however, the pressure has shifted to the point where it's at least even. Liberty, in fact, might have a bit more as the home team and a squad trying to prove its undefeated record is legitimate. That kind of thing can play tricks on a team, and I think Bakersfield will come in loose. This could go any one of several ways — I'm waffling, if you couldn't already tell — but ultimately, I think the Drillers bust a couple of big plays at some point and get just enough stops to make the difference. Bakersfield in a shootout.
Prediction: Bakersfield 35, Liberty 31
CENTENNIAL (3-2, 0-0 SWYL) AT FRONTIER (3-2, 0-0) — While we're all pretty sure that Bakersfield-Liberty is going to have a huge part in determining the SWYL champion, the impact of this game is less clear. Is it a game that will cement Frontier's status as a third title contender? Is it Centennial's chance to make a huge statement? Is it simply a battle for third place? Not all of those questions will be answered Friday night, but many will. Throw out the strange Week 0 loss at Memorial (can't do that, of course), and Centennial has performed like one of the section's 10 best teams. Throw out terrible second halves for Frontier against Moorpark and Clovis North (ahem, can't do that, either), and Frontier has performed like a top-three team. Who continues that momentum and gets back to what they can be comes down to whether Frontier can stop Centennial's rushing attack — and the health of the Titans' offense. If Evan Moore and Jaz Thind and company get starting running back Nick Santoro back, that means Troy Banks can get back to focusing on defense. I think Frontier is physical enough to disrupt that Centennial running game, and I think the Titans will have a point to prove in the second half after fading against Clovis North. Frontier finishes this one off and proclaims itself a contender headed into huge games against Liberty and Bakersfield.
Prediction: Frontier 30, Centennial 24
STOCKDALE (2-3, 0-0 SWYL) AT INDEPENDENCE (4-1, 0-0) — Last year, this game was the low point of a very good season for Independence, which turned the ball over a bunch and gave up 69 points to D.J. Martin and the Mustangs. The cast of characters has changed on both sides, but Stockdale is in a similar position at 2-3 and needing three SWYL victories to meet school requirements for a playoff spot. Last year, the Mustangs got there with this game, plus close wins against Liberty and Centennial. This year, the league might be even better, meaning this is essentially a must-win for Stockdale's playoff chances. Independence comes in with a ton of momentum, having beaten Highland and thrashed Mira Monte and East in the past three weeks. But while momentum is nice, the real concern for me with Independence is how much they're stepping up in class here. Stockdale has been up and down this year, but there's no question the Mustangs are bigger and faster than the teams the Falcons have been playing. If Independence gets to turning the ball over again, forget it. If they hang onto the ball, the Falcons have a shot. But even then, I think they'll surrender some big plays and let the Mustangs pull away with the ground game.
Prediction: Stockdale 35, Independence 17
WEST (2-3, 0-0 SYL) AT SOUTH (5-0, 0-0) — The teams have flipped positions from what we expected in the preseason, with the Vikings falling from last year's playoff darling to fringe South Yosemite League contender, and the Rebels becoming the fastest-rising team in Kern County. It should be noted that both teams beat North, one of two common opponents, by 13 points, but the other one, East, was much more competitive with the Vikings. If South has arrived as an SYL and Division III title contender, it should put away West, which has struggled defensively against each of its three playoff-caliber opponents. And, though we've talked a lot about Keith Evans and Johnnie Dirden, don't discount RB/DB Asonte Johnson and lineman Demetrious Eaton as big-time players, too. South is a good enough team defensively to make a few of the Rebels' typical big plays on offense and special teams do the trick and set up a big-time two-step for South against Ridgeview and Bakersfield Christian the next two weeks.
Prediction: South 33, West 14
RIDGEVIEW (2-4, 0-0 SYL) AT MIRA MONTE (0-6, 0-0) — With how good Ridgeview was last year, it's amazing to think the Wolf Pack's sternest SYL test came from the Lions, who had the good fortune of catching Ridgeview without Kamari Cotton-Moya and kept it close. That shouldn't be the case this year, even with the Wolf Pack struggling in its last three games. Mira Monte has already given four teams their only victory of the season, so Ridgeview shouldn't have any trouble getting No. 3. The real question is how much this game will help the Wolf Pack mentally. If they slop around here, even in a win, there will be serious concerns with South next on the schedule. But my thought is Ridgeview will come out with a point to prove in this one, and the Lions will be powerless to stop that.
Prediction: Ridgeview 49, Mira Monte 3
SHAFTER (4-2, 2-0 SSL) AT BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN (3-2, 2-0) — Given the safe assumption that Wasco will take care of Kennedy, the winner of this one will join the Tigers as the SSL's only undefeated teams after three weeks of league play. If it's BCHS, that sets up the much-anticipated game between the Eagles and Tigers next week at BCHS. But there's a lot of business to attend to here first, even if the Eagles are flying high on offense. Forget, for if you can, the 83 points the Eagles rolled up on hapless Kennedy last week; before that, BCHS had scored 43 on Chavez, 48 on Exeter and 33 against CVC. This team can light up the scoreboard. Shafter, though it can move the ball, has only scored that many points against the very worst teams on its schedule. The Generals need to turn this into a shootout, as they did last year in nearly knocking off the Eagles. But on the road, against a BCHS defense led by All-Area player Grant Bouma and that is much improved from a year ago, I just don't see that happening. Shafter will land a couple shots, but there's no stopping the Wasco-BCHS battle royale at this point.
Prediction: Bakersfield Christian 42, Shafter 20
CHAVEZ (3-3, 0-2 SSL) AT ARVIN (2-3, 0-1) — If it seems like there's a toss-up game in the SSL every week, that's because there will be, most of the time. Arvin, Taft, Chavez and possibly even Shafter seem to be of roughly equal strength, behind Wasco and BCHS but plenty ahead of Kennedy. So when those teams are meeting up, expect good games. Arvin lost its first toss-up, at Taft, but now the Bears return home to face a Chavez team probably a bit beat up from back-to-back games against BCHS and Wasco. The Titans have a shot here, and a victory would almost guarantee them no worse than a .500 season with Kennedy still on the schedule. Chavez, however, hasn't defeated a team as good as Arvin. I'll take the Bears and their balanced rushing attack to win at home and snap a three-game losing streak.
Prediction: Arvin 23, Chavez 17
KENNEDY (2-4, 0-2 SSL) AT WASCO (4-1, 1-0) — Oy. The mismatch of the year, and I'm not sure there's anything else close. I hate to sound like a prude, but at some point, you have to wonder about the Thunderbirds' players' safety, right? I mean, Bakersfield Christian is a spread team that had way too much speed for Kennedy, but Wasco will hit you in the mouth. As for the Tigers, coach Rusvel Prado will surely want his starters to get at least a half's worth of reps in advance of next week's trip to BCHS. We all hope for a peaceful — even though it won't be pretty — resolution.
Prediction: Wasco 63, Kennedy 0
HIGHLAND (1-4, 0-0 SEYL) AT GARCES (3-2, 0-0) — There are four 1-4 teams in the Southeast Yosemite League, and all four recorded their only win thus far against Mira Monte. They'll play one another now, obviously, so somebody's record is bound to improve, but in games agains the remaining two SEYL teams, I don't give them much of a chance. Highland is always good for a game defensive effort, but the Scots will have to score to keep up with the Rams, who can probably score 28 points just by handing off to Sheldon Croney on every play. Garces will mix it up and get more points than that, and the Scots will then have to figure out how to get ready for Tehachapi next week.
Prediction: Garces 45, Highland 8
NORTH (1-4, 0-0 SEYL) AT FOOTHILL (1-4, 0-0) — Here's the first of the battles between 1-4 teams, and to me, this is a pretty easy call. The Stars have played a pretty good Division II and III schedule and been competitive in every game. North, 0-10 a year ago, put scares into Delano and Golden Valley and was competitive into the fourth quarter against West and South, too, though the Stars succumbed to big plays in both games. That shouldn't be an issue here, because the Trojans don't have a lot of firepower. North's size and strength on the line of scrimmage will wear Foothill down as the Stars should claim their first league victory in two seasons.
Prediction: North 28, Foothill 14
KERN VALLEY (4-1, 0-0 HDL) AT FRAZIER MOUNTAIN (4-1, 0-0) — With Bishop scuffling through a rare down year, this projects as a huge game in the High Desert League's first year in the Central Section. In fact, it very well could be the league championship. Both teams are coming off a bye — and the Falcons, in fact, have another one coming up in a nine-game schedule — and both should be ready to go for this one. Frazier Mountain's typical homefield advantage is dulled by the fact that Kern Valley is used to cold weather and altitude, though any kind of windiness or precipitation could wreak havoc on the Broncs' outstanding passing game. Still, quarterback Dalton Gallis, who's a darkhorse Player of the Year contender, and company should have too much for Frazier Mountain, which can move the ball but will need to be nearly perfect on several long drives to pull this one off.
Prediction: Kern Valley 37, Frazier Mountain 20
CALIFORNIA CITY (0-5, 0-0 HDL) AT ROSAMOND (0-6, 0-0) — Well, here it is. It's the game of the year for these teams, because it represents the best chance at a victory and because it's against a rival. Heck, if you go 1-9 but beat your neighbor school, some people consider that a success. Both teams have shown signs of life in the past two or three weeks, and looking down the road at this game, I figured I'd play my standard "when in doubt, go with the home team" card. But I'm actually taking the Ravens here. They won the 2012 meeting, and there's a direct correlation to why they've played better the past two weeks: Cal City has started giving the ball to Daville Walker, who has gone over the 120-yard mark twice now and averages nearly six yards per carry. That's not too bad for an 0-5 team. I'll call for the Ravens to make it 1-5 this week.
Prediction: California City 27, Rosamond 23
DELANO (3-2, 0-0 EYL) AT TULARE WESTERN (3-2, 0-0) — On paper, these teams appear to be pretty similar, both with strong running games and defenses that are counted upon to keep games close. Both have winning records but have struggled against top competition. Delano's top two opponents, Liberty and Dinuba, have been better than anyone the Mustangs have played, but Tulare Western, much improved after an 0-10 mark last year, also gave both Redwood and Memorial (top 25 teams in my rankings) good battles before falling. That, and the fact that the Mustangs are at home, makes me think Delano is in trouble here. And it could snowball fast, because the East Yosemite League is very good this year. A loss here means getting to 5-5 on the year means beating Monache (which appears to be the weak link in the league) plus picking off a game against either Porterville, Mission Oak or Tulare Union. That makes this a big one for both teams, and I think TW gets it done.
Prediction: Tulare Western 20, Delano 16
BISHOP (2-3) AT DESERT (3-2) — This was annually one of the biggest games in the High Desert League, and the teams kept it on the schedule even though the Scorpions left for the Desert Mountain League so they could stay in the Southern Section. Bishop has had the best of the series historically, as the Broncos have with every team in the HDL, but this year is the worst I've seen from Bishop, which won a Southern Section title just two seasons ago. Desert, meanwhile, appears to have hit a real stride offensively. I'll take the Scorpions, who boast one of the county's top rushers in Logan Lukenbill (1,059 yards, 14 touchdowns) and one of its top receivers in Chad Gleason (439 yards, 20.9 ypc, 3 touchdowns).
Prediction: Desert 38, Bishop 28
McFARLAND (1-4) AT RIVERDALE (2-3) — Another pillowfight, this one between McFarland, which has only an 8-3 victory against Cal City on the left side of the ledger, and Riverdale, which was 0-10 and provided the Cougars with one of their three victories a year ago. The Cowboys are better this season, and it's possible that's enough to win another game, though they seem to be scuffling lately. So does McFarland, though, and the Cougars are on the road again, as they will be for the rest of the season while their stadium is renovated. Who knows? I'll go with the home team in a toss-up.
Prediction: Riverdale 28, McFarland 23
BURROUGHS (2-3, 1-0 DSL) AT BARSTOW (3-3, 1-0) — Because of the oddity of Adelanto's schedule — the 0-6 Saints will play their final league game this week and then finish out the season against non-league opponents — four of the other teams in the Desert Sky League sport 1-0 records. I guess that makes this a battle for first place. The Aztecs are coming off of a nice victory against Hesperia-Sultana, but don't be fooled by that or the record; Burroughs has played a much more difficult schedule than Barstow and figures to be more ready for this matchup. It's the third of four straight road games for the Burros, who then get to finish the season with three games in Ridgecrest. They should even their road mark at 2-2 here.
Prediction: Burroughs 30, Barstow 21
LANCASTER-DESERT CHRISTIAN (1-4, 0-2 DML) AT BORON (3-2, 2-0) — Desert Christian seemed like a good bet to be a title contender in this league for years to come, but the Knights have apparently fallen on some down times. After beating Cal City in the opener, Desert Christian has lost four games by an average of 26 points to opposition that hasn't been anything special. They lost 58-14 to Silver Valley a couple of weeks ago, and Silver Valley figures to get its strongest challenge for the league crown from Boron and Desert. Advantage Bobcats.
Prediction: Boron 41, Desert Christian 14
SANTA MARIA-VALLEY CHRISTIAN ACADEMY (4-1) AT NORTHWEST CHRISTIAN (3-2) — I'm all for hot starts, but Valley Christian Academy's 4-1 record screams paper tiger. The Lions have two wins against winless teams, and then struggled to get past Immanuel Christian (1-4) last week. Now they come to Bakersfield to play the defending Central Section champions. The Guardians have had their own ups and downs this season, but I think they'll pull out a statement win at home here before Central Sierra League play — essentially a round-robin version of Central Section 8-man playoffs — begins next week.
Prediction: Northwest Christian 42, Valley Christian Academy 38
MARICOPA (2-2) AT FRESNO CHRISTIAN (2-3) — A couple of wins in a row have made the outlook on Maricopa's season look considerably brighter; the Indians have only four games left, with the last two their only league games. They'll have to find a way to beat either Cuyama Valley or Valley Christian Academy, both 4-1, to make the Southern Section 8-man Division II playoffs, but that's still a few weeks away. This is a toss-up game, but given the long road trip, I'll take Fresno Christian to win a tight one.
Prediction: Fresno Christian 40, Maricopa 34
LEE VINING (1-2, 1-0 HLL) AT IMMANUEL CHRISTIAN (1-4, 0-0) — In many ways, Immanuel Christian's close loss against Valley Christian last week was the Crusaders' best performance of the season, and it's a pretty decent sign that things are progressing nicely out in Ridgecrest. Now it's time for Hi-Lo League play, where Immanuel must finish in the top three to reach the Southern Section 8-man Division II playoffs. This looks to be a key game in that quest, because Big Pine is 0-4 and should be beatable. Plus, Crusaders coach Aaron Gage still has that undefeated Mizzou season going for him, ya know?
Prediction: Immanuel Christian 48, Lee Vining 27
Saturday, Oct. 12
TEHACHAPI (3-2, 0-0 SEYL) AT EAST (1-4, 0-0) — It's East High's 75th anniversary, and it's homecoming, and that's really cool, and ... wait, the Blades scheduled Tehachapi for this game?! The team that has made its living in Steve Denman's 30-year tenure making opposing teams feel helpless? Welp. East High still has a couple of wins in it, I think, and the Blades haven't been a lost cause ... but I can't see it happening in this week's big game. Tehachapi is on a roll, with the running game producing more than 400 yards a game in the past two contests and the defense holding Arvin and West to a touchdown each. Sounds familiar, and it sounds like the Warriors on an autumn roll again. Expect a nice effort from East with a lot of alumni watching, but Tehachapi will roll in the end.
Prediction: Tehachapi 45, East 14
Last week: 20-1 (.952)
This year: 120-21 (.851)
All-time: 1,200-334 (.782)