A big weekend of football ahead for Kern County, with pivotal SWYL matchups like Stockdale at Liberty and Bakersfield at Frontier on tap, plus a great non-leaguer in Bakersfield Christian at South. Then, on Saturday, I'll be at the Coliseum to see USC take on Utah. The Trojans' starting quarterback is Centennial graduate Cody Kessler, and Utah's starting middle linebacker is Kessler's former Golden Hawks teammate, Jared Norris. That will be a fun one to see, and I'll tweet live from my account @zewing. Heck, I might even set up a live blog if there's enough interest.
To start things off, don't forget we're live with the Week 8 preview show at 2 p.m. tomorrow. On Friday, BVarsity will live broadcast Stockdale-Liberty starting at about 7 p.m. and then have the best Friday-night highlights and analysis in town on BVarsity Live at 11 p.m.
First, some thoughts and predictions on every game in Kern County this weekend. I was bound to slip a bit after two weeks of just one wrong pick, but an 0-3 Saturday really killed me. 15-4 would have been just fine; 15-7 smarts.
Here's the recap (15-7 overall):
The good: Picking Ridgeview to hand South its first loss was a nice coup, and I'm 7-for-7 picking the Rebels this year. Liberty over Frontier tight was a nice pick, as was North to give Garces problems for a half.
The bad: I lost a few toss-up games — Taft-Chavez was a similar score, but I had the wrong team winning. I also didn't see West surprising Golden Valley. And margins were all over the place. Delano-Tulare Union was much closer than I expected, East-Foothill much more lopsided.
The ugly: For starters, I completely whiffed on the game of the week, though I'm not sure how many could have seen BCHS' rout of Wasco coming. And then that 0-3 Saturday, all in small-school games, really put a damper on the week as a whole.
Friday, Oct. 25
STOCKDALE (4-3, 2-0 SWYL) AT LIBERTY (6-1, 1-1) — Two weeks ago, this looked like an easy win for Liberty, which we thought was one of the section's top teams, over Stockdale, which didn't seem to be able to beat good teams. But times have changed in a hurry, and this has become one of the more difficult games to call of the entire season, not to mention a battle to remain in the SWYL title chase. Liberty, after getting blown out by Bakersfield, fell behind Frontier big but righted the ship in time — just barely in time — to escape with a 37-36 overtime victory thanks to three 2-point conversions and two blocked extra points. Meanwhile, Stockdale started quick and never looked back against Centennial, leading 25-0 in the first 15 minutes and winning 32-7. Suffice it to say that the Mustangs won't lose often with a lead like that, because their running game is good enough to grind out wins from that point. But my feeling is that Liberty is due for a good start at home. If that's the case, Stockdale might be in a familiar position — needing to pass to create some balance on offense. That's created turnovers and negative plays, especially with some injuries along the offensive line. Stockdale coach Mike Snow is hopeful his team has turned a corner, and if it has, this will be a good game till the end. But even then, at home, I'll give the edge to a Liberty team that still has performed extraordinarily well for all but about six quarters this year.
Prediction: Liberty 35, Stockdale 27
BAKERSFIELD (5-2, 2-0 SWYL) AT FRONTIER (3-4, 0-2) — Meanwhile, here's a contest that looked like a Game of the Year candidate about a month ago and now has evolved into a game between a first-place team and a last-place team. It's not that simple, of course, and Frontier's performances against Ridgeview, Lompoc and Liberty (at least for the first three quarters) show this is a team capable of playing at a high level, particularly when two-way lineman Colton Foster is healthy. Unfortunately for the Titans, those times haven't come nearly often enough and have been mixed in with head-scratching performances. To beat Bakersfield, as Frontier did at Griffith Field a year ago, you're going to have to play four great quarters. A lull probably means a big play with the speed the Drillers have. A few of those, and suddenly you're looking at the wrong end of a lopsided score. I actually think Frontier, backs against the wall, will circle the wagons a bit here and put up another good performance, but Bakersfield is rolling right now, and I don't see any way the Drillers don't avenge last year's defeat.
Prediction: Bakersfield 42, Frontier 19
INDEPENDENCE (4-3, 0-2 SWYL) AT CENTENNIAL (4-3, 1-1) — That was a head-scratcher Friday night for Centennial, though as I said in the Week 7 recap, sometimes the turnover bug bites and it's hard to keep it at bay. One of the things leading up to that game that Kevin Sneed mentioned was that the Golden Hawks knew they were just one win from guaranteeing a .500 season and meeting school requirements for a playoff berth. They missed a chance last week; if they miss this one, they'll have to beat either Bakersfield or Liberty to avoid letting that slip away. Independence, meanwhile, might feel this is its best chance for an SWYL victory. The Falcons beat Centennial in a shootout last year, and the Hawks might be reeling a bit after the big loss at Stockdale. But Independence also has proven it can stop a high-quality running game yet, and Centennial has just that. I think Brandon Robinson, Noah Frazier and Andrew Hansen will run wild in this one and the Golden Hawks defense will rebound from last week, too.
Prediction: Centennial 41, Independence 20
BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN (5-2) AT SOUTH (6-1) — Surprise! A very fun non-league tilt mixed into the peak of league season here, with two teams with opposite emotions after last week. Bakersfield Christian beat Wasco for one of its biggest wins since Derek Carr left (you could argue last year's semifinal victory over Mission Oak was bigger, but nothing else comes close), while South's perfect campaign came crashing to a halt at Ridgeview. The Rebels get to go back home here, and in many ways this is a good matchup for South. They have the athletes in the secondary necessary to cover BCHS' terrific spread passing attack, and they have enough up front to keep Matt Smith from going hog-wild, too. But here's the thing about the Eagles: During this five-game winning streak, the BCHS defense has played just as well as the offense. South has struggled the last three weeks to put up a bunch of points, and when the chips are down, I think the Eagles find a way to finish quite a few more drives than South does.
Prediction: Bakersfield Christian 41, South 21
WEST (3-4, 1-1 SYL) AT RIDGEVIEW (4-4, 2-0) — Ridgeview can clinch a share of its third straight South Yosemite League title with a win here, and then the Wolf Pack would go into its late bye week before finishing with Golden Valley. And honestly, even with a big midseason hiccup, who wants to play the defending champs in the suddenly wide-open Division III playoffs? Not sure anybody does after the defensive domination of South last week. But this game is still the key to all of that, and West played its best offensive game of the season in beating Golden Valley 42-28 last week. Can the Vikings test Ridgeview? Sure, with an offense that is more balanced than you might think. But West also gave up 439 yards of offense to Golden Valley last week. Ridgeview's offense is still a work in progress, but if the Wolf Pack, playing at home again, can control possession with its running game again, it should be able to grind out another win in the league it has owned the past three seasons.
Prediction: Ridgeview 34, West 20
MIRA MONTE (0-7, 0-1 SYL) AT GOLDEN VALLEY (4-3, 0-1) — Games with South and Ridgeview still remain, so this is Golden Valley's best shot at a .500 season and a decent Division III playoff seed. And though last week's loss at West was a bit surprising, there's nothing that says GV should be worried here. The Bulldogs have already defeated three teams that beat Mira Monte — Highland, North and Foothill — and the victories against the Scots and Trojans were both shutouts. The Lions, who have been shut out three of their past four games and have given up 40 points three times this year, are nearing the end of a nightmarish season. That's about all the hope I can offer Mira Monte at the moment.
Prediction: Golden Valley 35, Mira Monte 6
GARCES (5-2, 2-0 SEYL) AT FOOTHILL (1-6, 0-2) — It's gotten pretty ugly for Foothill in Jason Oliver's first season, but that was to be expected with a program that has been stripped to bare bones with a new coach. Give Oliver time. If he stays passionate, Foothill will be back, particularly when the Trojans head into a league that doesn't include Garces and Tehachapi next season. For now, though, Foothill will have to take its lumps, and this week will be another one. Garces is really, really rolling now, with road victories against Memorial and Stockdale looking better and better and the passing offense really kicking it into gear. Rams QB Jake Pavletich has eight passing touchdowns in the past two weeks, and six of those have been to Jack Lundy. Pair that combination with Sheldon Croney's running game and a maturing offensive line, and Garces is on repeat watch in Division II. This will be another chance to polish up statistics.
Prediction: Garces 52, Foothill 6
TEHACHAPI (5-2, 2-0 SEYL) AT NORTH (2-5, 1-1) — The box score showed it was a rout, but North made Garces sweat for a good 20 minutes last week before succumbing to the inevitable Rams onslaught late in the first half and after the break. Now the Stars play a Tehachapi team that has struggled with consistency on offense. That said, the Warriors have won four in a row by an average of 34.3 points, and North probably fits right into the same caliber of opponent. The Stars have made just about everybody play hard to beat them this year, and I think that will be the same here, but Tehachapi still is just another level of team right now. The Warriors were up 48-0 on Highland at home last week. This one won't get that ugly, but North won't keep up for four quarters, either.
Prediction: Tehachapi 42, North 14
EAST (2-5, 1-1 SEYL) AT HIGHLAND (1-6, 0-2) — The Scots drew the short end of the SEYL schedule stick, getting Garces and Tehachapi in the first two games. The good news is that Highland now has a chance to end the season on a bit of a run. This game seems like a toss-up — Highland put up a much better fight against South and Independence, but East better against Tehachapi and generally looking more potent lately. I'm leaning towards going with the hot hand here, reasoning that Highland might be banged up after back-to-back tough games and that the Blades might have found something on offense with quarterback Blake Sherman, running back Raydell McCollins and receivers Luis Castaneda and Josh Alvarado. If East can put up some points early — and it had 34 at the half against Foothill last week — Highland will be hard-pressed to keep up with an offense that has scored 20 just twice (including all 20 in garbage time against Tehachapi last week).
Prediction: East 28, Highland 16
TAFT (3-4, 1-2 SSL) AT WASCO (5-2, 2-1) — The previous two times Wasco has lost — and that's all there had been in three years — the Tigers rebounded agressively, first going 13-0 last year after a loss to Washington Union ended the 2011 season and then with a four-game streak of routs after a loss at Bakersfield High earlier this year. That's probably bad news for Taft, which is the snake-bitten team of the season in Kern County. The Wildcats have lost to Golden Valley by a point, to Shafter by four (on a last-minute touchdown) and to Chavez by a point (on a late touchdown after a bad punt snap). Quite frankly, Taft is due a break. And getting Wasco without the injured Isaiah Sharp probably qualifies, though that's not going to help you against Terrance Grinner and Casper Lopez, who can also hurt you with the big play. This will be an emotional one for Wasco, and that should get them through in a tight spot.
Prediction: Wasco 48, Taft 17
ARVIN (4-3, 2-1 SSL) AT SHAFTER (4-3, 2-1) — Identical records are a dead giveaway: This is indeed your patented South Sequoia League Toss-Up Game of the Week™. It's also as tough to figure as that name would imply. Arvin struggled to put away lowly Kennedy at home last week, giving up nearly 400 yards and holding off the Thunderbirds, 28-21. That would suggest there could be problems with the Shafter offense, which has moved the ball at least at times against everyone on the schedule. Combine the fact that the Generals have had a week off to prepare for this one and that they're at home, and I see this coin flip landing on the Shafter side. That would guarantee the Generals a .500 season, and keep them, at least peripherally, in the SSL title race heading into another SSL Toss-Up Game™ at Chavez next week.
Prediction: Shafter 34, Arvin 23
CHAVEZ (4-4, 1-3 SSL) AT KENNEDY (2-6, 0-4) — Major signs of progress last week for the Thunderbirds, who likely would have taken just about anything after losing their first three SSL games (to Shafter, BCHS and Wasco) by a combined 221-0. Instead, they darn near pulled off a stunning victory in Arvin, making the Bears score a fourth-quarter touchdown to hold on as Rolando Arrona threw for 191 yards and Michael Suarez ran for 113. Chavez, meanwhile, had its own big-time performance, erasing a 16-0 Taft lead in a 27-26 victory that turned on a late special-teams mistake. Will Chavez be riding too high after that one and overlook Kennedy? I doubt it, considering this is a crosstown rivalry and an important game before the Titans end their season next week against Shafter (they have a bye in Week 10). The Titans will be focused enough to get win No. 5 here.
Prediction: Chavez 31, Kennedy 10
PORTERVILLE-MONACHE (1-6, 0-2 EYL) AT DELANO (3-4, 0-2) — The Tigers nearly pulled off their own second-half comeback last week in what would have been a huge victory against Division I Tulare Union. Instead, Delano had to settle for the dreaded moral victory in a 36-33 loss. It does prove a couple of things: The Tigers offense is coming around, making this a team to watch at least in the early rounds of the Division III playoffs, and Delano, as always, is a tough place to play. That's all bad news for Monache, which has beat only 1-6 Reedley this season and has lost all six games by at least 19 points. Delano isn't good enough to sleepwalk through this, but the Tigers should be fired up to get one more win with a very difficult finishing stretch against Porterville and Mission Oak coming up.
Prediction: Delano 37, Monache 21
FRAZIER MOUNTAIN (4-3, 0-1 HDL) AT BISHOP (3-4, 1-0) — This isn't a huuuge game, because both teams have lost a couple of games they didn't expect to, but it is pretty important. A Frazier Mountain win, for one thing, combined with an (almost assured) Kern Valley victory over Cal City, would give KV at least a share of the High Desert League title — but it would also open up the possibility of a three-way tie if the Broncs should trip up on their own trip to Bishop next week. At the very least, this seems to be the battle for second place with Rosamond and Cal City safely tucked into the bottom two spots in the five-team league. So what gives? Frazier Mountain has been a tough team to figure out this year, winning four games in a row and then playing Kern Valley tough, but the Falcons have also dropped a game or two they shouldn't have. The common denominator? They haven't played well on the road. This is one doozy of a road trip. Minor upset, but I'm going with Bishop.
Prediction: Bishop 30, Frazier Mountain 28
CALIFORNIA CITY (0-7, 0-2 HDL) AT KERN VALLEY (6-1, 2-0) — Ten different Broncs received at least one carry in a rout of Rosamond last week; they combined for more than 10 yards per carry on 25 touches. Dalton Gallis also threw three touchdowns, and the Broncs led 53-7 at halftime. The schedule is a bit unfair to Kern Valley, because the tough league games are on the road — Frazier Mountain two weeks ago and Bishop next week — and the gimmes are at home. Still, this should be another stat-padding opportunity for Kern Valley, and I'm sure the Broncs will be happy to collect some more style points as the race for positioning in the Division IV regional bowl race heats up.
Prediction: Kern Valley 56, California City 7
McFARLAND (1-6, 0-1 ESiL) AT LATON (4-3, 1-1) — It seems like a long time ago that McFarland had won its season opener and had a chance to be 2-0 for the first time in seven years. The Cougars were drilled by a bad Orosi team last week, and it's looking increasingly likely that their only chance at another win will come in Week 10 against winless Orange Cove. At this point, McFarland likely will even be an underdog there. Last week's 8-point total at least snapped a streak of two consecutive shutouts, but McFarland still hasn't scored more than 13 points in a game all season. And in seven games overall? 43 points, or 10 less than Kern Valley had in the first half last week.
Prediction: Laton 49, McFarland 8
BORON (5-2, 4-0 DML) AT DESERT (5-2, 4-1) — Everyone else in the league has at least two losses, so here is your unofficial Desert Mountain League championship game. If Desert wins, a split title between the Kern County schools becomes increasingly likely. If Boron wins, the Bobcats would actually clinch a share of the title this very week. And that would certainly be nothing new in Boron, where winning league titles is like clocking in at work. But I have some serious reservations about the Bobcats' defense, which has allowed more than 30 points four times already this year. Boron won two of those games, but Desert is balanced enough to rack up those kind of points and keep the Bobcats at bay, too. This should turn into an entertaining shootout worthy of a title game, but I'm going with the home team, the more balanced offense and one of the league's newcomers to nab a big win.
Prediction: Desert 48, Boron 45
VICTORVILLE-SILVERADO (5-2, 2-0 DSL) AT BURROUGHS (4-3, 3-0) — Victor Valley is also 2-0 in the league and has yet to play either of these teams, so you can't call this one a championship game just yet. That said, it certainly appears to be the meeting of the Desert Sky League's two best teams, and the Burros are fortunate enough to get it at home. But Burroughs hasn't exactly been convincing in dispatching Barstow and Apple Valley-Granite Hills the past two weeks, and those two teams are 2-4 in league play. Silverado, meanwhile, is on some kind of roll, winning its past three games by a combined score of 143-0. Burroughs is better than any of those opponents, but I'm thinking the Hawks, who list their colors as "midnight blue and platinum" will pull the curtains over the Burros in this one.
Prediction: Silverado 34, Burroughs 24
MOJAVE (6-0) AT ORCUTT ACADEMY (4-3) — The Mustangs haven't played all of the other top 8-man teams in the state, but they've played many of them, and they haven't played a game closer than 7 points yet. This is Kern County's last chance at an unbeaten season, and Mojave looks like, after a nicely timed double-bye, they should be able to finish off the regular season at 8-0. Then would come the Southern Section 8-man Division I playoffs, where the other top contenders figure to be Trinity Classical Academy (Mojave won that matchup 13-6), Lucerne Valley, Coast Union, Cate (Mojave won 45-19) and Thacher (Mojave won 35-18). It's a good time to be a Mustang.
Prediction: Mojave 42, Orcutt Academy 17
NEW CUYAMA-CUYAMA VALLEY (5-2, 1-0 CVL) AT MARICOPA (2-4, 0-0) — The Coast Valley League has only three teams, which means two make the Southern Section playoffs, which means Cuyama Valley has already sewed up a postseason spot by beat Valley Christian Academy last week. Now, the Bears can clinch the mini-league's title by beating up on their neighbors. The Indians have had an up-and-down season, but the fact remains they haven't come close to beating a team the caliber of Cuyama Valley. With a lot on the line here, there's no reason to believe that will change.
Prediction: Cuyama Valley 55, Maricopa 13
BIG PINE (0-5, 0-2 HLL) AT IMMANUEL CHRISTIAN (3-4, 2-0) — A truly season-changing victory for Immanuel Christian last week, which beat Trona 36-20 after trailing 12-0 at halftime and after losing to the Tornadoes in a season-opening non-league matchup. Now the Crusaders need only to keep it going against lesser teams, and a surprising Hi-Lo League title will be theirs. Hey, that sounds an awful lot like the still-unbeaten Missouri Tigers. I wonder if coach Aaron Gage will use that as some motivation this week. Either way, Immanuel should have no trouble at home with the winless Big Pine Warriors.
Prediction: Immanuel Christian 63, Big Pine 6
Saturday, Oct. 26
NORTHWEST CHRISTIAN (4-3, 1-1 CSiL) AT ALPAUGH (2-3-1, 1-1) — It was a miserable Saturday for my picks — 0-3 in those extra small-school games can really butcher a winning percentage, I'll tell ya — but probably not as miserable as last Friday night was for defending Central Sierra League and 8-man section champion Northwest Christian. The Guardians were hammered, 47-6, at Kings Christian. Now the task for Northwest must be to finish in the league's top two and get into the section championship, for (likely) another shot at Kings Christian. The real test to that end will be a visit from Fresno Christian next week. This should be a nice rebound opportunity for Devin Hillberg and the Guardians.
Prediction: Northwest Christian 52, Alpaugh 13
Last week: 15-7 (.682)
This year: 154-30 (.837)
All-time: 1,234-343 (.782)