In two weeks, we'll be talking about playoff predictions instead of game predictions, section championships instead of league races, and paths to state bowl berths instead of section playoff brackets. But then think about this: For a team that has to play four section playoff games and then makes a regional bowl, the season is only half over. Eight games down, eight to go. That's pretty amazing, considering Halloween is this week, and it's a long season for a 16- or 17-year-old body to go through.
But we all love it, and so we keep doing it, head injuries or fatigue or misguided priorities be damned (or at least pushed to the side, sometimes). And I'll keep trucking on, too.
Before we get into the Week 9 nitty gritty, here's a recap of last week's picks (19-3 overall):
The good: You'll never hear me complain about a 19-3 week. I was also really good on margins this week, hitting Frontier-Bakersfield almost exactly and pretty close on several others, including Garces-Foothill and Golden Valley-Mira Monte.
The bad: I've been slow on the uptake with West, which burned me last week with Golden Valley and then did it again with Ridgeview. But who can really predict the Wolf Pack at this point?
The ugly: Taking Delano to win by 16 points over Monache was atrocious, considering the Marauders won, and I didn't trust Burroughs at home to beat Silverado. Whoops.
Friday, Nov. 1
CENTENNIAL (5-3, 2-1 SWYL) AT BAKERSFIELD (6-2, 3-0) — For all the good work Bakersfield has done in the Southwest Yosemite League, the Drillers still have potentially two games to play against one-loss teams in the league (if Stockdale beats Frontier, the Mustangs will be 3-1 in the SWYL next week). But it's hard to consider BHS anything but a big favorite in both of its remaining two games. The Drillers played a shaky game last week and still beat a pretty good Frontier team by three touchdowns and were never really challenged. Even if teams bottle up this running attack on 90 percent of plays, the other 10 percent have a chance to be touchdowns. And the Bakersfield defense is starting to hit on all cylinders now, too, razing the Titans for seven sacks and four turnovers last week. The Drillers are up to No. 18 in Cal Hi Sports' state rankings for a reason. It is strange, though, that over the last two seasons, BHS has been better on the road than at vaunted Griffith Field, where it rarely lost the three seasons before that. Regardless, young Centennial might be hitting a wall a little bit at this point in the season. If the Golden Hawks can get the running game going and control the clock, they might stick around for a while. But Bakersfield will do what it does: Win with big plays.
Prediction: Bakersfield 45, Centennial 20
FRONTIER (3-5, 0-3 SWYL) AT STOCKDALE (4-4, 2-1) — Here are two teams going in opposite directions, with Stockdale surging (never mind the one-point loss at Liberty last week, this team is playing by far its best football of the season) and Frontier fading to 0-3 in the league. To make matters worse for the Titans, quarterback Evan Moore is out (probably for the rest of the regular season) with a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder. To make matters more dramatic, Stockdale has a school policy stating that its teams must be .500 to reach the playoffs, and Frontier coach Rich Cornford has said the same thing about this year's team (though he allowed the Frontier administration could overrule him). Frontier finishes with a winnable game against Independence, but the Titans need to win both to get to 5-5. Stockdale just needs one, but the Mustangs finish at Bakersfield. That makes this game a near elimination game for both teams. One very good team could get left at home. So Stockdale, with all that momentum, should be a big favorite, right? Not so fast. Frontier still has a lot of talent, and the Titans will be playing with backs against the wall. And the backup QB, Caleb Thompson, played capably in the second half last week and in a playoff loss to Edison last year when Moore was injured. I'm going with Stockdale and its running game here, but it's not a confident pick; this looks like the best game of the weekend. And that's before you even consider the possible stakes.
Prediction: Stockdale 33, Frontier 28
LIBERTY (7-1, 2-1 SWYL) AT INDEPENDENCE (4-4, 0-3) — Note that this game is a regular 7:30 p.m. Friday kickoff despite some schedules that had it listed as a Saturday game. It's a chance for Liberty to re-gain its dominant form from the first half of the season. The Patriots seem to have lost quite a bit of mojo in a 45-10 loss to Bakersfield, but to their credit, they gutted out one-point wins over Frontier (37-36) and Stockdale (27-26) in the past two weeks. If this one finished 17-16, Liberty could be real trouble. I don't think it will, though. The Patriots did enough good things the past two weeks to make me think it's still a Division I title contender. But to get a No. 3 seed (or even possibly a No. 2, if Edison should lose), Liberty needs to take care of business. Expect a big night for Anthony Mariscal, who's taken a backseat in the offensive gameplan to Josh Medina in the past couple of weeks. And Independence, which was at least scoring in bunches against good teams early in the season, has seen its offense stagnate. It'll stay close for a quarter or two, but Liberty pulls away for a comfortable league win, for once, in the second half.
Prediction: Liberty 38, Independence 13
BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN (6-2, 4-0 SSL) AT TAFT (3-5, 1-3) — Bakersfield Christian has become must-watch football in the second half of the season, both because the Eagles are putting up some gaudy offensive numbers — in particular quarterback Brandon Jones, who's rocking a whopping 32-3 TD-interception ratio and throwing for 285 yards per game — and because they're a threat to make a meteoric rise in the Southern Cal regional bowl rankings. BCHS' enrollment is less than 500, so they're eligible for the small-school bowl, regardless of what division they play in. Of course, to be elgible, you have to be a section champ, and that's going to be very tough in Division IV, where Mission Oak, CVC and Wasco all await. And clearly, the Eagles will have to keep winning until then. This is a tricky trip out to Taft, which always seems to play well at home and which has had some defensive success this year. My guess is that the Wildcats won't be able to keep the balanced BCHS spread at bay for four quarters, though. Give me the Eagles in a game that will feel tight for a little while but won't end up that way.
Prediction: Bakersfield Christian 41, Taft 14
GOLDEN VALLEY (5-3, 1-1 SYL) AT SOUTH (6-2, 1-1) — A few backs back, this looked like an easy South win en route to a possible 10-0 season. But things have changed, with the Rebels dropping back-to-back games by 13+ points to Ridgeview and Bakersfield Christian. With Ridgeview's loss to West last week, though, South finds itself back in the South Yosemite League title chase with one loss. So, too, for that matter, does Golden Valley, which would have to accomplish the tall task of beating South and Ridgeview back to back to earn its share. The Rebels weren't competitive with BCHS last week, but (a) we've covered how well I think BCHS is playing, and (b) South was missing stars Keith Evans and Asonte Johnson because of disciplinary reasons. They're expected back this week, so that will give South a much-needed boost in the big-play department. Golden Valley beat up on Mira Monte last week to guarantee a .500 season, and this has been a nice bounceback season for the Bulldogs after a 2-8 disappointment in 2012, but I don't see this GV team, even with Tyler Waters' improvement at quarterback, moving the ball for four quarters on a good South defense. Give me the Rebels in a good one, with South moving within a victory against Mira Monte next week of winning a share of its first league title since 1995.
Prediction: South 27, Golden Valley 20
MIRA MONTE (0-8, 0-2 SYL) AT WEST (4-4, 2-1) — For the second straight year, West has made a late-season surge. I'm sure Mark Camps and staff would like to see the light bulb turn on for the Vikings earlier, but it's a sign of good coaching that it turns on after a rough start at all. West, of course, made a surprise run to the Division II semifinals last year, and the Vikings are working their way up the seed latter with a strong finish here. In fact, West is the safest bet to come out of the SYL scrum with a share of the league title, because this game should pose no threat. The Vikings finish the regular season out of the section next week. Here, take a look at Stanley Dubard's numbers, because he's finally healthy and coming on strong. He could go for 200+ yards here if West needs to keep him in long enough.
Prediction: West 49, Mira Monte 6
EAST (3-5, 2-1 SEYL) AT GARCES (6-2, 3-0) — I said three weeks ago after East's 75th Homecoming game that I thought the Blades were ready to turn a corner, and they've won twice since then. A victory here would be monumental, obviously, but I don't think East is quite ready for that. Blake Sherman is a tough hombre at quarterback, Raydell McCollins is a workhorse running back and there are enough athletes on the perimeter to make a few plays on both sides of the ball. But Garces is playing like it's going to make a serious run at a repeat Division II title. It didn't appear early in the season like the Rams offense had a chance of being as balanced as it was last year, but here we are. Jake Pavletich has turned into one of the section's more productive quarterbacks, and he's plenty good enough to make defenses pay for putting eight defenders in the box to stop Sheldon Croney. There's no way out here for East's defense.
Prediction: Garces 51, East 10
FOOTHILL (1-7, 0-3 SEYL) AT TEHACHAPI (6-2, 3-0) — It's the home finale for the Warriors, and here's an interesting question: Will they get a home playoff game? The answer, if Tehachapi can beat Garces next week, is an obvious yes. But if they don't? It might depend on how many teams are in the D-II playoff bracket. The Warriors' schedule wasn't great, but the losses (so far, anyway) were to out-of-division teams and a win over West is looking like a nice boost. I slot them somewhere in the 5-8 range at the moment, which would likely mean a home first-rounder — only if there are at least 12 teams in the bracket. Anyway, that's all filler to say that this home game will be nothing more than a send-off party for the trip to Garces. Foothill should pose no threat. For Trojans fans: If Jason Oliver turns the program around, think back to this moment and how down Foothill was. Oliver has a tough rebuilding job coming.
Prediction: Tehachapi 42, Foothill 0
HIGHLAND (1-7, 0-3 SEYL) AT NORTH (2-6, 1-2) — As 2-6 seasons go, it's been a fairly successful one for first-year coach Chad Brown, who inherited an 0-10 team that was mostly uncompetitive last year. Now the Stars have won a couple of games and have had chances for more. They weren't at the level of Garces and Tehachapi the past two weeks, but the the team plays hard, and here's another shot for a W. Speaking of playing hard, you can count on that from Highland, which has kept things close in several games this year where it seemed like the Scots were overmatched. Throughout all of that, however, Highland has continued to have trouble scoring. North's defense has been pretty salty (at least when they're not playing Garces and Tehachapi), so at home, I have to think Steven Twiss, David Reyes and the North running game do enough to win this one.
Prediction: North 17, Highland 7
ARVIN (4-4, 2-2 SSL) AT WASCO (6-2, 3-1) — As you might have noticed, I do stock reports at the end of every week's live blog. I'm not sure any team has taken a sharper drop in a two-week stretch than Arvin, which rung up a nice win against Chavez two weeks ago but then was pushed to the brink by Kennedy and was obliterated at Wasco last week. The road gets no easier, as the Bears have this trip and then a home finale with Bakersfield Christian. Wasco will be without top running backs Isaiah Sharp (shoulder) and Terrance Grinner (ankle) again (Grinner is expected back next week, while Sharp might be out until the playoffs). But the Tigers showed off some serious depth last week, with quarterback Austin Sutton, third RB Casper Lopez and fourth RB Chicho Martinez all going over 100 yards in a rout of Taft. I'm thinking Wasco will have no trouble here against a reeling Arvin team.
Prediction: Wasco 48, Arvin 7
SHAFTER (5-3, 3-1 SSL) AT CHAVEZ (5-4, 2-3) — The seven-team league schedule gives one team a bye each week, so this is actually the season finale for Chavez, which likely will enter the Division IV playoffs as an interesting darkhorse. First things first: A meeting with Shafter that could propel the Generals to a huge rivalry game with Wasco next week. Imagine if Shafter gets to 4-1 in the league and gets to play a banged-up Tigers team at home next week. That town will be absolutely rocking for that game. But first, a tough road trip here. This appears to be a very close matchup, as both teams eked out wins against Taft, lost big to Bakersfield Christian and beat Kennedy easily. The difference, I think, is that Shafter is really playing some good ball offensively. Quarterback Kyle Millwee had 383 yards and six TDs passing last week, and that's the kind of firepower the Titans can't match.
Prediction: Shafter 34, Chavez 21
DELANO (3-5, 0-3 EYL) AT PORTERVILLE (6-2, 1-2) — After seeing what Porterville did in the first half of the season, it's hard to believe the Panthers aren't a factor in the East Yosemite League title race. They did hammer Tulare Union last week to get back on track, and you can bet Porterville will be a factor in the Division III playoffs. Delano, meanwhile, has skidded off course, losing four games in a row after a 3-1 start. The loss to Monache last week was the most damaging, because it ensures the Tigers will finish winless in EYL play without a big upset in the next two weeks. With how explosive Porterville is, I don't know see how Delano can hang here.
Prediction: Porterville 49, Delano 17
KERN VALLEY (7-1, 3-0 HDL) AT BISHOP (4-4, 2-0) — Well, looky, looky, looky. The High Desert League title is going to come down to Kern Valley's trip to Bishop, like it seems to every other year. This time around, the Broncs are solid favorites, and it looked for a while like this trip might not even be KV's toughest league game. But Bishop blasted Frazier Mountain up there last week, and now the Broncos look capable of winning the league even after a paltry 2-4 non-league schedule. One of the big questions for me here is weather. Kern Valley's passing attack has been brilliant all year, but the forecast for Bishop on Friday calls for temperatures dropping into the 30s. That's something that could wreak havoc on finesse offenses ... but then Kern Valley practices and lives in mountain weather, too. In the end, even with the road trip and the momentum for Bishop, I think Kern Valley simply has too much for the rest of the league this year. And it's good for KV that it has been a road warrior this year, because it can't be home for the Division V playoffs, per the HDL's agreement to move into the Central Section.
Prediction: Kern Valley 31, Bishop 20
ROSAMOND (1-7, 1-1 HDL) AT FRAZIER MOUNTAIN (4-4, 0-2) — A once-promising season has turned sour in the past three weeks for the Falcons, who were on the brink of upsetting Kern Valley in the league opener but have now lost three games in a row, including a beatdown at the hands of Bishop last week. The common denominator in those poor performances? They were on the road, and Frazier has been much better at home in Lebec. What's more, Rosamond has given up a ton of points this season. The Falcons shouldn't have any trouble coasting in this one.
Prediction: Frazier Mountain 49, Rosamond 21
SANTA CLARITA-EINSTEIN (2-5) AT CALIFORNIA CITY (0-8) — This is likely the final chance for the Ravens to salvage a victory in this game. They're at home, playing a new school that hasn't been very good. Einstein (they're the Rockets) have victories over an 0-5 team and a fellow new school that's 1-7, and they gave Indian Springs its first win last week in a 49-0 blowout. Cal City has been far from good, but it has showed some signs of progress lately. I'll go out on a limb and say the Ravens, who have averaged better than 5 yards per carry in three of their past four games, get that sweet first victory here.
Prediction: California City 27, Einstein 23
McFARLAND (1-7, 0-2 ESiL) AT FARMERSVILLE (5-3, 2-0) — The road trip from you-know-where continues for the Cougars, who knew they'd be away from their stadium for the final six games this season while it was under renovation. What McFarland couldn't have seen is that it would be outscored 152-14 in the first four of those games. And here's the really bad news: Farmersville is by far the best team the Cougars will face in that stretch. The Aztecs appear to be not just a cinch for the East Sierra League title but also a virtual lock to win the Division VI title — Laton is the only other team in the division with a winning record, and Farmersville owns a 52-12 head-to-head win over the Mustangs.
Prediction: Farmersville 59, McFarland 3
VICTOR VALLEY (5-3, 3-0 DSL) AT BURROUGHS (5-3, 4-0) — This is essentially the Desert Sky League championship, though even if the Burros lose, they could split the title if Silverado beats Victor Valley next week. That's not out of the question, but Burroughs, fresh off its own huge win against Silverado, would like to make it a non-issue. This is a team that has played exceptionally well in the second half of the season after a slow start and is in pretty good position to get a good seed in the Southern Section Eastern Division playoffs. I think they keep it rolling here — Victor Valley is dangerous, but they don't seem as strong as the Silverado team Burroughs played last week. Plus, the Burros are nails at home.
Prediction: Burroughs 30, Victor Valley 17
DESERT (6-2, 5-1 DML) AT RIVERSIDE PREP (2-6, 0-5) — A wild race in the Desert Mountain League turned the Scorpions' way last week when they took out Boron. No doubt Desert regrets the early 52-45 loss to Silver Valley; without that, the Scorpions would be looking at clinching a league title this week. As it is, Matt Moore, Logan Lukenbill and company can clinch a share and hope Boron drops one of its final two games. Either way, this one should be no problem for an offense that's averaging 42.4 points per game this season and nearly 50 during its five-game winning streak.
Prediction: Desert 56, Riverside Prep 21
BORON (5-3, 4-1 DML) AT YERMO-SILVER VALLEY (5-3, 3-2) — Boron is where all the drama in the DML resides over the last two weeks. If the Bobcats can win two tough games, they'll split the league title with Desert. If they split the final two, that's at least a Southern Section Northeast Division playoff spot and likely a second-place finish. If they lose both, the playoffs are in jeopardy for a school that's not used to turning in gear before Thanksgiving break. The Bobcats' defense has been a major issue this year, and that's not a good thing for this road trip; still, I think Boron will circle the wagons a little bit and come up with a huge win here.
Prediction: Boron 35, Silver Valley 31
MOJAVE (7-0) AT NEW CUYAMA-CUYAMA VALLEY (6-2) — Here's a high-quality 8-man game to finish the regular season between two teams who should compete for their respective Southern Section championships (Mojave is Division I, Cuyama Valley Division II). The Mustangs, who have been Kern County's only undefeated team for a couple of weeks, have a chance to finish the regular season at 8-0 and go into the playoffs as the section favorite (CalPreps rank the Mustangs as the state's top 8-man team). Cuyama Valley is quality, but this will be the best team they've played probably all year, and at least since a season-opening 64-32 loss to Faith Baptist.
Prediction: Mojave 48, Cuyama Valley 21
IMMANUEL CHRISTIAN (3-5, 3-0 HLL) AT LONE PINE (3-5, 2-1) — The Crusaders backed up Week 7's tremendous victory over Trona by dismantling Big Pine, and now they must go for the Pine Sweep (is that a thing? can we make it a thing?). Immanuel coach Aaron Gage, heartbroken like the rest of us by Missouri's undoing last week, will get his guys fired up for this one and win a league title. That would be a big surprise and a huge accomplishment for a team that started 0-4 (with one of the defeats a forfeit).
Prediction: Immanuel Christian 37, Lone Pine 24
Saturday, Nov. 2
MARICOPA (2-5, 0-1 CVL) AT SANTA MARIA-VALLEY CHRISTIAN ACADEMY (4-3, 0-1) — This one is for second place in the three-team Coast Valley League and therefore a playoff spot. Maricopa certainly hasn't played like a playoff team this year, but they've got a shot in the final week of the regular season, and there's not much more you can ask for than that. The Indians have given up more than 30 points in ever loss this year, and while their offense has been a bit better in the second half of the season, it hasn't been that good. Valley Christian has been the second-best team in the league all year long and will prove it here.
Prediction: Valley Christian Academy 40, Maricopa 13
Last week: 19-3 (.864)
Year to date: 173-33 (.840)
All-time: 1,253-346 (.784)