It's time to play pick em again, but first for a couple of housekeeping notes.
Bakersfield nudges up a spot to No. 17 in Cal Hi Sports' state football rankings, but the website says the Drillers are all but finished in the regional bowl discussion, no matter how the season ends. I don't think that's necessarily true or fair, because BHS would have a comprable resume to Oceanside or Oak Park, the two teams playing the San Diego Open Division final, and they would have historical reasoning on their side if the CIF bowl committee wants to include one of the state's most storied teams in its bowl system for the first time.
First things first, of course: Bakersfield must beat Central this weekend and then either Clovis or Clovis North in the Division I championship game to even be considered for a bowl berth.
The same is true for Wasco and Bakersfield Christian, which face road games in the enticing Division IV semifinals. If either should run the table over the next two weeks, they'd have a strong case for a regional bowl berth. That's especially true for BCHS, which would compete in the regional Division IV game because its enrollment is under 500.
Before this week's picks, here's my report card from the quarterfinals (10-3 overall):
The good: I came reasonably close to nailing the final score for Bakersfield-Clovis West, especially before the Golden Eagles' touchdown as time expired. I came really close to nailing the Wasco-Exeter score (I said 42-27, it was 42-28). And I DID nail the Lindsay-Kern Valley score (28-20). That's some good pickin'.
The bad: I correctly said Clovis-Liberty would be a toss-up, and it was. Turns out the Anthony Mariscal injury hurt Liberty more than five turnovers and numerous kickoff fiascos hurt Clovis. Cougars win, I lose.
The ugly: I doubted both Independence and Ridgeview, picking them to lose by 13 and 9 points, respectively. All they did was win by 14 and 18 points, making me look silly and keeping Kern County alive in Division III. Falcons and Wolf Pack fans, if you like the idea of me picking against your team, read on...
Friday, Nov. 29
CENTRAL SECTION DIVISION I SEMIFINALS
NO. 5 FRESNO-CENTRAL (9-3) AT NO. 1 BAKERSFIELD (9-2) — For the first time since they played Long Beach-Poly, the Drillers will take on a team that has as much top-line talent as they do. Central has five Division I-level recruits (though one, lineman Sharif Williams, is out for the season with injury) and Michiah Quick is considered one of the best prospects in the West (he's listed as an athlete and does a bit of everything for the Grizzlies, mostly at wide receiver and defensive back). But here's the thing about Bakersfield: The Drillers are talented (Kevin Hayes committed to Oregon State last week, Asauni Rufus is headed to Nevada, and there are half a dozen others who might go the junior-college route but have that kind of talent) and they're disciplined. Rarely does BHS miss a read on offense or defense, and that's why that speed is shown off so much. The other aspect here is the Drillers' scheme, which allows its small-but-speedy linemen to jump off downfield at the snap and create all kinds of timing problems for the opposition. Central can match up with Bakersfield and maybe even have matchup advantages in given situations, which many teams can't say. But can the Grizzlies do it play after play, down after down, for four quarters? I say no. A competitive game for a half turns into another comfortable Bakersfield win with a couple of big third-quarter plays.
Prediction: Bakersfield 42, Central 21
DIVISION II SEMIFINALS
NO. 3 GARCES (9-2) AT NO. 2 KINGSBURG (10-1) — We like defending champions because they "know how to win," but that's mostly just narrative. Defending champions tend to do well because they have many of the same talented, focused, motivated players who were able to win a championship the year before, and the other teams don't. But in this case, Garces doesn't have many of the same players (with the gigantic exceptions of Sheldon Croney and Dominic Frasch). And the Rams didn't look like championship material early in the year, losing to a San Luis Obispo team that finished 4-6 and getting blasted 56-7 by Bakersfield. But championship teams also normally have good coaching, and Garces has evolved this year, into a team that needed Sheldon Croney to be a beast to win into a team that just needs to start there. The Rams developed a consistent short passing game to take some pressure off Croney, and now they've really got a defense that's working wonders, too. Big plays were a problem early in the season, but they haven't been now. Having said all that, Kingsburg will be Garces' toughest opponent at least since the Rams beat Stockdale midway through the season, and perhaps you have to go as far back as the BHS game. So is Garces ready to go on the road and win? The defense and running game make me think yes. This team is built for tough road games, and even though the Vikings very rarely lose at home, I'll take Garces in a tight game. This is also, after all, probably the best opponent Kingsburg has seen all season.
Prediction: Garces 21, Kingsburg 17
DIVISION III SEMIFINALS
NO. 9 INDEPENDENCE (6-6) AT NO. 5 DINUBA (8-3) — This is a much different matchup for Independence than last week's trip to top seed Tulare Western. The Mustangs were a defense-and-run game based team that needed to play very well to win. Dinuba has perhaps more talent than any team in Division III, but it tends to play wild games that often end up in the 30s and 40s. That worries me a bit if I'm an Independence fan. The Falcons have played better defensively during this playoff run, but if the Falcons can't get to Dinuba QB Marcus McMaryion with their high-risk, high-reward defense, the Emperors might pick them a part. At that point, Independence would be forced into a shootout. Quarterback Jordan Wiley, always an athlete, has shown more efficiency and better decision-making as the season has progressed, and he really shined against Tulare Western. I think the Falcons are ready to make this a game. But I don't have the guts to pick them to win it against a veteran team — Dinuba reached the D-III final last year, with many of the same main characters — on the road.
Prediction: Dinuba 31, Independence 28
NO. 6 RIDGEVIEW (7-5) AT NO. 2 PORTERVILLE (9-2) — Division III looks ripe for the taking for Porterville, which has defeated Dinuba and has been the division's most consistent team all year. Since back-to-back losses against Mission Oak and Tulare Western, Porterville has scored more than 40 points in all four games, and the Panthers scored more than 40 in four of their first five games (they've passed 60 four times). Ridgeview's defense isn't bad, but it also hasn't faced this kind of attack since playing Liberty and Hart in the middle of the season. The Wolf Pack didn't fare well in those games, and though a young offense is more adept and making plays and controlling the clock now, Ridgeview will have to be near perfect on that side of the ball to keep Porterville from reaching the end zone a bunch. That's the product of a running game that features two backs (senior Austin Hefner and sophomore Isaiah Jones) who have totaled 2,481 yards and 30 touchdowns rushing on better than 9 yards per carry). This is a spread offense that will stretch the Wolf Pack D to its limits.
Prediction: Porterville 41, Ridgeview 24
DIVISION IV SEMIFINALS
NO. 4 WASCO (9-2) AT NO. 1 TULARE-MISSION OAK (11-0) — This might be the most intriguing matchup of the weekend, regardless of division. Usually when someone says that about a small-school division, they're just paying lip service, but I mean it. Wasco's running game, especially when it features a healthy Isaiah Sharp, is a terror to defend — and I mean for anyone, because Bakersfield had troubles with it for a half, too — but Mission Oak's defense is one of the best in the section, again regardless of division. The Hawks showed they can roll up some offense, too, in beating Roosevelt 68-18 in the quarterfinals. Usually, with a running attack like Wasco's, either the offense rolls or the defense stuffs it and makes the offense one-dimensional. Somehow I don't think that'll be the case here. I think Wasco will move the ball, but it'll have to do so methodically. I also think Mission Oak will move the ball in spurts and fits against an aggressive Wasco defense. Wasco, however, has less margin for error, especially if Sharp isn't fully recovered from a separated shoulder he suffered against Bakersfield Christian or if he isn't in good enough game shape to carry the ball 30 times if needed (Terrance Grinner is very good, but against the best teams on Wasco's schedule, Sharp has been needed to carry the load). Mission Oak will be tested like it rarely has been this season — remember, Wasco beat up the Hawks in the semifinals here two seasons ago — but I think a seasoned, veteran, physical Mission Oak team finds a way to hold the Tigers when it counts.
Prediction: Mission Oak 28, Wasco 20
NO. 3 BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN (9-2) AT NO. 2 VISALIA-CENTRAL VALLEY CHRISTIAN (8-3) — It was pretty easy, after Bakersfield Christian beat Wasco six weeks ago, to pencil the Cavaliers and Eagles in as the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds in Division IV. CVC had defeated the Eagles, 34-33, back in Week 1, and BCHS wasn't likely to lose again. That made this rematch a long time coming, and I can assure you both sides of this rivalry have been expecting this for quite a while now. I'm guessing BCHS will relish the opportunity at a second chance a little more, especially considering the Eagles are more in sync on both sides of the ball since then. CVC's defense is solid; the Cavaliers have held six of their 11 opponents to less than 20 points this year. But BCHS has as high-flying an offense as you'll see in the section (and again, with the exception of a couple of Division I schools, I'm talking about any school, big or small), and the Eagles won't be held below 30 without a big-time injury or turnover problem. So can CVC keep up? I don't think so. Bakersfield Christian's defense impressed me down the stretch as much as its offense, and I think the Eagles fly away in this one and set up a finals matchup with Mission Oak that likely will send one team or the other into a CIF regional bowl game.
Prediction: Bakersfield Christian 38, Central Valley Christian 23
DIVISION VI CHAMPIONSHIP
NO. 2 STRATHMORE (7-5) AT NO. 1 FARMERSVILLE (8-3) — I'll pick every Central Section championship game next week, so I figured I'd better start with this one. Farmersville is the only D-VI team that would have reasonable hopes of a sustained playoff run in any other division — the Aztecs handed Lindsay its only loss thus far, and the Cardinals are in the D-V semifinals. With two-time defending D-VI champion Mendota out of the picture, it looks as if the championship door is gaping wide open for Farmersville to walk though. But even if the game isn't close, it's worth keeping an eye on for Aztecs quarterback Sam Metcalf, who is one touchdown shy of the section's single-season passing-TD park of 50, set by Tulare Union's Emmanuel Lewis in 2005 (as always, thanks to section historian Bob Barnett for his invaluable record-keeping info). Of course, even if Metcalf throws four touchdowns and sets the bar at 53 touchdowns, BCHS quarterback Brandon Jones could still pass it, particularly if the Eagles keep winning and reach a regional bowl game. This will be Metcalf's last game; Jones has 45 TDs and has somewhere between one and four games remaining.
Prediction: Farmersville 45, Strathmore 20
NORTHEAST DIVISION SEMIFINALS
DESERT (10-2) AT SAN LUIS OBISPO-MISSION PREP (10-2) — Mission Prep is an old Central Section team that has made its mark as an independent since moving back to the Southern Section four years ago; the Royals have made a few deep runs in the Northeast Division playoffs, and this team looks like it can challenge for a championship. Standing in the way is a team that is left in the Southern Section because all of its leaguemates left for the Central Section this season. Desert has done just fine, thank you, winning the Desert Mountain League and then thumping High Desert League champion Kern Valley in the regular-season finale in Lake Isabella. The Scorpions have proven to be a balanced team on both sides of the ball, and they have two impressive playoff victories to show for it. But those were both at Edwards Air Force Base, and this will be a long bus trip west. It'll also be an opponent that can very easily score with the Scorps (Mission Prep beat Farmersville 68-51, for instance). It's also a Royals team that is used to this situation, while Desert doesn't often make a playoff run this deep. All of that makes it pretty tough to take Desert here.
Prediction: Mission Prep 48, Desert 34
Last week: 10-3 (.769)
Year to date: 233-45 (.838)
All-time: 1,313-358 (.786)