It was a good weekend overall for Kern County teams: Of the seven in action, four won, including three on the road. For the second time in three years, Kern County will be represented in each of the Central Section's top four divisions, this time with Bakersfield, Garces, Ridgeview and Bakersfield Christian. (In 2011, it was Bakersfield, Garces, Ridgeview and Wasco; only BHS won its championship game.)
So let's take a look back at the semifinal games that were.
This was an absolute clinic on defense against a really good team. Bakersfield had allowed less than 60 yards of offense until a late 44-yard run from Central running back Nick Wilson, and the Drillers intercepted four passes, including Central's first two passes and another that Marcus Bruce returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. In between, the Grizzlies couldn't do anything, despite the presence of high Division I recruits Wilson (who was hampered by a sprained ankle) and receiver Michiah Quick. On offense, the Drillers fumbled away their first possesson on the 2-yard line but then scored on five of their next six trips, essentially putting away the game with a touchdown to open the second half that made it 35-6. Central had just defeated Edison and soundly beat Clovis North, 30-14, earlier in the season. So this result tells us that Bakersfield is pretty clearly the big favorite in next week's title game against the Broncos. Big favorites lose sometimes, of course, but not often.
No. 3 Garces 32, No. 2 Kingsburg 14: The defense was the story here, too, as it kept the Rams in the game despite the offense committing three turnovers inside the Kingsburg 10-yard line. The Vikings got a late touchdown, but Garces' defense was clearly the best unit in this game. The best player in the game was clearly Sheldon Croney, but then we expected that. Croney's stats were especially eye-popping given the competition and the stage: He made 34 carries for 274 yards and two long first-half touchdowns that set the tone for Garces even as it struggled in the red zone. The Rams, who briefly thought after the game that they would be hosting Sanger in the D-II final for the second straight year (then Sanger allowed the game-winning touchdown with 4 seconds left in its semifinal) will have to cut back on mistakes to beat top-seeded El Diamante in another road game in the championship.
No. 6 Ridgeview 38, No. 2 Porterville 35 (2OT): Here was your game of the night, with injury delays and overtimes pushing it long after all of the other games had finished. Ridgeview lost its top two quarterbacks, Lawrence White and Darryn Blackshere, to injuries (White's was a bruised knee, Blackshere a concussion) and had to rely on freshman Ja'Mar Moya, younger brother of Kamari Cotton-Moya, for part of the second half and then in overtime. Moya hasn't developed as a passer as much as the other two, so Ridgeview was forced to run the ball. But even with that knowledge, Porterville couldn't stop the Wolf Pack from scoring in the first overtime. Ridgeview then got a stop on downs in the second overtime, aided by the fact that the Panthers' kicker was hurt, and Ryan Huish banged home only his second ever field goal from 39 yards out to win it for Ridgeview. The Wolf Pack is in the D-III final for the third consecutive year, with this run by far the most unlikely when the playoffs began. Do they have one more upset in them? Dinuba's passing attack will put up points, so Ridgeview will have to survive a shootout, possibly with both White and Blackshere still out.
No. 5 Dinuba 56, No. 9 Independence 34: A shootout is exactly what ensued in Dinuba, where the Emperors eventually funned and gunned their way to a place Independence couldn't follow. The Falcons played toe-to-toe with Dinuba for a half, trailing 35-34 going into the third quarter, but Independence didn't score again. Indy's offense got better as the year progressed, with quarterback Jordan Wiley, running back Jalen Summerville and the young offensive line all showing development, but the Falcons still needed defense in the games they were able to win. They just didn't get any on this night, not with Oregon State-bound Marcus McMaryion throwing for 206 yards and two touchdowns and Michael Wright running for four more TDs. It was another good playoff run for Independence that came up short; it will be interesting to see if the Falcons can earn a higher seed playing in a new league in the future, and if they are still as well prepared for the postseason against a schedule that's not so difficult.
No. 3 Bakersfield Christian 21, No. 2 Visalia-Central Valley Christian 14:The Eagles got away with this one, not playing their best game, particualarly on offense, and still coming up with the fourth-quarter goods in the form of a fourth-down stand inside their own 10 and then a long drive to win the game on a Brandon Jones-to-Matt Smith touchdown pass. Jones finished with (by his standards) pedestrian numbers, 12-of-18 passing for 216 yards and two touchdowns — but then this was also the best defense BCHS has faced since, well, since it lost 34-33 at CVC in the second game of the season. Revenge means the Eagles are back in the D-IV championship game, and they'll again play the role of big underdogs. That suited them just fine last year, when they nearly stunned Wasco before a late Tigers comeback gave them a 29-22 victory to complete an unbeaten season. This year the unbeaten foe is Mission Oak, a much bigger school than BCHS and one that has a defense to be feared. Bakersfield Christian's passing game, however, might just give Mission Oak a few problems, too, It'll be a good one.
No. 1 Tulare-Mission Oak 47, No. 4 Wasco 7: Here's the eye-opening score of the night. If you weren't already convinced the Hawks were a big favorite in D-IV (I was somewhere shy of "big favorite," simply because Mission Oak had disppointed in the playoffs in years past), well, you should be know (I am). Mission Oak throttled a Wasco team that isn't used to that, even when it came to Griffith Field in the third game of the season. This was actually a close game for most of the first half, at least until two late first-half touchdowns pushed Mission Oak's lead to 20-0 at the break, but Wasco was never going to win scoring just seven points. The Hawks are now one game away from the school's first section title and likely a CIF regional bowl berth. Of course, if Bakersfield Christian can pull the stunner, the Eagles will be in line for a bowl berth, too.
Elsewhere... Desert's season ended with a 51-30 loss at San Luis Obispo-Mission Prep. The Scorpions were in a close game at halftime but allowed the first 20 points of the second half to fall behind 41-14. Mission Prep will play L.A.-Salesian in the Southern Section Northeast Division final.
Now a replay of an eventful BVarsity Live from Friday night, followed by next week's five big games (and only five games):
And the biggest five big ones of the season. We're five days from Championship Friday:
Division I: No. 6 Clovis North (11-2) at No. 1 Bakersfield (10-2): Bakersfield is the favorite, but this is probably the best team the Drillers have played since Long Beach Poly beat them
Division II: No. 3 Garces (10-2) at No. 1 Visalia-El Diamante (11-1): The Rams were four seconds away from hosting this game, but these are the two best teams in the division. This is how it should be.
Division III: No. 6 Ridgeview (8-5) at No. 5 Dinuba (9-3): The most wide-open division produced the most unpredictable final. Can the Wolf Pack keep pace with the high-powered Emperors?
Division IV: No. 3 Bakersfield Christian (10-2) at No. 1 Tulare-Mission Oak (12-0): Once again, I think these are the two best teams in the division. BCHS' offense against Mission Oak's defense is a matchup worth watching.
Division V: No. 2 Mendota (11-1) at No. 1 Liberty-Madera Ranchos (11-1): Two defending section champions meeting with it all on the line. Small-school football at its absolute finest here.