I procrastinated writing this post, mostly because I'm lazy, and because there are only five games this weekend, it's going to take me less time than usual. But I also procrastinated because I like high school football and (sniffle) I don't want this to be the last predictions column I write this year.
Of course, a possibility still remains that Bakersfield and/or Bakersfield Christian could reach a CIF regional bowl game next week, but the chances of that happening aren't great (BHS has two losses to teams that are out of the Pac-5 playoffs, and BCHS needs to spring a big upset in Tulare first). So we'll treat this like the final week of the year.
Here's how I did during semifinal week (7-1 overall):
The good: I picked Bakersfield over Central bigger than most (though not big enough), nailed a toss-up game with Garces over Kingsburg and got seven of eight games overall, plus came close on the score for the Desert-Mission Prep game.
The bad: Picking Ridgeview to lose wasn't exactly going out on a limb, and who could have predicted the Wolf Pack to do that with two injured quarterbacks? Still, a loss is a loss.
The ugly: Taking Wasco to give Mission Oak a run was pretty bad, considering the final. Margins were pretty far off on Independence-Dinuba and Bakersfield Christian-CVC, too.
Now for the championships. I'm picking all five games (I picked the D-VI game last week), even though only four have Kern County teams.
Friday, Dec. 6
CENTRAL SECTION DIVISION I CHAMPIONSHIP
NO. 6 CLOVIS NORTH (11-2) AT NO. 1 BAKERSFIELD (10-2) — For much of last year, it looked like these were the two best teams, but Bakersfield's fade caused us to miss the matchup. It has snuck up more on this year, amid much talk about Central, and then Edison, and then Bullard, with a little Liberty, Clovis and Clovis West mixed in, but here we are. It's championship week, and it's pretty clear that these are the two teams that deserve to be here. Bakersfield has been dominant against every Central Section team it has played, and the Drillers came through the tougher half of the Division I bracket. They are very clearly the favorite here, and the BHS speed — not just of Asauni Rufus, Kevin Hayes, Derrick Vickers, Marcus Bruce and that ilk, but also of the Drillers' offensive and defensive lines — is enough to cause about any team in the country problems. But the teams that can stand up against it, and the teams that do give BHS trouble, are the teams that have physical but athletic line play themselves, and enough skill-position talent to take advantage of the Drillers' aggressiveness on defense. Clovis North fits the mold. The Broncos also haven't lost a playoff game since a Division II quarterfinal loss at Garces in 2010, which is pretty astounding (they won the D-II title in 2011 and the D-I title last year). So by no means is this a gimme for Bakersfield. But there's no way I'm picking against the Drillers, either; they're on too much of a roll on offense and defense. I feel like even if Bakersfield does make some mistakes, it'll distance itself from a very good Clovis North team by the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Bakersfield 35, Clovis North 17
DIVISION II CHAMPIONSHIP
NO. 3 GARCES (10-2) AT NO. 1 VISALIA-EL DIAMANTE (11-1) — El Diamante seemed like a sizable favorite in Division II when brackets were unveiled a month ago, but the Miners had issues with Sanger last week in a semifinal that came down to the final four seconds (in fact, the Apaches complained about several late referees' decisions to the section office, which obviously wasn't about to change the result of the game). Meanwhile, Garces has rolled through Tehachapi and Kingsburg, two smaller but still very prolific Division II schools, in the bottom half of the bracket. Are the Rams ready to repeat? For me, signs actually point to yes. This is a team that has the best player in the division in Sheldon Croney (frankly, he'd be among the best players in Division I, too) and a defense that is playing lights out. El Diamante is a similar team, built on a strong running game — you might know the name DeAngelo Torres, who's the Miners' 1,200-yard rusher — and a good defense. But sometimes postseason play is all about momentum, and Garces seems to have as much of it right now as any team in the section, at least this side of Bakersfield. The Rams will have to be more efficient than they were in Kingsburg, where they committed three red-zone turnovers. But think about that: If the Rams had played their best game last week, they might have won that game by 35 points. That's enough for me to call for another road upset in the championship game.
Prediction: Garces 30, El Diamante 28
DIVISION III CHAMPIONSHIP
NO. 6 RIDGEVIEW (8-5) AT NO. 5 DINUBA (9-3) — What a remarkable run for Ridgeview, which won a crazy Division III semifinal against Independence last year during a title run as a big favorite and then won a crazy semifinal at Porterville this year as a big underdog. Can the Wolf Pack complete the mission? It's going to be very difficult without either of Ridgeview's top two quarterbacks, Lawrence White and Darryn Blackshere. That's not to say Ja'mar Moya, who filled in when White and Blackshere went down in the semis, isn't a very talented player; on the contrary, I think he's Player of the Year matierial in two or three years. But he's not as devleoped as a passer as the other two, and you putting a freshman under center in a section championship game on the road isn't ideal. Ridgeview has other injuries along its offensive and defensive lines, too. This run has taken a lot out of it. And while Dinuba hasn't exactly been a world-beater, the Emperors have scored points on just about everybody they've played behind the dynamic duo of quarterback Marcus McMaryion (2,490 yards, 27 touchdowns, 8 interceptions) and running back Michael Wright (1,755 yards and 29 touchdowns). Ridgeview is going to have to score points, quite a few of them, to win this game. The Wolf Pack was able to do it last year in a 55-14 rout of Dinuba in the title game, but this team is younger and, more important right now, much more banged up. Dennis Manning has implored me not to pick Ridgeview lest I "jinx" the Wolf Pack (and coach, if I had magical powers, I wouldn't be using em like that!), so I guess he'll be happy here. If Ridgeview were healthy, I'd seriously consider taking it to repeat. But it's not, and I'm going with Dinuba in an entertaining game.
Prediction: Dinuba 38, Ridgeview 28
DIVISION IV CHAMPIONSHIP
NO. 3 BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN (10-2) AT NO. 1 TULARE-MISSION OAK (12-0) — It's hard to understate what a terrific championship game this is, and really, Division IV has provided some great championship matchups in the past several years (not all of them have ended up being great games, but the matchups were good). For Bakersfield Christian, this evokes memories of last year, when the Eagles got on a late-season roll and played a great defensive game to reach the championship game, where it will be a substantial underdog against an undefeated opponent with regional bowl aspirations. In reality, BCHS had its own state bowl hopes in both seasons, and they're very strong this season — if the Eagles can pull out an upset. Last year, BCHS nearly shocked the section by beating Wasco, only to see the Tigers rally and win 29-22 late. Mission Oak is a different animal; the Hawks have relied on a terrific, physical defense for most of the season, and the points usually only start to come when the ball rolls downhill on opponents at the line of scrimmage. Bakersfield Christian's balanced offense, with quarterback Brandon Jones having thrown 47 touchdown passes and Matt Smith running for 1,457 yards, certainly has the potential to give Mission Oak more trouble defensively than it has had all year. And I think the Eagles will do just that — for a half, maybe three quarters. But if Mission Oak can get out to a lead, or even if the Hawks keep the game tight for three quarters, I think their big, physical play along the line of scrimmage will wear down Bakersfield Christian and its host of two-way players late. The Eagles have been walking a tightrope this season because they have only 25 players on the roster; thus far, that hasn't cost them in the form of a big injury or depth concerns, but in a four-quarter battle, it very well might. In what might be the most intriguing game of championship weekend, I'll call for Mission Oak to remain the section's only unbeaten and head to a regional bowl game.
Prediction: Mission Oak 30, Bakersfield Christian 24
DIVISION V CHAMPIONSHIP
NO. 2 MENDOTA (11-1) AT NO. 1 LIBERTY-MADERA RANCHOS (11-1) — So the two divisions with the best records among championship contenders are Divisions IV and V. That's partly because the smaller schools don't have reason (or budget, in some cases) to challenge themselves against out-of-section powers, but it still strikes me as unusual. Often, a Division IV or V champion lost several games to bigger schools during the year, but that's not the case here. We get a big-time matchup between defending section champions. Mendota has won the past two section titles in Division VI, while Liberty is the defending D-V crown. Something's gotta give in a matchup of Mendota's Edgar Segura, who has scored the most touchdowns in section history among a slew of other records, and Liberty-Madera Ranchos' pair of 1,000-yard rushers, Richie Brandt and Wade Wallace. I actually think Mendota comes up from D-VI and wins the road game here, not just because of Segura's all-around excellence but because of the Aztecs' great defensive play: They haven't allowed more than 20 points to any opponent in eight games, a stretch that includes some pretty good opponents (Shafter, Firebaugh twice). Liberty will be a sterner test, but I'm feeling Mendota in a small upset.
Prediction: Mendota 35, Liberty-Madera Ranchos 28
Last week: 7-1 (.875)
Year to date: 240-46 (.839)
All-time: 1,320-359 (.786)