I'm back with my crystal ball one more time for the 2013 high school football season, ready to bring it on all five state bowl championships. The numbers throughout the regular season suggest I should get four of these puppies right, but these are state championship games, and they're harder to predict than every-day games.
The worst record among the 10 teams playing at the StubHub Center in Carson this weekend is ... 12-2, shared by the two Bakersfield schools, both of whom are riding long winning streaks. That shouldn't surprise anyone in a state championship game, but it's still something to be noted and appreciated.
Now, to the games. The BVarsity crew is renting an RV for the weekend, and we'll rumble down to the StubHub center early Friday afternoon for a special mobile edition of BVarsity Live before Bakersfield Christian kicks off with Modesto-Central Catholic at 4 p.m. After that, it's Bakersfield and Loomis-Del Oro in the Division I state championship at 8 p.m., followed by another BVarsity Live edition starting as close to 11 p.m. as we can get with the late start and TV commercial-delayed game. Then we'll roll out towards Las Vegas, where we'll provide full coverage of the Las Vegas Bowl between Fresno State and USC (and coinciding Derek Carr-Cody Kessler showcase) to cap off the weekend.
Tune in to bakersfield.com or keep checking the blog for updated content throughout the week.
Here's a look back at the regional picks (2-0 overall):
The good: Well, picking two winners is always good, especially when picking the local team can get you called a homer if you're dead wrong (by the way, in no way are my picks influenced by which team I cover; I'm trying to be as objective as possible, though it is also true that I'm much more familiar with BHS and BCHS than their opponents).
The bad: While I came within five points of nailing the Bakersfsield-Mission Hills score on the button, I was quite a bit off on BCHS and View Park. My thought was the Knights would put up some more points, but their turnovers and red-zone failures kept that from happening.
The ugly: Nothing was ugly but the stomach bug I came down with in the middle of the night a few hours after the game in San Marcos. A night I'd like to forget but probably won't any time soon. Here's hoping for none of those shenanigans this weekend.
Friday, Dec. 20
DIVISION IV STATE BOWL CHAMPIONSHIP, 4 P.M. FRIDAY
BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN (12-2) VS. MODESTO-CENTRAL CATHOLIC (14-1) — For me, this might be the toughest game to call of the whole weekend. Central Catholic has a better record against a slightly better schedule, but Bakersfield Christian, as we all know, has been lights out since starting 0-2. Central Catholic had to work hard to get by McClymonds in the regional game last week, and Bakersfield Christian looks significantly better than McClymonds in most metrics. If that's any indication, BCHS could very well walk away from the StubHub Center with a most unlikely state championship after an 0-2 start. Then again, my money would be on Central Catholic playing a better game. If the Raiders do win, it'll be because they dominate up front. This is a physical team that wants to run the ball and stop the run. When they run, the guy getting the bulk of the carries is Matt Ringer, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound wrecking ball who averages 7.3 yards per carry for a total of 2,348 yards and 33 touchdowns. The play of Bakersfield Christian's linebackers, particularly tackle machine Grant Bouma, will be key. When the Raiders pass, they hit some big plays — average yards per completion is 16.9, which is hefty — but they also make some mistakes (11 touchdowns against 7 interceptions. It is worth noting that since sophomore Hunter Petlansky took over the quarterback position midway through the season, it's been better. He's averaging 18.6 ypc and has five touchdowns against two picks. Still, Central Catholic plays old-school football: It wants to run and stop the run.
Bakersfield Christian, of course, won't be pigeon-holed into any one thing on offense. The Eagles run with Matt Smith — who's also becoming more and more of a defensive star at defensive end — and they pass. Oh, do they pass. Brandon Jones, in fact, is just two touchdown passes away from equaling Farmersville's Sam Metcalf with 54 on the season, which would tie the new Central Section record. He has a host of receivers — Josh Jackson, Hayden Kuchta, Zach Balfanz, to name three — who can make plays downfield. Central Catholic has seen that type of attack before, but it also perhaps isn't as comfortable defending that, considering the Raiders' best athletes are geared towards dominating at the line of scrimmage.
I think this is a close game. If it comes down to which offense can be more dynamic, Bakersfield Christian is the choice. If it comes down to which team can eliminate mistakes or win a key play at the line of scrimmage, it's Central Catholic. I went back and forth on this sucker for a while, and I've finally come to a decision: The Eagles' magic comes to an end. I say that with utmost respect for what BCHS has done, and with full knowledge that Matt Smith, Brandon Jones, et. al., might make me look like a fool with a huge offensive splash Friday afternoon in Carson. But my thinking is this: The Eagles have won some big games in the past three weeks despite slow starts. They're playing at a strange time in a strange place against the best team they've played all year, with the possible exception of Huntington Beach in the opener. Central Catholic has been here before, having won the D-IV title 66-7 last year (that Raiders team was even better than this one). That sort of thing matters early, and if Central Catholic gets out to the sort of lead Mission Oak did against BCHS, I don't think the Eagles will recover against this defense and running game.
But then, I picked the Eagles to lose to Mission Oak, too. What do I know?
Prediction: Central Catholic 28, Bakersfield Christian 27
DIVISION I STATE BOWL CHAMPIONSHIP, 8 P.M. FRIDAY
BAKERSFIELD (12-2) VS. LOOMIS-DEL ORO (13-2) — It's amazing how similar the two opponents for Bakersfield schools this weekend are. Del Oro is better than Central Catholic (the Golden Eagles beat Stockton-St. Mary's, which handed Central Catholic a 20-point loss), but the teams are very similar in that they pride themselves on being a physical team that dominates the line of scrimmage, runs the ball and will sneak in a pass when necessary — or when the defense is caught napping and looking for the run. Del Oro seems a lot like Long Beach Poly or Clovis North, similar teams that gave the Drillers very different levels of trouble, and the Golden Eagles also seem a bit like Bakersfield itself. They're not huge, but they're fast, and the quarterback, senior Michael Moore, is a better passer than he gets credit for.
Now, about the nuts and bolts. Del Oro actually has a very balanced offense statistically, with 2,799 yards rushing and 2,322 passing, but the Eagles run the ball almost twice as much as they pass it. The passing game is used for big plays and in the red zone (Moore has 29 touchdown passes, including nine to 6-foot-4 receiver Tyler Meteer). There's no doubt there are big plays to be had against the Bakersfield defense, but the Drillers also make their fair share of big plays. That means you can expect Del Oro to finish a few drives with long touchdowns, and probably that quite a few drives will fizzle out because the Drillers get DO off schedule and force Moore into passing situations, in which BHS can tee off.
So, if we give Del Oro somewhere in the neighborhood of 21-28 points (this is always a dangerous way to do a prediction, because field position, the kicking game and turnovers can impact total points so much, but here I am), what can Bakersfield's offense do? The Drillers needed 28 second-half points last week to beat Mission Hills, and their 35-point total was their lowest since the loss to Long Beach Poly back in Week 3. This offense is humming, it has seven or eight athletes who have totally bought into the system, some playmaking wide receivers, and Asauni Rufus. Rufus is not only the perfect point man for an option-based offense because of his intelligence and patience, but he's also extremely hot in the passing game, having completed 19 of 20 passes in the past two weeks for more than 400 yards. If that keeps up, and Bakersfield doesn't turn the ball over — obviously a huge caveat after two fumbles inside the 5-yard line last week — the Drillers should score in the 40s. On the surface, that seems like plenty to win this game and bring a state championship back to the storied school on California Avenue for the first time in 86 years. That's a heavy sentence to type; we'll know by about 11 p.m. Friday whether it's a true one.
Prediction: Bakersfield 41, Del Oro 24
DIVISION III STATE BOWL CHAMPIONSHIP, NOON SATURDAY
NEWPORT BEACH-CORONA DEL MAR (15-0) VS. ATHERTON-SACRED HEART PREP (13-1) — Rare is the state-championship team that didn't win its own league, but here is Sacred Heart Prep, after finishing second in the Peninsula League Bay Division, playing for the D-III championship. Both teams bring an elite defense to Carson, but Corona del Mar's dynamic offense, which has totaled almost 6,000 yards behind dual-threat QB Luke Napolitano, should find a way to finish an unbeaten season.
Prediction: Corona del Mar 27, Sacred Heart Prep 17
DIVISION II STATE BOWL CHAMPIONSHIP, 4 P.M. SATURDAY
WEST HILLS-CHAMINADE (13-2) VS. REDDING-ENTERPRISE (13-0) — Akin to Bakersfield's breakthrough in the state bowls this season, it's cool to see a team from the Northern Section — these are people who mean northern when they say Northern Cal — coming to Carson. But I'm afraid it might be a rude welcoming for the Hornets. That's a stunningly long trip (Google Maps puts it at 556 miles in eight hours and four minutes) to face a really, really good team. Chaminade boasts Miami-bound quarterback Brad Kaaya and five other players with major Division I offers. They'll soon boast a D-II state title, too.
Prediction: Chaminade 49, Enterprise 28
OPEN DIVISION STATE BOWL CHAMPIONSHIP, 8 P.M. SATURDAY
BELLFLOWER-ST. JOHN BOSCO (15-0) VS. CONCORD-DE LA SALLE (15-0) — To borrow a term from a stadium about an hour northeast of the StubHub Center, this is the Granddaddy of all California high school football. It's probably the finest championship game the state has had since in brought in the bowl system in 2006. St. John Bosco is stunningly good, having wreaked every one of its opponents in a ridiculous Pac-5 schedule by at least 14 points. The Braves boast one 5-star and five 4-star recruits — three have committed to Pac-12 schools; another, offensive lineman Damien Mama, is a 360-pound mammoth who can go to any school in the country; and junior quarterback Josh Rosen is building a similar list of offers. They have beat teams up on offense and especially defense, and they've done it with startling efficiency.
There wouldn't be many teams in the country I wouldn't pick St. John Bosco against, but one of them is De La Salle, which makes a mockery of your "startling efficiency" and then shows you what that term really means. The Spartans have won four straight state titles, all by at least two touchdowns, and they haven't lost to a California team since falling to Corona-Centennial in the 2008 Division I title game. De La Salle's running game (5,121 yards and 76 touchdowns this season) is all but impossible to stop, even if you're St. John Bosco, and the Spartans' defense is just as stingy as the Braves'.
In a matchup made up in the heavens, watch and enjoy. And expect De La Salle to win — in a much closer game than DLS followers are accustomed to. The Spartans have been doing this too well for too long to have to silence more Southern California doubters, but here they are again. St. John Bosco might be the team that finally breaks the mighty streak, but I sure as heck ain't going to bet on it.
Prediction: De La Salle 28, St. John Bosco 24
Last week: 2-0 (1.000)
Year to date: 244-49 (.833)
All-time: 1,324-362 (.785)