Back and forth they went, Bakersfield High and Fresno-Central in a classic Central Section Division I championship game, until the guy supposed to be out with a broken collarbone threw a touchdown pass to the wrestler who wasn't even going to play football.
If you're scoring at home, that's Josh Maran to Navonte Demison, a 21-14 victory for BHS on Friday night at Koligian Stadium and the storied Drillers' 37th section championship.
"It's amazing to even be playing, and for it to end this way is perfect," said Maran, a senior who broke his collarbone Sept. 23 but returned ahead of schedule for last week's semifinals.
Then, as Demison joined him in a postgame hug, Maran added: "And I'm glad I talked him into coming out, too."
Demison, the state championship wrestler at 138 pounds last year, hadn't played football since he was a freshman and only started playing offense regularly two weeks ago. But he was the wing on the right side of the line on third-and-goal from the Central 3-yard line with about three minutes to play in a 14-14 game.
And when the Grizzlies' safeties pinched in to defend the run, Demison popped behind him in the end zone, wide open for an easy pitch and catch touchdown that will go down as the latest title-winner in Bakersfield High's lengthy record books.
"Josh and I have ran that play millions of times; he's my best friend, and we were just playing catch," Demison said.
BHS advances to play a CIF state regional game either next Friday or Saturday, with a time, place and opponent to be announced Sunday afternoon.
The go-ahead score came with 3:16 left, and Central still had two more chances. On the first, Grizzlies quarterback Trent Tompkins threw incomplete on fourth-and-3.
Bakersfield (11-2) couldn't run out the clock and punted back to the Grizzlies (11-2) with 1:35 to play. But Central, 0-for-4 all-time in section championship games, couldn't even muster a first down. When Tompkins' fourth-down pass was knocked down by Justin McGill, BHS was able to run the clock out on championship No. 37.
"It's incredible, it's great," said coach Paul Golla, who won his fifth title in 12 years at BHS. "What people don't understand is the grind of a season. They see the end result and they're happy, which is great, but they don't see the 5:50 a.m. workouts in the summer. It's a long process."
It seemed long still at halftime on a cold night in Fresno, when Central had a 7-0 lead. BHS sophomore quarterback Cam Williams had just thrown an interception in the end zone to keep the Drillers off the scoreboard, but Golla said the locker room was calm.
"There was no yelling or screaming," he said.
Instead, said senior guard Daniel Schoene, the Drillers started double-teaming standout Central defensive end Samuel Satele and running away from him.
"We started doing the little things right," Schoene said. "We just stressed that we had a job to do, and we went and did it."
BHS tied the game on its opening drive of the second half, scoring on Shane Jones' 3-yard run after Central was penalizing for roughing the center on a field-goal attempt on the previous play.
The Drillers took the lead with 10:32 to play on Maran's 2-yard option keeper, but Central tied it again 19 seconds later when Jevon Bigelow — who finished with 178 yards rushing — sprinted 80 yards for a touchdown.
Central got the ball back with the score still tied, but sophomore Tahj Wright made his second interception of Tompkins — who had just five picks in the Grizzlies' first 12 games — to set up the winning score.
Another sophomore, Isaiah Jernigan, played brilliant pass defense all night against Central's 3,000-yard aerial attack, and Jacob Vasquez and Caden Ochoa put consistent pressure on Tompkins.
"I have to give so much credit to our defense," Maran said. "Without them we get blown out of the water."
Instead, the D gave the offense a chance, and Bakersfield gave its legion of fans another happy ending.
"It's so great for our kids," Golla said, "just believing in what we've done and how hard we've worked."