FRESNO — No football team wants a season defined by a 10-minute stretch, but that may be the truth for Bakersfield, and the Drillers know it.
In a back-and-forth battle with No. 1 Fresno-Central at Deran Koligian Stadium in Fresno on Friday, BHS had three consecutive drives in the third quarter end in turnovers in a 35-27 loss to Grizzlies in the Central Section Division I semifinals.
After the Drillers scored on the opening series of the second half on a 36-yard touchdown pass from Caden Ochoa to Tahj Wright, their second connection of the night, the next three drives ended in a fumble, an interception and a turnover on downs as the Drillers (6-6) were unable to come back after that.
“We would not like to think of it, but, yes,” Ochoa said. “Those three series were critical. We all know what three series we’re talking about. Those three series were the difference makers in this one. We had turnover and penalties that hurt us in the end.”
Turnovers and penalties have been the biggest problems for BHS all season.
But for the first 30 minutes of the semifinals, there were no such problems for BHS.
The Drillers were playing with the top-seeded Grizzlies (11-1), who came in undefeated against Central Section opponents and only lost to Northern California power Concord-De La Salle in September.
But an easy game was not expected by either coaching staff.
“I expected an old-fashion, behind the woodshed dogfight,” Central coach Kyle Biggs said.
BHS scored first on a 30-yard run by Ceyontay Bell, but a missed point after kept the lead at 6-0. Bell led BHS with 129 rushing yards on 16 carries.
Central went on a 14-0 run on two touchdown passes for Central junior quarterback Trent Tompkins, who finished with 224 passing yards and three touchdowns.
“Coming into this we knew, it’s Bakersfield,” Tompkins said of the team that defeated the Grizzlies 21-14 in the D-I finals last season. “We lost in the Valley championship and we had to come out strong, and we did.”
Tompkins connected with Avery Boyd for a 68-yard touchdown pass to put the Grizzlies up 35-19 with just over three minutes left to play.
Wright scored on a 2-yard run and BHS completed a 2-point conversion to cut the Central lead to 35-27 with just over a minute to play.
But the onside kick for BHS went out of bounds and Central secured a second consecutive home game in the D-I finals next week at home against Clovis-Buchanan.
Central is seeking the program’s first section title.
“This means nothing. Until we win (a title), it don’t mean anything,” Biggs said. “This is part of the process. Until we win, we are not satisfied, we’re not happy.”
Ochoa threw for two touchdown passes of 37 and 36 yards, both to Wright and ran for another 68 yards for BHS.
“This breaks your heart to get this close and lose by eight points,” Ochoa said. “When you feel like you could have won, it’s a heartbreaker. But if I could change anything, I would change those three series in this game.”
The loss keeps a Kern County team out of the D-I finals for the first time since 2012.
“Most people, most parents don’t understand that football is not about winning and losing,” BHS coach Paul Golla said. “It’s about what you learned from the program. The character and the dedication to the team. I pray that even though we didn’t win the championship this year, but maybe our kids became better human beings for what we have done.”