This is such a weird weekend.
The lights are off in Bakersfield the night after Thanksgiving for the first time since 2003. That’s partly because Division II and D-IV only have eight teams and will play the championships this weekend, while the other four divisions are in semifinals matchups. The other reason is teams like Bakersfield in D-I, Tehachapi in D-III, and North in D-IV began playing their best football in October and November. In turn, they missed their opportunity for homefield advantage at this point of the season.
In all, five Kern County teams are vying for a shot to a section championship, while Rosamond is at Strathmore in the D-VI championship game this week.
There is plenty of historical numbers one can seek out here. With a win at No. 1 Fresno-Central, Bakersfield could be playing for a shot at the program’s state-leading 38th section title. Shafter, playing in the program’s first semifinals since 2000, is seeking the program’s first title since 1955. North has a one-up on the Generals. The Stars are in the semifinals for the first time since 1983 and haven’t won a section title since 1954.
Does that mean the county is geared up for a historical run to supremacy? We shall see.
Division I, semifinals
No. 5 BAKERSFIELD (6-5, 3-2 SWYL) at No. 1 FRESNO-CENTRAL (10-1, 5-0 TRAC) - Bakersfield completely dominated Liberty on Friday in a 41-6 thumping in the D-I quarterfinals. Caden Ochoa really made a statement for BVarsity Player of the Year, with a fantastic performance on both sides of the ball. The Cal Poly-commit ran for 200 yards, threw for another 107, accounted for five touchdowns, and was all over the field on defense. Across the board, the Drillers played the type of game many were expecting out of them all season, but it just happened to come in mid-November which is a head scratcher. It was the most points BHS has scored all season and the defense was nearly unstoppable. The “Raptors” — as the defense likes to be called — disrupted the Patriots in the backfield all night. It could have been Ochoa, Ceyontay Bell, Adrian Moreno, Max Lopez or Jacob Zeimet attacking up front. It could have been Justin McGill, Jacob Maran, Tahj Wright, Cameron Williams or Isaac and Isaiah Jernagin in the secondary. Either way, it was an impressive performance for the Drillers on both sides of the ball. But, this is still Central. A team that is undefeated against Central Section opponents. In fact, the lone loss this season for the Grizzlies came in a competitive 49-30 loss to Northern California powerhouse Concord-De La Salle. That performance alone should put the Grizzlies as a heavy favorite here. Plus the fact that Central is a dominating team. Junior Trent Tompkins has thrown for 2,867 yards with 29 touchdowns to eight interceptions. Jevon Bigelow has 1,271 rushing yards and 14 scores and speedster Jacob Torrez has 61 catches for 1,054 yards and 10 TDs. Defensively, Jacob Hollins leads the Grizzlies with 102 tackles and Tre Walker is a force in the middle at 6-foot-2 , 225 pounds. Central’s only close game in section this season came in a 28-27 win over Clovis-Buchanan in the Tri-River Athletic Conference opener, when Tompkins hit Torrez for a game-winner with less than a minute to play. The rest, including a 35-7 win over Fresno-Bullard in the quarterfinals last week, have been a breeze. Could that be a factor of Central looking past the Drillers? Unlikely seeing how so many players on this roster felt the sting of the 21-14 loss at home last season in the section championship game to BHS. I don’t want to fall into the trap of the excitement of the moment after the performance BHS put on against Liberty. But it’s hard to bet against a Paul Golla-led team late in the season after a big win, even if it’s against the best team hands-down in the section. I will explain my reasoning quickly: BHS has playmakers all over. The defense is hard to game plan for with no players with their hands in the dirt on the line. Momentum is paramount and the seniors that tasted glory last season and have fought through this weird season for BHS seem to have righted the ship. I am going out on a big limb here.
Trevor’s pick: Bakersfield 35, Central 28 (in overtime)
Josh’s pick: Central 41, Bakersfield 36
No. 5 TEHACHAPI (7-5, 4-1 SYL) at No. 1 TULARE WESTERN (10-1, 4-1 EYL) - In the words of the late, great Yogi Berra, “It’s deja vu all over again.” Last season, Tehachapi started the season 1-5, then went 4-1 in the Southwest Yosemite League en route to playing a road playoff game at Tulare Western. The three big differences here are: 1. Doug DeGeer is now the head coach after Steve Denman retired after last season following 34 years and 301 career wins; 2. This is the semifinals, not the quarterfinals like last year; 3. This game is being played at 1 p.m. because Tulare Union and Western share Bob Mathias Stadium and the Tribe host Dinuba in the D-II finals at 7 p.m. The Warriors opened the D-III playoffs with a 34-8 thumping of South in the opening round and were gifted a home game in the quarterfinals after Fresno beat Independence. Tehachapi then outran Fresno in a 20-14 win last Friday. In true “Mountain Football” fashion, the Warriors have ran the ball 94 percent of the time during their current six-game win streak. The Warriors are averaging 242 rushing yards per game during that stretch on 313 running plays, to just 20 passes thrown. Whether it’s Hayden Palmer, Garrett Curry, Connor Timm or quarterback Chris Garcia, this is a similar version to what we’ve seen out of Tehachapi for decades. And like so many times, it has resulted in late season runs deep into November. But Tulare Western is no pushover. The Mustangs only loss came in a blowout to Union in the regular season finale. Western has scored at least 41 points in the last eight games, including a 66-48 win over Madera in the quarterfinals last Thursday. Offensively, the Mustangs are balanced. Sophomore Elijah Burrell has thrown for nearly 200 yards per game and senior running back David Alcantar has 1,457 rushing yards and another 488 receiving with 32 total offensive touchdowns. But, other than the loss to Union and last’s week barnburner over Madera, the Mustangs defense has been lights out. In fact, in the other nine games, the Mustangs gave up less points (58) than in the loss to the Tribe (62). That alone, coupled with the fact that if Western can get up a couple scores early against Tehachapi, it’s hard for a running team to come back, especially against a stout defense. The run has been fantastic for Tehachapi to get back to the semifinals for the first time since 2009, but it likely ends here in an afternoon loss.
Trevor’s pick: Tulare Western 35, Tehachapi 21
Josh’s pick: Tulare Western 37, Tehachapi 20
No. 3 BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN (10-1, 6-0 SSL) at No. 2 FRESNO-SAN JOAQUIN MEMORIAL (9-2, 3-2 CMAC) - The what-ifs in a long season can be even longer and head scratching. Take BCHS for example. Before the season began, the schedule for the Eagles seemed ripe for an undefeated slate through the Central Section regular season and playoffs. Then came a knee injury to senior quarterback Braden Wingle and the Eagles’ lone loss came against Visalia-Central Valley Christian in a 21-12 loss where Wingle didn’t play until late in the first half and didn’t seem himself while recovering from the injury a week prior in a win over Garces. Wingle recovered and so did BCHS. The Eagles are winners of nine consecutive since, including a 48-9 win over Kingsburg in the quarterfinals. But, the defending D-III section champions that hosted, and lost in the CIF State D-4AA championship game, are on the road as the 3-seed this time in the semifinals likely due in large part to the loss to CVC more than two months ago. That’s a tough one to swallow. But, great football teams win on the road, like BCHS did at Selma in the NorCal D-4AA regional game over Selma last year. And if the Eagles want to play for a repeat this time around, it will come against the top private school in Fresno. The Panthers two losses came against D-I opponents in Fresno-Edison and Fresno-Bullard during league play and beat West handily last week, 35-14, in the quarterfinals. This is a rematch of the semifinals from a year ago when BCHS beat Memorial 41-35 at home to advance to the championships, eventually beating Tulare Western 53-19 for the program’s first section title since 2013. There are a lot of similarities for both teams from last season. The Panthers returned quarterback Alec Trujillo (2,913 yards, 31 TDs), receiver Jalen McMillan (1,378 yards, 16 TDs) and top defenders like Zach Angelillo and Andrew Defendis. BCHS brought back a lot from the team from last season. Wingle is averaging 245 passing yards a game with a 33-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Alex Wallace has 874 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns through the air. But, it’s the defense that has been spectacular this season for BCHS. Led by Robert Gonzales, Ben Yurosek, Jason Gauthier, Tate Eenigenburg and Jonah Rogers up front has been nearly unstoppable. That pass rush, led by Eenigenburg and Yurosek, has gotten to opposing quarterback at will. If the Eagles can stop the Panthers run game, it’s likely defensive backs like Chris Gutierrez, Keonte Glinton and Stephen O’Neill could have a big day in the interception game. Bakersfield Christian has been here before and that pedigree for winning big games on the road will play in.
Trevor’s pick: Bakersfield Christian 42, Memorial 35 (similar to last season)
Josh’s pick: Bakersfield Christian 34, Memorial 24
No. 6 NORTH (9-3, 3-1 SEYL) at No. 2 VISALIA-CENTRAL VALLEY CHRISTIAN (9-2, 3-2 CSL) - I’ve gone against North so many times this season only to watch the Stars find ways to win games despite an early season of turmoil and turnovers. Think about it. This is a Stars program that is only five years removed from a winless season in 2012 and a program that has not reached the section semifinals since 1983 and last won a title in 1954, according to section historian Bob Barnett. That’s a lot of futility that is being forgotten with each big win. Connor Whitbey, who leads North in tackles and only has a little more than a dozen rushing attempts this season, scored the game-winner and even kicked the extra point as North beat Selma 36-35 in overtime last week in the quarterfinals. Norm Brown is a tough-love type coach if there is one in the county. He will harp on his players as quickly as he is to bear hug them and tell them how much he loves and cares about them. It’s a mentality that looked like it was too much early on, but has turned the Stars into a small-school feel good story this season. North halted Highland’s undefeated season in the regular season finale before beating East in the opening round before the thriller over Selma. Now comes the biggest test of the season, or even, the last 47 years for North in Visalia-Central Valley Christian. The Cavaliers beat Delano 42-13 in the quarterfinals to advance. A balanced attack, CVC has ran the ball 303 times this season, averaging 160 yards, while throwing it 251 times for a 208-yard a game tick. North has ran the ball quite well with Chris Romero leading the way with 1,500 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns while Bailey West has been effective distributing the ball two James Johnson and Victor Boggs in the pass game. The late game heroics of late for the defense against Highland, East and Selma last week are program-defining moments and I am not going to bet against the Stars this time around.
Trevor’s pick: North 35, Central Valley Christian 30
Josh’s pick: North 35, Central Valley Christian 34 (Josh is drinking the Kool-Aid, too)
No. 3 FIREBAUGH (9-2, 5-0 WSL) at No. 2 SHAFTER (9-2, 5-1 SSL) - Shafter junior Alex Aguilar has been the most dominating offensive force in the county this season. Aguilar has thrown for 2,731 yards and 29 touchdowns, while rushing for another 1,347 yards and 22 more scores. Those are startling numbers and ones that make Shafter’s second-year coach Jerald Pierucci smile. Aguilar isn’t the lone force for Shafter — no championship-caliber team has just one — but he is something special. Whether it’s distributing the ball out to Jacob Sanchez, Issac Enriquez or Gerardo Lara in the pass game, handing off to Pedro Avila, or working behind a solid offensive line led by Juan Terraza, the Generals’ offense is explosive. In the same breath, Thomas Richardson, Sebastian Tavarez, Jonathan Cuevas, Matt Millwee, Avila and Lara have led Shafter’s defense heading into the program’s first semifinal since 2000. Firebaugh lost to Mendota in the D-V championship last season and moved up to D-IV this season. The Eagles have been a small school power the last few years and blanked Coalinga 26-0 in the quarterfinals last week. Firebaugh runs a very balanced offensive attack with Jeshua Gutierrez completing 57 of his 120 completions to Tylor Palmer and Hunter Hogue rushing for 1,203 yards and 18 touchdowns. Julian Banda leads the Eagles with 125 tackles. But Firebaugh’s league and non-league slate was full of D-V and D-VI opponents, and the team has just two wins over a team with a plus-.500 record since September. Not many teams have contained Aguilar this season and the Generals should head into the championship game with a win here.
Trevor’s pick: Shafter 42, Firebaugh 28
Josh’s pick: Shafter 45, Firebaugh 27
No. 2 ROSAMOND (11-1, 3-0 HDL) at No. 1 STRATHMORE (12-0, 5-0 ESL) - Rosamond is playing for the program’s first Central Section championship on Friday at undefeated Strathmore. The Roadrunners have won with ease, other than a 33-6 loss to Pasadena-Poly. In fact, the closest margin of victory Rosamond has had in the last month was the 42-28 win over Riverdale in the semifinals last week. Junior quarterback Isaiah Escobar continues to shine. The junior was 12 of 17 passing for 206 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another 103 yards and a score last week. Mario Aparicio has been a two-way standout for Rosamond. The senior leads the team with 71 tackles and has 1,041 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns. As great as Rosamond is throwing the ball this season, Strathmore has been even more spectacular rushing. The Spartans average 310 yards a game on the ground, led by senior Joseph Garcia, who likely will go over the 2,000-yard plateau this week. Garcia is third in the section with 1,934 yards and has scored 33 touchdowns. The only one with more rushing scores, good for fifth in the state. As fantastic as the Spartans looked in the regular season, the playoffs haven’t been easy. After beating Orange Cove 24-6 in the opening round, Strathmore’s perfect record was put to a test in a 28-20 win over Orosi. But, that run game for the Spartans is tough to defend.
Trevor’s pick: Strathmore 28, Rosamond 21
Josh’s pick: Rosamond 42, Strathmore 41
Trevor last week: 8-2 (.800)
Trevor this season: 159-57 (.736)
Trevor all-time: 855-305 (.737)
Josh last week: 9-1 (.900)
Josh this season: 83-38 (.685)