It’s a historic night, and everyone involved knows it.
For Highland coach Mike Gutierrez and his coaching counterpart in Norm Brown over at North, neither one would have it any other way.
The Scots are playing on the side of destiny. Since the school opened its doors in 1970, Highland has never won a league title in football. The Scots (8-0, 3-0) are also seeking a perfect regular season heading into tonight’s Southeast Yosemite League finale at North.
“I think everyone knows what’s at stake," Gutierrez said. "It’s for a league title, which would be the first one. (North) has always been a tough team and they have athletes and everyone knows it.”
This Highland team of destiny has been playing the part of a complete team all season.
Cade Sakamoto and Zeke Arambulo have shared the quarterback duties, and done it well. The two have combined to throw for 1,274 yards and 18 touchdowns to just four interceptions, while Sakamoto has added 365 rushing yards and seven more scores.
Highland, behind a workhorse offensive line led by Chandler Mccathron and Isidro Reyes, is averaging 195 rushing yards a game. Marquie Lewis leads the team with just 61.6 yards per game.
“We said that our depth was going to be a huge thing for us,” Gutierrez said. “That’s really been key. We’ve had so many guys making plays. No one has numbers that will blow you away because everyone is contributing.”
Eduardo Salinas leads Highland with 87 tackles, one of six players with at least 50 tackles this season. That includes Reyes, who has 82 tackles and 10.5 sacks and Lewis (63 tackles, 10 sacks).
“We know our defense can go out there and get our offense the ball back quickly,” Gutierrez said. “Having a defense on the field that you can trust makes it easier on us as coaches.”
Brown knows his team is on the opposite side of history.
“We are getting no respect,” Brown said. “Nobody thinks we are going to win. Our kids are fired up. We get to play for a shot at a league title for a third year in a row. It’s going to be fun. A thrill to the end.”
The Stars are no slouches themselves. North (6-3, 2-1) is four points away from likely being 8-1 and undefeated in league play after a 31-30 loss at Porterville-Monache, and a 30-27 loss to South in league play.
“It’s going to be a tough game. (Highland is) a really good team,” Brown said. “They play four quarters and they hustle. They know how to win the big game. We have not. Until then, we are still a work in progress.”
Nice to see you, again
Since 2007, Liberty and Bakersfield have played 12 times, including the regular season finales the last two years and even two playoff matchups in two of the last three.
Bakersfield leads the series over the last decade 7-5. The two teams have accounted for the league title each of the last four seasons, while combining to win five of the last 10 Central Section Division I titles.
It’s more of the same again this season.
Liberty (5-4, 4-0) hosts Bakersfield (5-4, 3-1) as the Patriots seek a third outright SWYL title in the last four years. BHS can share the league title with a win. If Garces beats Stockdale, and BHS beats Liberty, a three-way tie will ensue.
Independence finished in a three-way tie for first place in the South Yosemite League with Ridgeview and Tehachapi last fall, the first league title of any sort in football since the school opened 10 years ago.
The Falcons had a shot at the league title outright, but a 41-13 loss to Ridgeview stalled those hopes.
The Falcons are in the same situation, again.
Independence (7-2, 4-0) beat East 27-22 last week for the program’s first seven-win season and are on the road tonight at Ridgeview (5-4, 3-1) for the program’s first outright league title.
Oldest rivalry heats up
Shafter and Wasco have played each other every year since 1934 except one — that would have been 1942, because of World War II.
This week marks the 91st meeting between the two schools, with Shafter (7-2, 4-1) holding a 43-42-5 advantage over Wasco (5-4, 4-1). The two teams square off tonight in the South Sequoia League finale at Shafter, with the winner likely securing second place in the SSL. First-place Bakersfield Christian (8-1, 5-0) has to hold up its end of the bargain as well, and beat Taft (2-6, 2-3) on the road.
Shafter's offense is the highest scoring in the county at 40.1 points per game. Junior quarterback Alex Aguilar has thrown for a county-best 2,286 yards and 26 scores, and has rushed for another 882 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Wasco has won four consecutive games in SSL play, with Dre Hanking and Marc Lopez both averaging 100 rushing yards per game during the stretch.