Sorry this is so late this week. I had a World Series to watch, you know.
We've reached the finish line of the regular season, but the truth is that by the time the section, regional and possibly state playoffs and bowl games finish six weeks from now, the regular season seems like a distant memory: Remember that Liberty-BHS game back in the regular season? Wow, that seems like a long time ago.
And, of course, the outcome of this week's games aren't going to matter if the results are flipped in a few weeks. But a league title still means something, and improving your seeding position might be the difference between winning and losing a section title.
Besides that, these league championship-deciding games feel like they're important now, the atmospheres are going to be great, and the football should be very competitive.
So here we go. Liberty vs. Bakersfield week, regular season ends, playoff seeding Saturday. Deep breath ... and here we go.
Friday, Nov. 4
LIBERTY (7-2, 4-0 SWYL) VS. BAKERSFIELD (7-2, 4-0) (AT WEST HIGH) — Here we are. The Patriots and the Drillers, for all the Southwest Yosemite League marbles once again. This is the fourth straight year this game will have a direct impact on who wins the league title. Liberty has won 18 straight SWYL game, a streak that dates back all the way to the league opener in 2013 — a loss, naturally, to Bakersfield, which went on to win the Division I state bowl game that year.
These are different teams and different players, of course, though the coaches are the same. Paul Golla and Bryan Nixon know each other well, with Golla getting the best of the early years of their matchups but Nixon riding a four-game winning streak. This year's teams are both loaded again, with Bakersfield's bevy of big-play stars — maybe only Central in the section can match the riches of Caden Ochoa, Cam Williams, Shane Jones, Tahj Wright, Justin McGill, Trayvone Jackson, etc. — and Liberty's sublime balance. Both teams went through a midseason rough patch that coincided with key injuries and will keep these teams from being mentioned with the schools' best ever, but both are in a very good place right now.
So where to go with the pick? Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. I'm not going to say I've got a great read on this one. Early in the season, I'd have taken Liberty. Three weeks ago, BHS all the way. But now? Liberty has shown a revived running game with Cameron Meek getting healthy and has shown very little drop-off defensively without injured star Kurtis Brown on the defensive line. Bakersfield continues to hit big plays and seems too versatile to stop any time soon. It's going to be a prize fight, with blows that might knock out lesser opponents not able to decide this one. And in a close game, both teams have special teams aces, too, and are solid in the kicking game.
Something tells me, though, that it's going to be more valuable to have big-play options in this one. If BHS can shut down Johnny Balderas and perhaps Meek or Isaiah Hill, it's not going to give up anything huge late. But if you're Liberty? Who do you focus on in a big moment? And if you have to play everybody straight up, Bakersfield has too many options. Barring a big discrepancy in turnovers or a huge mistake, I'll say the Drillers make one more play and win this thing. (But only because I'm forced to make a pick.)
Zach's pick: Bakersfield 33, Liberty 31
Trevor's pick: Bakersfield 28, Liberty 24
RIDGEVIEW (4-5, 3-1 SYL) AT INDEPENDENCE (5-4, 4-0) — LIVE ON BAKERSFIELD.COM — This one already had major South Yosemite League championship implications, with Independence seeking to make its title share an outright championship and Ridgeview trying to force a tie, presumably with Tehachapi as the third team in that deadlock. Plus you have a talented Ridgeview team trying to hold things together after a rough beginning, an injury-filled middle and a sloppy loss to Tehachapi last week, and a surging Independence team that has won four straight games since an awful start.
But this game just had even more intrigue added when Ridgeview told the Central Section this week that will only enter the Division II playoffs with a victory. That means that if Independence can knock off the Wolf Pack — which it hasn't done in school history, by the way — it would also knock out the two-time defending Division II champions.
So with that backdrop, can Ridgeview rebound and save its season, at least for the time being? Can Independence keep its running game rolling? Will Falcons quarterback JR Layman be healthy after he had to leave last week's victory against East early? All questions that need answers. Ridgeview was on the brink of falling apart against Tehachapi ... but something tells me to trust Dennis Manning and his senior leaders to pull together one more time and get this victory. Independence seems like a sure pick here, but until the Falcons can prove they can notch a win against Ridgeview, I'll go against the grain and take the Wolf Pack.
Zach's pick: Ridgeview 27, Independence 24
Trevor's pick: Independence 21, Ridgeview 20
GARCES (6-3, 2-2 SWYL) AT STOCKDALE (5-4, 1-3) — Stockdale has proven it has an explosive offense, but as the season has gone on, the Mustangs' defense has let down, especially against high-level opponents. Garces is very much a high-level opponent on offense, and the Rams have proven as much even after starting quarterback Conor Bruce went down with injury. Joe Tobias came in and Garces has hardly missed a beat on offense (though I suspect they miss Tobias a bit at linebacker on D).
So can Stockdale keep pace in what looks like a shootout? I'm not so sure this won't be a whole lot different than last week, when Bakersfield just had too many big plays for the Mustangs to keep pace. A Garces win seals up the No. 2 seed in the Division II bracket.
Zach's pick: Garces 41, Stockdale 30
Trevor's pick: Garces 35, Stockdale 28
FRONTIER (2-7, 0-4 SWYL) AT CENTENNIAL (2-7, 1-3) — A game to avoid the cellar here for these teams, but both look like they're going to go to the playoffs, so a win would at least mean some momentum. Centennial has obviously been playing better in league play, but you wonder how much the Golden Hawks' momentum has waned after playing Bakersfield and Liberty in back-to-back weeks.
Frontier, meanwhile, just can't seem to stop anybody no matter how many points the Titans pile up. I'm going to call for what might be seen as a small upset here, with Frontier scoring enough points to put Centennial's offense in a bad spot.
Zach's pick: Frontier 37, Centennial 28
Trevor's pick: Centennial 28, Frontier 21
EAST (7-3, 1-3 SYL) AT GOLDEN VALLEY (3-6, 1-3) — It's been a rough go for East after a 7-0 start, with the Blades losing three close games that could have gone the other way in the final couple of minutes. The salve is that the Blades should end their terrific and unexpected season on a positive note in this one and that the Division III playoffs still wait. East has been in every game it's played thanks to a tremendous defense, and that should be too much for Golden Valley and enough to give more highly touted teams fits in the postseason.
Zach's pick: East 29, Golden Valley 17
Trevor's pick: East 34, Golden Valley 21
WEST (1-8, 0-4 SYL) AT TEHACHAPI (4-5, 3-1) — After beating Ridgeview and causing a mini Wolf Pack meltdown last week, the Warriors return to the mountain with two things on their mind: (1) a share of the SYL title, for which Tehachapi needs to win and actually root for that same Ridgeview team to beat Independence, and (2) Steve Denman's 300th career victory. Now, granted, Denman himself would rather talk about ANYTHING else, but that won't stop the rest of us. No. 300 will be a glorious accomplishment, and it should come without much drama against an overmatched West team. The real drama was watching this Tehachapi team rally from an 0-4 start to get its coach to this point. And there could be more to come, because this suddenly feels like a dangerous team in the Division II playoffs.
Zach's pick: Tehachapi 35, West 7
Trevor's pick: Tehachapi 42, West 7
NORTH (3-6, 2-1 SEYL) AT HIGHLAND (6-3, 2-1) — Even as Highland came close to dethroning South in the Southeast Yosemite League last year, the Scots turned around and lost to North to end the regular season on a sour note (though Highland did upset Bakersfield Christian in the playoffs). South, which has its bye this week, has already clinched the SEYL title with yet another narrow win against Highland two weeks ago. But that doesn't mean this game doesn't mean anything: Highland has had a bit of a North problem, not beating the Stars since 2012. This year, however, Highland is a well-balanced team and should win at home here, even if North's young team appears to be coming of age late in the season.
Zach's pick: Highland 31, North 23
Trevor's pick: Highland 28, North 20
FOOTHILL (1-8, 0-3 SEYL) AT MIRA MONTE (2-7, 0-3) — This annual rivalry hasn't had many big games in the standings, and this one is no different. If it had been played a month ago, I think I would have taken Foothill, but Mira Monte has stayed a bit more consistent while the Trojans' defense continues to fade down the stretch. If the Lions can score 20 points here, their D might be able to squeak out a victory against a sometimes-explosive Foothill offense.
Zach's pick: Mira Monte 23, Foothill 20
Trevor's pick: Mira Monte 27, Foothill 20
TAFT (6-3, 3-2 SSL) AT BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN (8-1, 5-0) — This should be a great matchup between two explosive offenses, one that does its damage on the ground and the other through the air (though BCHS has a bit of a ground game, too). Taft loves to run the ball outside the tackles, and if you don't have enough speed to beat Robert Cozine or Fano Maui to the corner, they're going to torch you ... all ... night ... long. But if you do? Well, Cozine and Maui are good enough to get their yards anyway, but Chavez showed the SSL what it looks like when you can use speed on defense to force that Wildcats offense to sustain long drives. Bakersfield Christian has that speed, I think, and a few Taft mistakes could slow the Wildcats' machine down. Meanwhile, Taft has to find a way to slow down Braden Wingle and Jeremiah Foster, which seems less likely. If the Wildcats can get out to a lead and force BCHS to stop the running game, they've got a chance for an upset and a big feather in the cap for Division IV playoff seeding. If not, however, BCHS — which has already clinched the South Sequoia League title — will turn in a second straight unbeaten league season.
Zach's pick: Bakersfield Christian 44, Taft 31
Trevor's pick: Bakersfield Christian 42, Taft 28
SHAFTER (4-5, 2-3 SSL) AT WASCO (6-3, 2-3) — This game is never not a big game, but for Shafter, it's even more than that this year: Coach Jerald Pierucci, a native son, and the Shafter administration has said the Generals will only enter the postseason with a win here. That's a tough scale to use, considering Shafter already owns a stunning win against Taft and has shown great improvement with a young team, but it's also commendable in a way: Make the team earn it. And that's not going to be easy. Wasco has won nine straight in this series, and the Tigers' running game is no joke. If Shafter can shut down Taft, it can do the same against Wasco, but is it possible to summon that performance again? I guess, but the safe bet here is Wasco at home to get to 7-3 and likely earn a home game in the first round of the Division IV playoffs.
Zach's pick: Wasco 34, Shafter 24
Trevor's pick: Wasco 28, Shafter 20
ARVIN (0-9, 0-5 SSL) AT CHAVEZ (7-2, 3-2) — Last chance for a victory for Arvin, which has improved throughout the year but unfortunately had a back-loaded schedule to match that improvement. And this window for victory doesn't appear to be very large. Chavez is too good and too balanced to slip up here. The Titans were a whisper away from beating Bakersfield Christian — and if that happens, who knows if they suffer a letdown at Wasco (a very good team in its own right) the next week? Anyway, Chavez will be a force in Division IV again.
Zach's pick: Chavez 48, Arvin 14
Trevor's pick: Chavez 35, Arvin 14
DELANO (3-6, 1-3 EYL) AT TULARE-MISSION OAK (3-6, 2-2) — A disappointing loss for Delano last week against Porterville, which managed to stifle the previously resurgent Tigers offense. This is a really tough game to call, given how evenly matched the teams appear to be and how up and down Delano in particular has been. When in doubt, go with the home team, I guess.
Zach's pick: Mission Oak 24, Delano 23
Trevor's pick: Delano 21, Mission Oak 14
FARMERSVILLE (4-5, 3-0 ESL) AT McFARLAND (5-4, 2-1) — The Cougars can force a share of the East Sierra League title with a victory here (Orosi would also be 3-1 if it beats Orange Cove).
Zach's pick: Farmersville 35, McFarland 28
Trevor's pick: Farmersville 35, McFarland 28
DESERT (4-4, 3-0 HDL) AT ROSAMOND (5-4, 2-1) — This is essentially a High Desert League title game, though the Scorpions already have clinched a share of the title and Bishop is also at 3-1, meaning a Rosamond win would make a three-way tie in a five-team league. I can't pick Desert games to save my life, so maybe this pick is the kiss of death.
Zach's pick: Desert 38, Rosamond 21
Trevor's pick: Desert 28, Rosamond 20
KERN VALLEY (4-5, 0-3 HDL) AT CALIFORNIA CITY (3-5, 0-3) — The HDL has been a strange beast this year, and perhaps nothing is stranger than Kern Valley at 0-3 in league play. The Broncs only go to the Division V playoffs with a win here.
Zach's pick: Kern Valley 26, California City 18
Trevor's pick: Kern Valley 21, California City 19
BURROUGHS (5-4, 2-2 MRL) AT HESPERIA-SULTANA (3-6, 1-3) — Last week's upset over Serrano basically guarantees the Burros a Southern Section playoff berth.
Zach's pick: Burroughs 24, Sultana 7
Trevor's pick: Burroughs 41, Sultana 27
LANCASTER-DESERT CHRISTIAN (1-8, 0-2 DML) AT BORON (6-3, 2-0) — The Bobcats should cruise to the outright Desert Mountain League championship.
Zach's pick: Boron 56, Desert Christian 8
Trevor's pick: Boron 42, Desert Christian 12
SOUTHERN SECTION 8-MAN DIVISION II PLAYOFFS, FIRST ROUND
BLOOMINGTON CHRISTIAN (6-3) AT MARICOPA (6-3)
Zach's pick: Maricopa 31, Bloomington Christian 28
Trevor's pick: Maricopa 35, Bloomington Christian 21
Zach last week: 16-4 (.800)
Zach this year: 156-57 (.732)
Zach all-time: 1,915-525 (.785)
Trevor last week: 13-7 (.650)
Trevor this year: 154-59 (.723)
Trevor all-time: 542-206 (.725)