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Busy Black Friday for area high school football teams

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Bakersfield High quarterback Tye Monteiro avoids a Fresno-Central defender in a Week 3 matchup. The Drillers will be playing for Central Section Division II championship against Fresno-Bullard at McLane High School on Friday. Central will host Liberty in the D-I final.

Practicing on Thanksgiving Day certainly is not rare for high school football teams.

Since the section moved from the Sequoia, Yosemite and Sierra championships to a five-division format in 1998, at least one area team has played in the Central Section championship, a date that typically falls a day after the celebratory holiday. A sixth division was added in 2008.

This year, local football fans are a tad bit spoiled.

For the first time since 2007, five area teams will be in action on Black Friday. That’s a far cry from the last postseason tournament two years ago, when Bakersfield Christian was the lone Kern County team still playing in late November. The Eagles made the most of it, winning the section Division III title, followed by the CIF State D-3A championship two weeks later.

BCHS, the South Yosemite League champion, is in the hunt again this year, looking to repeat and defend their D-III title. It starts Friday night when the No. 7 Eagles travel to play at top-seeded Visalia-Central Valley Christian.

The two teams met in the season opener this year, with CVC posting a 30-24 victory. Two years ago, Bakersfield Christian defeated the Cavaliers in the section final.

Two Southwest Yosemite League teams will also be playing road games Friday. No. 4 Liberty, fresh off an upset win over No. 1 Clovis-Buchanan, will play No. 3 Fresno-Central at Koligian Field in the Division I final. The Grizzlies are the three-time defending D-I champions.

No. 2 Bakersfield High will be playing at nearby McLane High School against No. 1 Fresno-Bullard in the Division II final.

Independence and Taft will both be playing at home.

The No. 6 Falcons, who opened the season 0-6, have won seven straight to advance to their first section championship game. Independence will host No. 13 Mendota in the D-IV final. For the Aztecs, it will be their third straight game in Bakersfield, after eliminating No. 5 Foothill and No. 8 Highland the past two weeks.

The top-seeded Wildcats will play No. 2 Morro Bay, looking to win their first section title since 2007. The Pirates opened the D-VI playoffs with a 36-33 victory over East and now must travel to Kern County for the final.

Here’s a capsule look at this year’s Central Section finalist teams:

Division I

Liberty at Fresno-Central

Liberty Patriots (9-2)

Section seed: No. 4

State ranking: 36th by Maxpreps; 39th by CalHiSports.

Win streak: Six games

Record vs. common opponents: 4-0. The Patriots defeated Ridgeview (51-0 in Week 2), Bakersfield (37-23 in Week 10), Clovis (45-35 in section quarterfinals) and Clovis-Buchanan (28-21 in section semifinal).

Last section title: 2015. Won the Division I championship with a 56-21 victory over Clovis.

Leading passer: Carson Woods, senior, 1,741 yards, 17 TDs, 4 Ints.

Leading rusher: Jalen Hankins, junior, 910 yards, 16 TDs

Leading receiver: Jason Oliver 29 catches, 700 yards, 7 TDs.

Tackles leader: Will Kanavalov, senior, 73, including six for a loss.

Sacks leaders: Grant Buckey, junior, Riley Hernandez, senior, and Beckam Nilsson, junior, with three each.

Interception leaders: Kresean Kizzy, junior, Luke Wattenbarger, senior, and Hankins with three apiece.

Special teams: Dylan Lynch, senior, and Grant Meadors, junior, are a combined 50 for 53 on extra points with six field goals this season. Both kickers have booted a 41-yard field goal this year.

Notes: Patriots won their fourth straight Southwest Yosemite League title.

Central Grizzlies (9-1)

Section seed: No. 3

State ranking: 20th by Maxpreps; 24th by CalHiSports

Win streak: Four games

Record vs. common opponents: 3-1. The Grizzlies lost to Clovis-Buchanan 24-17 in Week 7, the team’s only loss of the season, and posted victories over Bakersfield High (59-20 in Week 3), Ridgeview (54-0 in Week 5) and Clovis (27-20 in Week 6).

Last section title: 2019. Won three straight Division I titles, most recently defeating Buchanan 28-21 two years ago.

Leading passer: Dayton Tafoya, junior, 1,864 yards, 22 TDs, 10 Ints.

Leading rusher: Jesiah Lindsey, senior, 1,186 yards, 13 TDs.

Leading receiver: LaDanien Streets, junior, 40 catches for 551 yards, 9 TDs.

Tackles leader: Marcus Ramirez, senior, 85, including eight for a loss.

Sacks leader: Jeremiah Shelton, senior, 6.5.

Interception leader: Imari Conley, junior, 5.

Special teams: Darwin Melger, senior, has made 46 of 51 extra points and eight field goals, including a long of 39 yards. The Grizzlies have returned two kickoffs and one punt for a touchdown.

Notes: Defending CIF State Division 1-AA champion. The Grizzlies are 64-7 in the last six years.

Division II

Bakersfield vs. Fresno Bullard at McLane High School

Bakersfield Drillers (6-5)

Section seed: No. 2

State ranking: 86th by Maxpreps

Win streak: Three games

Record vs. common opponents: 0-2. The Drillers lost to Clovis (34-14 in Week 2) and Fresno-Central (59-20 in Week 3).

Last section title: 2016. Won the Division I championship with a 21-14 victory over Central.

Leading passer: Tye Monteiro, junior, 1,584, 14 TDs, 11 Ints.

Leading rusher: Tybo Rogers, junior, 1,064 yards, 9 TDs.

Leading receiver: Daylon Leach, senior, 39 catches, 596 yards, 5 TDs.

Tackles leader: Alex Rocha, senior, 62.

Sacks leader: Jayden Dock, senior, 8.5.

Interception leaders: Christopher Qualls, senior, and Rogers with three each.

Special teams: Bradyn Ornelaz, senior, has made 26 of 30 extra points and four field goals.

Notes: The Drillers have won their last three appearances in the section finals, defeating Bullard in the 2011 D-I title game to complete a 13-0 season.

Quote from interim head coach Rashaan Shehee: "Our motto this season has been 'Just Us.' This championship game will come down to how well we fight for each other. Win our battles on every play and we win the game."

Bullard Knights (8-4)

Section seed: No. 1

State ranking: 66th by Maxpreps

Win streak: Five games

Record vs. common opponents: 1-1. The Knights lost to Central (51-32 in Week 1) and defeated Clovis (35-12 in Week 5).

Last section title: 2009. Won the Division I title with a 42-31 victory over Centennial.

Leading passer: Sean Russo, senior, 2,988 yards, 32 TDs, 8 Ints.

Leading rusher: Herman Zamora, senior, 609 yards, 11 TDs.

Leading receivers: Jalyn Utendahl, senior, 61 catches, 829 yards, 4 TDs; Jayden Davis, senior, 29 catches, 662 yards, 10 TDs.

Tackles leader: Brian Garcia, senior, 81.

Sacks leader: Koda Lamanuzzi, 5.5.

Interception leader: Davis, 3.

Special teams: Chase Weiner has made 35 of 36 extra points and his only field goal attempt, a 27-yarder.

Notes: Russo threw for 398 yards and seven touchdowns in last week’s 49-21 win over Kingsburg. He needs just 46 yards this week to break the school’s single-season passing yardage mark.

Division III

Bakersfield Christian at Visalia-Central Valley Christian

Bakersfield Christian Eagles (10-3)

Section D-III seed: No. 7

State ranking: 158th according to Maxpreps

Win streak: Eight games

Head-to-head: Lost to CVC in the season opener, 30-24

Record vs. common opponents: 1-0. Defeated Dinuba in the Central Section D-III semifinals, 49-27.

Last section title: 2019. Won the Division III title with a 28-14 victory over CVC.

Passing leader: Braden Waterman, senior.

Rushing leaders: Nathan Perez, junior; David Bonales, junior.

Receiving leader: Bryson Waterman, junior.

Tackles leaders: Braden Heath, senior; Evan Cloyd, senior; Bonales.

Sacks leaders: Bo Carr, sophomore; Ben Bidart, senior.

Interception leader: Angel Zuniga.

Notes: Eagles are the defending CIF State Division 3A champion and have won seven league titles in the last eight seasons.

Quote from seventh-year head coach Darren Carr: "We are blessed to be in the situation for the fourth time in seven years. We've all worked tirelessly to get to this point. Our young men can't wait to get on the bus and head to Visalia. They are tired of practicing, they want to play now."

Central Valley Christian Cavaliers (9-4)

Section D-III seed: No. 1

State ranking: 184th according to Maxpreps.

Win streak: Three games.

Head-to-head: Defeated BCHS 30-24 in the season opener.

Record vs. common opponents: 1-0. Defeated Dinuba 24-21 in Week 7.

Last section title: 2018. Won the Division IV title with a 49-14 victory over Visalia-Golden West.

Passing leader: Max Bakker, junior.

Rushing leaders: Josh Sousa, senior; Dominic Maxfield, senior.

Receiving leader: Jaeden Moore, junior.

Tackles leader: Moore.

Sacks leader: Moore

Interception leader: Josh Noeske, senior; Zach Zwart, junior.

Notes: Cavaliers have played for the section title four straight years, but are 1-2 in championship games heading into Friday’s game.

Division IV

Mendota at Independence

Independence Falcons (7-6)

Section seed: No. 6

State ranking: 292nd according to Maxpreps.

Win streak: Seven games

Record vs. common opponents: None

Last section title: Playing in first final.

Leading passer: Ladon Denmark, senior, 790 yards, 7 TDs, 3 Ints.

Leading rushers: Evan Peaker, senior, 1,655 yards, 15 TDs; Denmark, 980 yards, 14 TDs; Anthony Rico, junior, 577 yards, 12 TDs.

Leading receiver: Rico, 13 catches, 275 yards, 3 TDs.

Tackles leader: Demian Garcia, 70, including eight for a loss.

Sacks leader: Jorge Pineda, junior, 3.5.

Interception leader: Jonathan Rico, sophomore, 3.

Special teams: Daniel Smith, sophomore, has made 37 of 41 extra points.

Notes: The Falcons started 0-6 this season, but haven’t lost since.

Quote from fourth-year head coach Tyler Schilhabel: "We're excited for the opportunity to be able to finish this season on a high note in front of our home fans. Mendota is going to give us a good challenge, but we just have to play our game, and the rest will sort itself out. We're ready for the chance to bring home our first section title."

Mendota Aztecs (8-3)

Section seed: No. 13

State ranking: 310th according to Maxpreps.

Win streak: Four straight

Record vs. common opponents: None

Last section title: 2016. Won the Division V title with a 50-22 victory over Firebaugh.

Leading passer: Cejaa Ceja, junior, 946 yards, 15 TDs, 7 Ints.

Leading rusher: Jacob Silva, senior, 993 yards, 10 TDs.

Leading receiver: Richard Ceja Jr., senior, 22 catches, 448 yards, 7 TDs.

Tackles leader: Silva, 48.

Sacks leader: Alex Aldana, junior, and Ramon Avitia, senior, 5 each.

Interception leader: Devon Murphy, senior, 3.

Special teams: Edgar Trejo, senior, and Amilcar Pineda, junior, are a combined 29 for 29 on extra points.

Notes: The Aztecs are looking to go 3-0 against Kern County teams this month after eliminating Foothill and Highland the past two weeks.

Division VI

Morro Bay at Taft

Taft Wildcats (6-4)

Section seed: No. 1

State ranking: 576th according to Maxpreps.

Win streak: Three games

Record vs. common opponents: None

Last section title: 2007. Won the Division IV title with a 28-14 victory over Corcoran.

Leading passer: Jackson Berry, 643 yards, six TDs, 0 Ints.

Leading rusher: Berry, 644 yards, 14 TDs.

Leading receiver: Richard Jennings, junior, 14 catches, 255 yards, 2 TDs.

Notes: Wildcats advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

Quote from first-year head coach Brian Durkan: "We are excited for the opportunity Friday night. Morro Bay presents us with a tremendous challenge. They have a great QB and several guys that can catch it. Our defense is going to be tested in a way we have not seen all year. I'm looking forward to how we respond."

Morro Bay Pirates (6-6)

Section seed: No. 2

State ranking: 630th according to Maxpreps.

Win streak: Two games

Record vs. common opponents: None.

Last section title: N/A

Stat leaders: N/A

Notes: The Pirates’ six victories this season is the most at the school since 2013.

Coronavirus Cases widget

  • Positive Cases Among Kern Residents: 158,270

  • Deaths: 1,828

  • Recovered and Presumed Recovered Residents: 150,950 

  • Percentage of all cases that are unvaccinated: 92.04

  • Percentage of all hospitalizations that are unvaccinated: 92.62 Updated: 12/3/2021.

  • Source: Kern County Public Health Services Department