The first half was competitive. The second half showed what Fresno-San Joaquin Memorial was all about.

Led by a talented team with high-end playmakers across the board, the No. 1-seeded Panthers beat No. 2 Bakersfield Christian 48-7 for the Central Section Division III football championship on Friday night.

The game, played at San Joaquin Memorial, was tight in the first half — 14-7 for the majority of the opening two quarters, and 21-7 going into the locker room.

But the Panthers talent level rose to the top, as the team moved to 13-0 and into the state playoffs. BCHS sees its season come to a close at 9-4. 

“Either way you slice it, you always want to finish winning,” Bakersfield Christian head coach Darren Carr said. “I’m very proud of the effort these guys put in, the coaches put in. It just wasn’t enough today.”

BCHS was right there early on against a team that eliminated it last year in the section playoffs as well.

The Eagles took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter and the defense held its own to keep things within striking distance.

When the dust settled, however, squandered opportunities ultimately cost Bakersfield Christian from tying the score or possibly doing even more damage going into halftime.

At the outset of the second quarter, down 14-7, the Eagles had the ball first-and-goal at the San Joaquin Memorial 1-yard line. The Eagles came out and threw the football, and quarterback Jake Maran connected on a short touchdown toss to Anthony Gaitan, who Carr said was the team’s fullback despite wearing No. 72.

Officials ruled that Gaitan was an ineligible receiver on the play, however, and he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct as well after spiking the ball in the end zone in celebration for his apparent TD. Because of the two penalties, the touchdown was waved off the board and the ball was moved back to the SJM 21. On the next play, Maran dropped back and threw downfield, only to be intercepted.

Late in the second quarter, the Eagles took back over inside their own 20-yard line, still down 14-7. BCHS threw three straight incompletions, however, and the ensuing punt was partially blocked, giving Memorial the ball at the BCHS 44 with one timeout remaining.

The Panthers capitalized, moving the ball swiftly downfield and scoring a touchdown when quarterback Alec Trujillo hit Josh Kelly for a 23 yards. With 13 seconds remaining in the first half, SJM took a 21-7 lead.

“Couple mistakes here and there, which you can’t do,” Carr said. “Against a team like this, you can’t shoot yourself in the foot.”

Said Maran: “A few mistakes in the redzone and at crucial times when it counts. That’ll do it to you in the end.”

From there, SJM pulled away in the second half. Trujillo heated up, and running back Leonard Glass finished the evening with 163 yards on 21 carries. He had a 1-yard touchdown run to start the third, Trujillo found Kelly for another TD to start the fourth, and running back Eric Hirata scored from 2 yards out late in the final quarter.

Kelly’s 40-yard interception return touchdown came on essentially the game’s final play, with a running clock in place, and proved to be the exclamation point.

Division III Central Section championship
No. 1 Fresno-San Joaquin Memorial 48, No. 2 Bakersfield Christian 7
Bakersfield Christian 7 0 0 0 — 7
San Joaquin Memorial 14 7 7 20 — 48
First quarter
BCHS - Maran 38 pass to Glinton (Guillory kick)
SJM - Trujillo 31 pass to Dalena (Dalena kick)
SJM - Trujillo 16 pass to Hall (Dalena kick)
Second quarter
SJM - Trujillo 23 pass to Kelly (Dalena kick)
Third quarter
SJM - Glass 1 run (Dalena kick)
Fourth quarter
SJM - Trujillo 7 pass to Kelly (Delano kick)
SJM - Hirata 2 run (Delano kick)
SJM - Kelly 40 interception
Individual stats
RUSHING — BCHS: Maran 7-43, Harris 3-17. SJM: Glass 21-163, Hirata 14-61, Trujillo 5-45.
PASSING — BCHS: Maran 12-25-2-176. SJM: Trujillo 16-23-1-160.
RECEIVING — BCHS: Glinton 3-66, Yurosek 2-42, Gutierrez 1-35, Randle 2-22, Harris 2-11. SJM: Kelly 4-43, Hall 3-40, McMillan 3-32, Dalena 1-31, Hirata 3-10, Glass 1-4.
W-L: BCHS 9-4; SJM 13-0.

Teddy Feinberg can be reached at 661-395-7324. Follow him on Twitter: @TeddyFeinberg.

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