Last season was a bummer. No high school football teams from Kern County played in any of the top-five Central Section championship games — the first time since 1992 that such a turn of events has taken place.
That was an anomaly that, to me, will be completely rectified after this week’s games. There are seven county teams in the semifinals this week with the chance for possibly both teams in the Division I and D-V championship games not only coming from the county, but from the same league. Bakersfield High and Liberty are both Southwest Yosemite League members in the D-I semifinals, while Shafter and Kennedy are South Sequoia League rivals on opposite sides of the D-V bracket. Both of those leagues also have members in other semifinals as well, with Stockdale in D-II and Wasco in D-IV.
It would be incredible for those all-county championship matchups to come to fruition, because only three times have two teams from Kern played against each other in such a scenario. The last time was Wasco beating Bakersfield Christian for the D-IV title in 2012. Never have two championship games in the same season come down to two locals playing each other, but this year there is that chance.
Oh, and spoiler alert — I am predicting that a Kern team will be playing in each of the top-five divisional championship games next week. It’s a bold statement, but one I feel confident about. None of these teams — including No. 8 Wasco in D-IV and No. 7 Stockdale in D-II — feel like underdogs coming into kickoff.
It’s a fun time and will be Friday night of football.
No. 4 Bakersfield High (9-3) at No. 1 Fresno-Central (11-0)
Let’s analyze exactly what we have here. First, this is a rematch from the semifinals last season. That Central team a year ago was loaded and the Grizzlies managed to hold off a scrappy Drillers club that was just 6-6 last season, in a 35-27 Grizzlies win. BHS is vastly improved this time around. The Drillers have a strong senior class, led by two-way standouts Carl Jones, Cameron Williams, Ceyontay Bell and Isaiah Jernagin, along with Jacob Zeimet, Adrian Moreno, Antwon Thompson, Seth Morin and Sean Crowley. All of these guys are standouts and leaders for a team that's put up 50-plus points in each of its two playoff wins. The Drillers showed what they can do when the offense doesn’t turn the ball over. Bakersfield stormed out to an early 30-6 lead over Fresno-Bullard last week and never looked back. Add in the fact that junior Wesley Wilson’s 149-yard performance over the Knights put him over 1,000 rushing yards and fellow junior Isaac Jernagin has been a two-way standout for BHS, and the Drillers now have won six of their past seven games. The lone loss came in a 7-0 defeat to Liberty three weeks ago. Central, though, is No. 1 for a reason. The Grizzlies completed the first 10-0 regular season in school history and then survived a hard push from No. 9 Fresno-Edison before the Grizzlies scored 21 unanswered points to finish off the Tigers in a 42-21 win. While this is a Central team that is deserving of being a top-10 state-ranked team (ranked No. 9 by Cal-Hi Sports), something makes me think last season’s team — which only lost to Concord-De La Salle in the regular season and to CIF State D-1A champions Folsom in the state playoffs — was much more well-rounded. Jevon Bigelow is now playing at running back at Wyoming as a true freshman, wide receiver Tre Walker is second on the team at San Jose State in receiving yards and Jacob Hollins is playing at linebacker as a true freshman at Illinois. That’s a lot of senior leadership gone and already producing for FBS programs. However, the best senior leader Central has likely ever had is still there. Trent Tompkins is 12th in the nation with 3,761 passing yards, according to MaxPreps.com, and his 51 passing touchdowns are eighth in the country. Tompkins has thrown for 10,503 yards and 124 touchdowns during his three-year varsity career. Tompkins needs just 174 passing yards to crack the top 10 in state history for career passing yards and his touchdown passes already have him in the top 10 for career numbers. He’s an impressive football player and is the heart of this Central team. Tompkins is also second on the Grizzlies in rushing yards while completing 30 percent of his passes to junior Jeremiah Hunter (67 catches, 1,077 yards, 23 TD). If the Drillers can find a way to limit Tompkins’ time outside the pocket extending plays, and Wilson and company can march down the field without any turnovers offensively, then the Drillers could play the upset card here. It’s going out on a limb, but I am going to start a trend here that if you keep reading, you’ll catch on to.
Trevor’s pick: Bakersfield 35, Central 34
Josh's pick: Central 42, Bakersfield 28
No. 3 Liberty (11-1) at No. 2 Clovis-Buchanan (10-2)
“Redemption Song” by Bob Marley is an all-time favorite song of mine. Marley speaks of personal freedom and reclaiming your place in this world. And it's fitting here, with two of the more patriotic teams in the section going at it — Liberty for an obvious reason with its mascot, while Buchanan has lost so many former students killed in the line of duty while deployed downrange in the military. It also plays into the fact that Liberty can find redemption in its lone on-field loss of the season — a 28-13 defeat to Buchanan at home on Sept. 7. That night the Patriots couldn’t tackle to save their lives, and a bad snap exchange on a botched punt resulted in a Buchanan touchdown. From there, the Bears rolled to a two-score victory. Both of these teams are vastly improved since that week and both are extremely good high school football programs. So, let’s dive in. Junior Kendall Milton led the way last week with 158 rushing yards and three scores while fellow national recruit Jalen Cropper had two catches for 104 yards for the Bears in the 48-17 rout of Arroyo Grande. Take away the two losses to No. 1 Fresno-Central and De La Salle, the fourth-ranked team in the state by Cal-Hi, and Buchanan has outscored its opponents 392-102 in the 10 wins this season. The Bears are a solid football team across the board. But so is Liberty. The Patriots were without Hunter Riley in the loss to Buchanan. The senior is a standout at safety and is also the team's punter. Both factored largely into Buchanan’s advantage. Sam Stewart, Jr. has been incredible for Liberty all season. The senior two-way superstar has 1,629 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns, to go along with 41 tackles on defense. Liberty — despite only having two players (junior Ramon Henderson and senior Ryan Aguilar) with college offers — is a fantastic high school football team. The offensive line has opened up huge holes for Stewart and company in the run game and allowed quarterback Hector Gonzalez to be more comfortable in the pocket. The defense for Liberty, led by Dylan Holmes, Dylan Tooker, Anthony Villanueva, Ben Olinger, Jake Jaime, Jake O’Connell, Stewart and Riley, has allowed just two first-half touchdowns in the Patriots’ 10 wins this season. Like Buchanan, Liberty has dominated in its 10 victories, outscoring opponents 386-65 in those wins. This is a toss-up game and likely will be very low scoring. But I am going with the Patriots. Watch Stewart run 25 times on offense and the defense limit the big-play ability by Buchanan to secure the upset. And, if my predictions hold, the question then becomes where would Liberty host Bakersfield High in the championships? At home, or Memorial Stadium? It would be the first time since 1988 (when BHS beat West) that two locals played for the D-I section title.
Trevor’s pick: Liberty 21, Buchanan 14
Josh's pick: Liberty 27, Buchanan 23
No. 7 Stockdale (7-5) at No. 3 Santa Maria-Righetti (9-2)
I was so thoroughly impressed with Stockdale’s upset win over No. 2 Tulare Western in the D-II quarterfinals last Thursday at Bob Mathias Stadium. The defense limited Tulare Western to zero second-half points and the go-ahead score for Stockdale came on a fumble recovery by Maison Wright in the end zone on a botched Tulare Western punt. Evan Burkhart continues to be one of the best stories this season. The junior was pushed into the starting quarterback position in the third week of the season and after an 0-2 start, Stockdale has gone 7-3 since. Burkhart threw for nearly 200 yards and rushed for another 100-plus against Tulare Western, including taking four Tulare Western defenders on his back for an 11-yard run on a third-and-long run. This is Stockdale's first semifinals appearance since 2004. Righetti comes into the semifinals after finishing second in the Mountain League behind nextdoor neighbor Santa Maria-St. Joseph and then beat Frontier 33-16 in the quarterfinals last week after a first round bye. Adan Solis had 126 rushing yards and Kidasi Nepa added another 102. Righetti is a run-heavy offense with Solis leading the way with 1,596 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. The Mustangs strength of schedule is more than double that of the Warriors, according to CalPreps.com. It’s also pretty clear that Righetti likely has not seen a dynamic quarterback like Burkhart this season. His speed and intelligence is hard to replicate in practice. If Stockdale can slow the run game Friday like the Mustangs did against Tulare Western and the offensive line continues to block for Burkhart, then Stockdale will go from a team reeling in August to one practicing on Thanksgiving.
Trevor’s pick: Stockdale 28, Righetti 21
Josh's pick: Stockdale 31, Righetti 27
No. 3 Kingsburg (10-2) at No. 2 Bakersfield Christian (8-3)
Anyone want to argue the merit of playing, and getting blasted, on national television now? It seems like eons ago that nationally-ranked Westlake Village-Oaks Christian came into town and beat Bakersfield Christian 83-0 on ESPNU. It probably feels like it never happened for those in the locker room for BCHS now that the Eagles are the lone team playing in Bakersfield on Friday. Since that loss — and the 2-3 start to the season that featured defeats to teams that are still in the playoffs themselves — the Eagles have won six consecutive games, including a 49-7 blowout over Highland in the D-III quarterfinals last week. Jacob Maran threw for 206 yards and three touchdowns and had a team-high 114 rushing yards while Donte Harris added another 101 rushing yards for BCHS. Ben Yurosek and Tate Eenigenburg both recorded double-digit tackles while Yurosek had five sacks over the Scots. Kingsburg beat West 35-7 last week in the quarterfinals in a battle of the Vikings. Kingsburg has been one of the best mid-level schools in the central part of the section all season. Bo Jackson (what a fantastic name for a running back, right?) leads the Vikings offensively and is the team’s top tackler. But Bakersfield Christian has been gearing up for this point. The Eagles took lumps in the non-league portion of the season. Those games helped the game slow down a bit for the players knowing what high-end speed and athleticism looks like so when league games and the playoffs in the section rolled around, things would feel more in hand. Since Oct. 5, Maran has thrown 14 touchdowns to just four interceptions and Donte Harris has now gone over the 1,000-yard rushing milestone this season. Known as a pass-friendly offense, BCHS is much more balanced this season. Add in the fact that seniors like Keonte Glinton, Alex Wallace, Myran Randle and Chris Gutierrez have a ton of playoff experience, and the Eagles will head back to the section finals for the fourth time in the last seven years.
Trevor’s pick: Bakersfield Christian 35, Kingsburg 21
Josh's pick: Bakersfield Christian 41, Kingsburg 30
No. 8 Wasco (9-3) at No. 4 Visalia-Golden West (6-5)
Reminder here: Josh Bennett and myself called this three weeks ago when we did our Bracketology show on our BVarsity Live Facebook page the day playoffs were announced. Josh and myself both independently looked at the top-half of the D-IV bracket and saw a very winnable situation for Wasco. The Tigers beat East 33-16 in the opening round, then upset No. 1 Porterville 20-7 in the quarterfinals in a game Wasco led 20-0 heading to the fourth quarter. Sophomore Christian Alvarez led the way with 156 rushing yards and Elias Salinas added another 112 on the ground. Salinas also had two of the Tigers’ four interceptions for a defense that totally suffocated the Panthers all night. Arturo Romero and Justin Horton also grabbed interceptions while Noah McClain and Oso Velez led the way defensively. This Wasco team is just 13 points from being undefeated and if not for a 29-26 loss to North way back on Sept. 7, this week might have been a home game for the Tigers. Golden West is the defending D-IV section champion and lost to Oakland-McClymonds 42-12 in the CIF State D-5AA championships. But the Trailblazers were led by so many great seniors last season that it showed early on this season. Golden West was 3-4 after a 27-14 loss to Visalia-Redwood. Since, the team has gone 3-1, including a 51-30 win over Kerman in the quarterfinals last week. But if I may, let’s look at one thing. Wasco beat Porterville handely last week and Golden West lost to the Panthers 28-13 back on Sept. 14. That plays a huge factor in this. The strength of schedule for Golden West edges out Wasco’s, but the Tigers have played in more tight ballgames that will factor heavily here. In the end, Wasco will play for a section title for the first time since 2012 when the Tigers went 13-0 and were snubbed for a state playoff berth.
Trevor’s pick: Wasco 20, Golden West 6
Josh's pick: Wasco 28, Golden West 13
No. 5 Woodlake (11-1) at No. 1 Shafter (11-0)
Before we get into this matchup, let’s do our weekly Alex Aguilar record-setting season update. The senior quarterback threw for 375 yards and six touchdowns, and ran for another 61 yards and a score, in a 51-22 win over Dos Palos in the quarterfinals last week. Aguilar has now thrown for 39 touchdowns, ran for 16 and has two TDs on defense. That’s now 57 in just 11 games. The section record for touchdowns by a quarterback in a season is 62, according to historian Bob Barnett, and is in jeopardy perhaps this week. Woodlake comes in with an impressive 11-1 record with its lone loss coming in a 21-6 defeat to undefeated and No. 2-seed Caruthers back on Aug. 31. The Tigers are a lot like Shafter in terms of offense. Junior Damien Hernandez has thrown for 2,755 yards and 28 touchdowns while senior Victor Rojas leads Woodlake with 1,141 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns. But for everything good Woodlake has done this season, Shafter has bested it. Aguilar now has 3,006 passing yards and 981 rushing yard. Pedro Avila leads the Generals with 1,121 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns while Jackson Sanchez has 71 catches, 1,259 yards and 14 touchdowns. Plus, Marco Rodriguez and Isaac Enriquez have combined for 73 catches, 1,087 yards and 15 touchdowns. Oh, and they are all standouts on defense. Shafter has never been 11-0 in program history. The Generals haven’t won a section title since 1955. Shafter will move on to 12-0 and will get a shot at a section title next week back at home, too.
Trevor’s pick: Shafter 42, Woodlake 21
Josh's pick: Shafter 44, Woodlake 20
No. 3 Kennedy (11-1) at No. 2 Caruthers (12-0)
This is a very interesting D-V matchup. The Blue Raiders are 24-1 over the last two seasons and are the defending D-V section champions. The lone loss over the last two years was to Orange in the CIF State D-6AA regional playoffs in a 46-43 heartbreaker. Caruthers has responded with another undefeated run into the semifinals after beating Firebaugh 38-6 last week. Chris Puga leads Caruthers with 1,642 rushing yards and an incredible 34 rushing touchdowns. In fact, Caruthers has 52 rushing touchdowns this season. In terms of strength of schedule, Kennedy has the advantage over Caruthers. The Blue Raiders played just one team ranked in the top-50 in the section by CalPreps — which resulted in a win over Woodlake. Kennedy has played three. The loss to Shafter (No. 13 by CalPreps) in Week 9, and wins over Wasco (No. 33) and Liberty-Madera Ranchos (37) loom large. Tyreak Walker leads Kern County with 1,693 rushing yards and has 22 rushing touchdowns, second only to North’s Chris Romero. The rushing offense for Kennedy has been spectacular. Yocanni Sandoval has 907 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns and the Thunderbirds are averaging 341 rushing yards per game. Other than the 47-14 loss to Shafter, the defense, led by Cristian Maldonado, Pedro Garcia, Tito Enciso and Juvenal Herrera, Jr., has been lights out. This will not be an easy game for Kennedy, but those big games the Thunderbirds played in earlier this season will factor in, as will the depth of Kennedy with no two-way starters. Kennedy is playing a fifth consecutive semifinals game and will move on to its first D-V championship game after winning consecutive D-VI titles in 2014 and 2015.
Trevor’s pick: Kennedy 35, Caruthers 28
Josh's pick: Kennedy 38, Caruthers 34
Trevor last week: 11-1 (.917)
Josh last week: 10-2 (.833)
Trevor this season: 173-66 (.723)
Josh this season: 178-61 (.744)
Trevor all-time: 1,034-371 (.735)
Josh all-time: 262-103 (.717)