The Central Section playoffs wrapped up last weekend, with four Kern County teams playing for titles.
Here were my takeways from those games, and the postseason as a whole:
Kennedy shocks Shafter
Let’s start right here, because make no mistake — the 30-28 Kennedy win was a monumental victory for this Delano program. They were the better team that night in Shafter, and for the Thunderbirds to be heading down to East Los Angeles to take on Garfield in the SoCal Division 4A game is great for the area.
Did Shafter shoot itself in the foot during the Division V title game? There’s no question about that.
The No. 1-seeded Generals entered the game with a 12-0 record, got plenty of headlines going in, and were largely penciled in for a state playoff berth of their own. After all, they beat Kennedy earlier this season. And while it’s certainly hard to top the same team twice, the nature of the first meeting — a 47-14 Generals win on their homefield — seemed like the perfect recipe for a surefire victory in the rematch.
Alas, it wasn’t. Shafter fell behind 21-0, suffered numerous dropped passes, had a missed field goal early, and lost a fumble and and threw an interception in the endzone. Not a winning formula there.
With that said, give Kennedy plenty of credit. The Thunderbirds came in with a strong gameplan, forced Shafter out of its comfort zone and ran the ball extremely well to control the clock early. They traveled to a packed stadium, against their South Sequoia League rival, and prevented Shafter from achieving its desired goals.
They’re our lone dog in the state playoff fight, and we tip our hat to them. Best of luck in Round 1.
How good is Fresno-Central?
Well, they’re very, very good. That was pretty easy to quantify.
Just look at what they did to the two best teams from Bakersfield in the Central Section Division I semifinals and championship.
Two weeks ago against Bakersfield High, the Grizzlies overcame a 27-14 deficit at the outset of the third quarter and scored three straight touchdowns in the fourth to pull away, 46-34.
Then in last week’s title tilt, the Grizzlies trailed Liberty at halftime, 27-25, before outscoring the Patriots 33-7 in the second half to win 58-34. That’s just silly.
Of course, Central has record-setting quarterback Trent Tompkins and a ton of weapons around him, particularly at wide receiver. But they're also very well coached, evidenced by their second-half adjustments/surges in the aforementioned games. That’s just a deadly combination for head coach Kyle Biggs and company.
Make no mistake, the Patriots were a great team that had a great season. Their best player, running back Sam Stewart Jr., finally ran out of gas last Friday after largely carrying the offense in recent years. Having him relegated to the sideline for much of the second half with cramps undoubtedly hurt any chance Liberty had at smash-mouthing its way to the upset.
The question now, however, is how far can the 13-0 Grizzlies go in state? Entered in the Northern California bracket, the team has this weekend off as other schools up north wrap up their section playoffs. Once that’s complete, Central will know which opponent is in its path.
Much better showing from last year
This season was far better than last year in terms of Kern County representation in the playoffs.
A year after no high school football team from Kern County played in a top-five Central Section championship game, seven reached the semifinals and four played for a title.
Stockdale had a Cinderella run before meeting its match in a 17-0 loss in the Division II semifinals at Santa Maria-Righetti.
Wasco had a standout season of its own, finishing with a 9-4 overall mark after losing in the D-IV semifinal, 26-7, to Visalia-Golden West. The Tigers beat No. 1-seed Porterville 20-7 to advance to the semis. Look out for the Tigers next year as they enter their second season under head coach Chad Martinez.
In Division I, Bakersfield High and Liberty gave No. 1 Fresno-Central arguable its toughest games of the year in the section semifinals and championship, respectively.
Kennedy and Shafter made it an all-Kern County matchup in Division V title game and the Thunderbirds won a thriller on the road.
And although Bakersfield Christian lost to No. 1 Fresno-San Joaquin Memorial in the D-III championship, it wasn’t an unexpected result — the Panthers were absolutely loaded, and after BCHS let some first half opportunities slip away, Memorial turned it on down the stretch to pull away. While it would have been a landmark win for the Eagles and rubber stamped their season, the team did rip off seven straight victories after a 2-3 start and won the South Yosemite League championship.
With all that said, this was also the second straight year that a school within Bakersfield city limits came away empty handed from a section championship standpoint.
Where will teams go next year?
A handful of those previously-mentioned teams are losing a number of big-time seniors.
Liberty has a great program under Bryan Nixon and that doesn’t figure to change. Still, mainstays such as running back Sam Stewart Jr. and lineman Daniel Viveros will be tough to replace in 2019.
Bakersfield High had seemingly a truck load of star seniors. To name a few that made impacts: quarterback/defensive back Cameron Williams; all-around talent Carl Jones; wide receiver/defensive back Isaiah Jernigan; running back Ceyontay Bell; linebacker Adrian Moreno; and linebacker Jacob Zeimet.
Bakersfield Christian also had a strong senior class, with elder statesman such as wide receiver/cornerback Myran Randle; wide receiver/cornerback Keonte Glinton; quarterback Jacob Maran; running back Donte Harris; wide receiver/cornerback Alex Wallace; and defensive lineman Tate Eenigenburg all taking the field.
And, of course, Shafter had do-it-all quarterback Alex Aguilar. He was pure excitement on offense, putting up eye-popping numbers, leading the team to a lot of wins, and finishing with a record-setting tenure under center.
While good programs have pipelines of good players, those are just some of the notable departures taking place this offseason.
Conversely, will teams such as Stockdale, West and Wasco — all of which were pleasant surprises this postseason — rise to the occasion in 2019?