The high school football regular season begins Aug. 23 for Kern County programs and there is a lot of big-time games in non-league play to look forward to.
Whether it's the Week 1 game between first-year Garces head coach Paul Golla against his former assistant coach Darren Carr at Bakersfield Christian or Michael Stewart getting a huge first test as the new Bakersfield High coach against a state-ranked program, there are plenty of big match ups early on.
Here is my top-10 list of must-see games in non-league action for Kern County teams.
Garces at Bakersfield Christian - The fourth iteration of the renewed rivalry of the two parochial schools in Bakersfield might be the most intriguing. With Paul Golla leaving Bakersfield High to take over at Garces, this will not only be intriguing because it will be his first game, but because it will be his first against BCHS coach Darren Carr. On the field, both are talented with Joseph Campbell heading into this third and final season as the Rams' quarterback and the Eagles possess one of the top two-way players in the Central Section in tight end/ defensive end Ben Yurosek. In town for the first Friday night of the season, this is the marquee must-watch game, no doubt about it.
Bakersfield at Calabasas - This game got even more intriguing this week when it was announced senior Isaac Jernagin (a Nevada commit) and sophomore brother Ian (offers from Nevada and Arizona) were not leaving BHS for Santa Margerita, as previously announced. Now, in Michael Stewart’s first game as the Drillers head coach, BHS will face a top-10 ranked team in the state on opening night. In addition to the Jernagin brothers, the Drillers bring back a good amount of talent with Wesley Wilson and Elijah Lee, but Calabasas' talent may be at a different level. The Coyotes are led by Johnny Wilson, who is one of the top senior wide receivers in California. Oh, and he is 6-foot-6 and 224 pounds. Then there is LSU-commit Jermaine Burton on the other side at receiver for Fresno State commit Jaden Casey to throw to. This game has it all in terms of star power and intrigue to see what the BHS alum can do in his first game as the head coach.
Liberty at Ridgeview - By the time this game rolls around, we will have already seen the new-look Ridgeview squad under new head coach Rich Cornford against Stockdale in Week 1 and this will be the first of just two games in town for Liberty before October. The Patriots will have a new look with plenty of seniors graduating from last season’s squad that played for the section Division I title. But it’s reloading and not rebuilding for sixth-year coach Bryan Nixon and staff. Junior Haden Mann is a linebacker playing quarterback and the offensive line is young, but big. Cornford has third-year starter Justin Hinzo at signal caller and a ton of talent at the skill positions with Zion Hall, Anthony Ramirez, King Ellis, Alijah Alexander-Williams and Shawn Allen leading the way. These two teams may end up as two of the top-5 teams in D-I this season and it’s once again a big test for both teams early in non-league play.
Santa Maria-St. Joseph at Garces - The Central Section retooled the divisional placements after one year with the new schools, including St. Joseph, from the central coast. The Knights, along with Atascadero and Paso Robles dropped down to D-II, giving the division, which had just eight in the playoffs two seasons ago, 17 teams now, including Garces. A private-school rivalry builds on a game that now has playoff implications. The Garces faithful will have a watchful eye on its new coaching staff, and this being the second of three consecutive games against other private programs in the section (at Fresno-San Joaquin Memorial on Sept. 14), there is a lot riding on the first three games of the season for Golla and staff.
Bakersfield Christian at Visalia-Central Valley Christian - In the first four seasons under Mason Hughes, CVC won just 12 games from 2009-12, but the Cavaliers have turned into a small-school power, posting three double-digit win seasons in the past five years, including playing for the CIF State D4-AA title last season after winning the section D-IV title. CVC has since been moved to D-III, so this rivalry game now has playoff implications as much as bragging rights. CVC has one of the top running backs in the section with senior Jaalen Rening returning behind a solid offensive line led by Dirk Nelson. BCHS is loaded as well with Yurosek, leading the way.
Highland at Kennedy - What a season in 2018 for Kennedy. The Thunderbirds won the program’s third section title in five seasons while advancing to the state playoffs after beating Shafter 30-28 for the D-V title. Kennedy rushed for 352 yards a game, but will need to find replacements for Tyreak Walker (2,219 yards, 30 TDs) and Yocanni Sandoval (1,288 yards, 20 TDs). Highland on the other hand, looks like a team that has plenty of pieces in place to make a run at the Southeast Yosemite League title. Nick Salas and A.J. Cleveland return. Both split time at quarterback last year, but like Kennedy, the defense needs to replace a lot of seniors that graduated. Highland wants to forget the 41-19 loss at home to Kennedy last season and the Thunderbirds want to make certain 2018 wasn’t a fluke.
North at Shafter - Shafter’s season came to a crashing and emotional loss in the D-V section finals last season. The two-point loss to Kennedy snapped a 12-game win streak and kept the Generals from playing in a state playoff game for the first time in program history. Alex Aguilar, the record-setting quarterback is gone. So is running back Pedro Avila along with 17 seniors that left a lasting impression for Shafter. Sophomore Tyson Dozhier will step into the roll left by Aguilar and will be put to the test against North. The last two seasons, the Stars have started slowly, only to regroup and win three playoff games in D-IV. Chris Romero, Shannon Ferguson and James Johnson all graduated. Now it’s time for the next group of talented players from Oildale to step up for a big non-league slate here.
Thursday, Sept. 12
Liberty at Clovis-Buchanan - By the time this game kicks off we will know just how good the Patriots will be heading into this big-time non-league showdown. Buchanan got the best of the Patriots in the regular season, then Liberty upset the Bears in the D-I semifinals on a last-second field goal by Brayden Blevins last year. Buchanan is led by national running back recruit Kendall Milton, who is rated as the third-best player in California by national recruiting sites. Take away Fresno-Central, these are two of the top-three teams in the section this season and the winner here has home field advantage when it comes time for playoff seeding.
Frontier at Independence - This game intrigues me for one big reason, and that’s Frontier sophomore Travis Plugge. At 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, the pro-style signal caller might be the next big-time quarterback to come out of Kern County. But that’s a ton of hype for someone that has thrown just one pass (an interception) at the varsity level. But when colleges are already coming at you after your freshman season without varsity experience, the talent is evident. And if head coach Chris Bandy is ready to recharge the Titans, it’s likely going to be on the strong right arm of Plugge.
West at South - West was dealt a blow when big-bodied running back L.J. Laulu was sidelined with a leg injury after just three games last year. With 508 yards in just three games, there was a lot of promise for the Vikings, who rallied and beat Independence in the opening round of the D-III playoffs behind a 169-yard rushing performance by Khaiden Dearmore. Both backs are healthy and ready to lead the way for West this season. Cary Mills has continually produced winning teams in his six seasons at South with a 45-23 record heading into this year. Look for Daniel Lomax to be the leader for the Rebels. This game ended in a 27-26 victory for West last season. Expect this non-league finale to be much of the same this time around.