Kennedy is playing in a Central Section championship for the third time in the last five years.
Shafter is trying to win the program’s first section title since 1955.
The Generals, however, were the team that was supposed to be here — they brought back a senior-heavy group that was upset in the D-V semifinals at home a year ago.
The Thunderbirds are looking to avenge their lone loss of the season on Friday night as No. 1 Shafter hosts No. 3 Kennedy for the Central Section Division V championship at 7 p.m.
It’s just the fourth time in the last 20 years that two Kern County teams are playing each other for a section title, and the first since Wasco beat Bakersfield Christian in the 2012 D-IV finals.
Shafter (12-0) won the first go-round a month ago in a 47-14 drubbing. That game pitted two 8-0 teams from the South Sequoia League, playing in front of a standing-room only crowd at Shafter. In turn, the victory helped secure the first SSL title for the Generals since 2000.
Kennedy (12-1) won consecutive D-VI titles in 2014-15, but never finished better than 3-3 in the SSL at any point during this recent run since 2014. With that said, the Thunderbirds went 5-1 in league this season.
This game matters a lot to two towns that love their football programs, and there was talk of advance ticket sales for the game being close to sold out by Wednesday afternoon.
Kennedy travels as well as any program in the county and this game will not be any different. Players and coaches on each side of the field can feel the excitement building.
It also guarantees at least one county team advances to the CIF State Regional playoffs.
It even matters to those that did it before for Shafter.
Generals coach Jerald Pierucci, a Generals alum, spoke with Richard Nieto, who was the tailback for the Generals during their 1955 championship season.
“It’s been so long (since Shafter played in a title game) and I talked to Mr. Nieto (on Tuesday),” Pierucci said. “I just think it’s one of those things that as a community and an alumni, it’s opportunities like this that don’t come around very often.”
Shafter has been led by senior standout Alex Aguilar, who broke the section single-season record for total touchdowns by a quarterback in the third quarter last week in a 60-32 win over Woodlake.
Aguilar has 63 total touchdowns on the year — 41 passing, 20 rushing and two coming on defense.
“The excitement has been a lot (around Shafter). Everyone is talking about (this game),” Aguilar said. “We just have to stay focused.”
Since Shafter beat Kennedy on Oct. 19, Kennedy has scored at least 44 points in each of its last four games, including a 73-19 thumping of No. 2-seed and previously undefeated Caruthers in the semifinals last week.
Tyreak Walker had 311 rushing yards and five touchdowns for the Thunderbirds. Teammate Yocanni Sandoval had 211 rushing yards on just seven carries and two scores.
Walker eclipsed the 2,000-yard rushing mark last week while Sandoval has 1,119 rushing yards on the season. The two have combined for 49 total touchdowns this year.
“Delano has been great to us. Even when you look back to a couple years ago in the state (regional playoff game at Saddleback Valley Christian in Southern California), we had more fans there than the home team,” said Kennedy first-year head coach Mario Millan, who was on staff under Dennis Moody for the previous four seasons. “They have always followed us well. They are very vocal and supportive.”
As the lone game in Kern County on Friday, the focus is squarely on these two programs, knowing one is guaranteed to advance to state with a large fan base in tow.
“We are the talk of the town right now and we love it,” Millan said.