I took a chance last week on the locals.
There were seven Kern County teams playing in the Central Section semifinals, much like last season. However, this time around, I was compelled to believe all seven could advance and have a county team in the top-five division championship games for the first time since the section moved to at least five divisions in 1998.
Three lost on the road (Bakersfield, Stockdale and Wasco), but we still have four playing this week after not having a single local team play for a championship last year.
Shafter and Kennedy will take the field in D-V, the first time two local programs have played for a title since 2012. That also means the county is guaranteed at least one section champion when it's all said and done.
But can Liberty and Bakersfield Christian win on the road? Let’s find out.
On a side note, I concede this season’s picks to Josh Bennett. I am six games behind and it's unlikely we'll disagree enough if we have multiple teams advance to the state playoffs. Solid showing, bud.
No. 3 Liberty (12-1) at No. 1 Fresno-Central (12-0)
Statically speaking, Central's senior quarterback Trent Tompkins is the best large-school quarterback in Central Section history. Tompkins’ 10,822 career passing yards are No. 2 all-time in section history behind only Sam Metcalf, who threw for 11,913 yards for Farmersville from 2011-14. The Grizzlies beat Bakersfield High, 46-34, in the D-I semifinals last week as Tompkins accounted for the final three touchdowns in an 18-0 run for Central to seal the victory. His final touchdown pass, a 67-yard scoring strike to Jeremiah Hunter, broke the section record for touchdown passes in a season. The touchdown was his 55th this season, eclipsing the mark set by Brandon Jones in 2013. Tompkins also tied the previous section record for total touchdowns by a quarterback, another record once held by Jones and three others. Tompkins’ 30-yard run in the fourth quarter was his seventh of the season and he has 62 total touchdowns. However, Tompkins trails Shafter’s Alex Aguilar, who now has 63 for the Generals. Tompkins also moved past Derek Carr for passing yards in a season. Carr, who threw for 4,067 yards for BCHS in 2008, was fifth all-time in section history and now Tompkins, who has 4,080 yards this season, is 300 yards away from breaking the section record set by Braden Wingle (4,379) from BCHS in 2016. FYI, Tompkins is averaging 340 passing yards per game, and only once — in a blowout win over Sacramento-Grant — has not ecliped 300 yards. Central, undefeated this season, has fallen behind in each of the past three games only to have Tompkins will the Grizzlies to victory and now plays host to Liberty as the Grizzlies look to win a second consecutive D-I title after winning the program’s first last season. Liberty is in the finals for the first time since the Patriots won the program’s first D-I title over Clovis on the road in 2015. While Tompkins and a handful of seniors were starters as sophomores when the Grizzlies lost at home to BHS in the 2016 finals, only Ryan Aguilar was on the playoff roster as a freshman for Liberty in 2015. That includes Sam Stewart Jr., who was a freshman starter at Golden Valley before transferring over and becoming a three-year two-way standout for Liberty the final three seasons. Stewart rushed 36 times for 244 yards and two touchdowns and caught five more passes for 35 yards as the Patriots beat No. 2 Clovis-Buchanan 24-23 on a game-winning 26-yard field goal by sophomore Brayden Blevins as time expired. It also avenged the Patriots’ lone loss this season when the Bears beat Liberty here in Bakersfield 28-13 back on Sept. 7. Stewart’s touches on offense were one more than Buchanan had as a team last week. Stewart was also tied for fifth on the team with five tackles. Like Tompkins, Stewart is on pace to eclipse a milestone this week. The senior has 1,873 rushing yards and can break the school-record for rushing yards in a season, set by Carson Moyer in 2010 with 1,928. Yes, this game has two of the most dynamic senior leaders in the state in Tompkins and Stewart, but there is a reason both teams are here — they both have a ton of leadership all around. For Liberty to be the first team to beat Central this season and the first section opponent to beat the Grizzlies since that 2016 D-I title game, it’s going to come down to controlling the clock and limiting Tompkins’ ability to extend plays with his legs. The offensive line for Liberty — Aguilar, Daniel Viveros, Brycen Lindsey, Tyler Hughes and Anthony Olivera — have been the best and most consistent group in the section this season. So many times, drives have been extended because of a block that allows Stewart or Anthony Villanueva to find a crease or allowing Hector Gonzalez (1,718 yards, 18 TD) more time in the pocket to find an open receiver. Defensively, Liberty’s 3-4 front will be tested this week. Quali Conley has 1,090 rushing yards this season and Hunter leads the way with 74 catches for 1,216 yards and 24 receiving touchdowns. Dylan Tooker and Villanueva have been the leaders on defense for Liberty and will need to again have monster games, especially trying to contain Tompkins with help from Dylan Holmes, Ben Olinger, Jake Jaime, Sloan Simpson and Stewart. It hasn’t been done this season. Tompkins has willed Central to victory so many times this season and is having one of the best seasons ever in section history for a quarterback. But something tells me this will be a close game with Liberty coming out early and taking a lead and the defense being able to keep the Grizzlies from posting less than 30 points this season. Kicker Brayden Blevins will play a large part in this one. The sophomore has not missed a point-after this season and is 9 of 11 on field goal attempts. This matters because Central has missed 13 of its 83 PATs this season. Bryan Nixon’s second title as a coach will be one for the ages.
Trevor’s pick: Liberty 31, Central 27
Josh's pick: Central 42, Liberty 34
No. 2 Bakersfield Christian (9-3) at No. 1 Fresno-San Joaquin Memorial (12-0)
The last time these two teams met, San Joaquin Memorial blew out Bakersfield Christian 49-7 in the D-III semifinals a year ago as the Panthers went on to win the section title a week later in a 45-31 win over Tulare Western. This time it’s for the section title, which these two have accounted for each of the previous two seasons after BCHS also beat Tulare Western 53-19 for the D-III title in 2016. The Eagles advance riding a seven-game win streak after beating Kingsburg 28-7 last week in the semifinals. Jacob Maran threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns for BCHS and since taking over as the primary signal caller on Oct. 5, is averaging 206 yards a game and has thrown 17 touchdowns to just five interceptions in that span. Maran has also posted 100-plus rushing yard performances in both playoff games. Add in a solid season from Donte Harris at running back and Keonte Glinton and Myran Randle as reliable and explosive targets for Maran in the pass game and the Eagles offense is playing quite well once again. On the opposite side of the field, the big-three for Memorial has been running like a fine-tuned machine all season. Alec Trujillo threw for 306 yards and four touchdowns as the Panthers beat Visalia-Mt. Whitney 68-34 to advance. Trujillo has 3,483 passing yards and 39 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. Leonard Glass had 112 rushing yards on 10 carries and three touchdowns last week. Glass has scored 17 rushing touchdowns this season. Then there is the highest-recruited wide receiver in the section in Jalen Mcmillan, who had six catches for 101 yards and a score last week. The junior — who is juggling offers from the likes of Notre Dame, Oregon, Nebraska, Oklahoma — has 1,246 and 17 TDs. This one will come down to the defense for BCHS. Tate Eenigenburg, Ben Yurosek, Dylan Parcher and the rest of the front-seven will have to contain the run game and pressure Trujillo. On the back-end Glinton, Randle, Maran, Chris Gutierrez and Alex Wallace will need to play lights-out to stop Mcmillan. However, the Panthers should be able to pull this one out in a much closer battle than last season.
Trevor’s pick: San Joaquin Memorial 35, BCHS 28
Josh's pick: San Joaquin Memorial 51, BCHS 31
No. 3 Kennedy (12-1) at No. 1 Shafter (12-0)
How great is this? For just the fourth times since the section moved to at-least five playoff divisions, two Kern County teams will play for a section title. The last time was also a South Sequoia League title when Wasco beat Bakersfield Christian in 2012 for the D-IV title. So, here we not only have two county teams playing for the section title in D-V, these are league rivals who played each other a month ago. Shafter beat Kennedy 47-14 on Oct. 19, but the Thunderbirds have outscored opponents 218-68 in the last four weeks, including a 73-19 drubbing of previously undefeated No. 2-seed Caruthers last week. That dominating win cannot go unnoticed. The Blue Raiders had won 24 consecutive games against section opponents coming in, including beating Kennedy in the quarterfinals last season. Last week, Kennedy was up 45-7 at the half in the most dominating performance of Mario Millan’s head coaching career. Tyreak Walker ran for 311 yards and five touchdowns, Yocanni Sandoval added another 212 yards on just seven carries and scored twice as Kennedy had 595 rushing yards and 10 total touchdowns with Jose Cota completing a 51-yard pass to Sandoval. It was impressive. Walker now has 2,004 rushing yards this season and 27 rushing touchdowns, both tops in the county. Sandoval has 1,119 rushing yards and 18 scores as well. Behind an offensive line led by Ivan Garza, Fernando Herrera and David Tamayo, the Thunderbirds are averaging 361 rushing yards and have scored 71 rushing touchdowns. And now Kennedy has a shot at redemption at the team’s only loss this season. Before we talk about anything Shafter, let’s take time to reflect on what Generals quarterback Alex Aguilar has done this season. In the 60-32 semifinals win over Woodlake last week, Aguilar broke the single-season section record for touchdowns for a quarterback. The previous record, set four times and last done by Brandon Jones at BCHS in 2013 was 62. In the third quarter, Aguilar ran in the ball from the 5-yard line for touchdown No. 63 to set the record. Aguilar now has 3,163 passing yards and 41 touchdowns to just five interceptions. Aguilar has also ran for 1,173 yards and another 20 touchdowns. Doesn’t add up? That’s because on defense, he also scored on a fumble recovery and a pick-6, (promise, I was present for both of those) and those all count towards the record. But Shafter isn’t just Aguilar. Pedro Avila has set a balance to the offense with 1,287 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns while Aguilar spreads the ball out to three different receivers with at least 36 catches, led by Jackson Sanchez (74 receptions, 1,310 yards, 15 TD). Willem Waterhouse leads the way on the offensive line. There are plenty of two-way standouts, but Rafael Zamundio, Jose Ortiz and Nathan Gonzalez have set the tone defensively with Avila, Aguilar and Sanchez. Depth has been an issue for Shafter all season, but the Generals haven’t blinked. Shafter, seeking its first football section title since 1955, have outscored opponents 598-133 during the first 12-0 record in school history. This has been a season building for Shafter since Jerald Pierucci took over. The coaching staff knows how to win these games after taking BCHS to the CIF State D-IV title game in 2013. Aguilar and the seniors still feel the pain of losing at home in the semifinals last season. Kennedy has been a huge underdog coming into the season and has won some major games with a regular season win over Liberty-Madera Ranchos and the blowout win over Caruthers last week. After the Thunderbirds won consecutive D-VI titles in 2014-15 after the program opened up with 30 consecutive losses, it’s fun to watch these two programs grow. This game will not be a blowout like it was a month ago, but Shafter will win and secure the program’s first section title in 63 years and the first state playoff bid.
Trevor’s pick: Shafter 42, Kennedy 28
Josh's pick: Shafter 48 Kennedy 37
Trevor last week: 4-3 (.571)
Josh last week: 5-2 (.714)
Trevor this season: 177-69 (.719)
Josh this season: 183-63 (.743)
Trevor all-time: 1,038-374 (.735)
Josh all-time: 267-105 (.718)