Bakersfield Christian football entered the 2018 season facing a litany of questions.
Primarily, the team was switching leagues — moving from the South Sequoia League which it thoroughly dominated over the years — to the South Yosemite League. In turn, the competition would change, as the Eagles would now have to tackle opponents such as Ridgeview, Independence and West high schools, among other programs.
BCHS also had to replace record-setting quarterback Braden Wingle under center.
And then the team got off to a 2-3 start to the year, culminated by an 83-0 loss to nationally-ranked Westlake Village-Oaks Christian in a game that was nationally televised on the bright lights of ESPNU.
At that point, it looked like it could very well be a rebuilding season for the Eagles.
“It’s what you do here from February on to where we are now, in November,” head coach Darren Carr said. “We know what we have. We just had to put it all together.”
And through it all, the Eagles actually did respond to all those preseason questions and put together yet another strong campaign.
Following the loss to Oaks Christian, the team had an undefeated 5-0 run through the SYL and won the league championship in the process. Standout tight end/defensive end Ben Yurosek said the Eagles’ 16-10 win over Ridgeview on Oct. 12 proved to be a defining moment.
“It changed the whole season,” Yurosek said. “We knew that Ridgeview coming in was going to be the favorites to win the title. We had to win that game, make a statement. Defend our home field in our first year in the league. It was a huge accomplishment for us.”
BCHS then won two straight Division III playoff games against Highland (49-7 final score) and Kingsburg (28-7). They team enters Friday’s Central Section championship game against Fresno-San Joaquin Memorial as the No. 2 seed in the tournament bracket with a 9-3 overall record.
It’s the fourth time in the past seven years the Eagles have played for a section title and the second time during Carr’s four-year tenure.
Generally speaking, programs don’t reach this stage of the season by accident.
“This year has been a crazy year. But as a team, I also think we’ve done a great job,” Yurosek said. “I think our team has responded in a great way.”
Of course, per usual, the Eagles have some high-level athletes at key skill positions.
Carr pointed to linebacker Tate Eenigenburg as a strong contributor to the defensive front-seven.
Yurosek is also a star at tight end and defensive end. Ditto for Keonte Glinton at wide receiver/defensive back. Fellow wide receivers Myran Randle (10 touchdowns) and Alex Wallace are big-play threats on the outside for quarterback Jacob Maran, who can also create some offense with his legs.
At running back, Donte Harris has provided quality production — 152 carries, 1,063 yards, 14 touchdowns — for BCHS as well.
“Donte’s a big part of our offense. Without the run game, we can’t pass,” Glinton said. “He runs to open up the pass, we try to pass to open up the run. We try to do a good job of executing in both areas.”
The Eagles will need to produce at an exceedingly high level Friday to threaten top-seeded San Joaquin Memorial.
The Panthers have talent seemingly at every position, headlined by quarterback Alec Trujillo; running backs Leonard Glass and Atier Butler; and wide receivers Jalen McMillan, Mac Dalena and Joshua Kelly.
Trujillo is committed to San Jose State, while McMillan is a special talent — a 6-foot-2, 181-pound junior with great speed and quickness — who Carr said “has offers from anybody and everybody.”
McMillan is also a unique threat as a kick returner.
“You see him, he pops out. He’s a four-star recruit,” Yurosek said. “A tremendous player and incredibly valuable for their team.”
Friday will mark a top-end test for the Eagles, who have already had a great season in their own right.
“They’re talented from every single position. They have depth. We know they are a very talented team,” Yurosek said of the opposition. “If we want to go out and win this game we got to want it, and play almost a perfect game.”