In a year that featured a canceled game, another postponed and a handful of key players sidelined for several weeks due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, the 2021 football season has not been an easy one for Bakersfield High.
Following a season-opening victory over Centennial, the Drillers missed two weeks of action before losing a pair of lopsided games to Frontier and Liberty.
So heading into Friday night’s makeup game against Ridgeview, BHS did so with a bit of chip on their collective shoulder — and that was particularly apparent on the defensive side of the ball.
The Drillers intercepted two passes, limited the Wolf Pack to 140 yards in total offense and returned a fumble for a touchdown in holding on for a 13-8 victory in the season finale at Griffith Field.
“You know it’s been a long season,” BHS coach Michael Stewart said. “This was technically a make-up game and we’re thankful that Ridgeview stuck it out to play in this game and had a chance to have our seniors to be recognized. And so that was a blessing for all of us. I’m just proud of these seniors that stuck through everything that happened. I’m just glad they were able to go out on a win.”
It was a night that senior Kani Jones will likely never forget. He scored both Bakersfield touchdowns, and in impressive fashion.
He gave the Drillers a 6-0 lead just before halftime when Makya Douglas stripped the ball from Ridgeview’s Tommy Strickland and Jones scooped it up and rumbled 16-yard into the end zone with 1:21 left until intermission. The PAT was blocked.
Then, early in the fourth quarter, the 6-foot, 170-pound Jones made an acrobatic catch as he was falling down in the back of the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown from BHS senior quarterback Ayden Moreno. It was Moreno’s first game since the opening week of the season due to COVID-19 protocols.
“It felt good,” Jones said. “I worked hard all week and you practice how you play. And we just came out here and worked. Everybody had to step up as a team. We had to play as one and we exited the season with a bang.”
Moreno completed just four of his 15 pass attempts, but each went for big yardage. He connected with senior wide receiver Dabre Wilbon — also playing in his first game since Week 1 — on passes of 36 and 49 yards, the second of which coming on the final play of the third quarter to set up Jones’ scoring reception that gave the Drillers a 13-8 lead with 10:10 to play in the game. Moreno finished with 123 yards passing.
“It was so interesting when Ayden, Dabre and (senior linebacker) Evan Halle showed up this week for practice, you could just feel a lift,” said Stewart of his three players that returned to action on Friday night. “And so it was like we were kind of back together. You only have so many days (to get back in sync), but the lift carried over into the game."
Chris Qualls and Wilbon intercepted passes for BHS (2-2) to stall the next two drives by Ridgeview, but Bakersfield was unable to pad its lead.
“The defense played well, they prepared this week, when in with a gameplan, stepped up to it, and you know, you can build with that," Stewart said. "So we’re just excited about all of our kids. We're sad to see some of our seniors go … it was a difficult year, difficult for everybody with this spring season, but hopefully things will be back to normal sooner as opposed to later.”
The Wolf Pack (1-4), which finished with just six first downs, put together three on its next drive and pulled to within 13-8 when Amos threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to junior Bailen McGruder with 4:44 to play. Amos ran in a two-point conversion to pull his team within 13-8.
The drive was aided by a personal foul and face mask call on BHS. The Drillers were hurt by penalties all night — 16 for 115 yards, including three straight illegal procedure penalties early in the game that prompted Stewart to call a timeout.
Trailing by just five points, Ridgeview got the ball back on its own 49 when they forced BHS to punt on its next possession with 3:33 to play. But the Drillers didn’t allow the Wolf Pack to cross midfield and sacked Amos on a fourth-and-15 play with 2:16 to play. Bakersfield earned a first down on their next drive and were able to run out the clock.
“We had a shot, but we make a lot of mistakes,” Ridgeview coach Rich Cornford said. “And at this level of play you can’t just out-athlete people, especially the Drillers. You have to out-execute them, and we didn’t do that.”
Frontier 35, Stockdale 12
Danny Overton rushed for three touchdowns and also had three tackles for a loss to lead the host Titans (4-1) past the Mustangs (0-4) in the season finale for both teams on Friday night.
Frontier quarterback Vince Igoa also ran for a score and threw for another, a 72-yard touchdown pass to Jaden Perez. Perez finished with more than 100 yards receiving.
Igoa opened the scoring with a four-yard keeper late in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead, but Stockdale responded with a 50-yard scoring play where Mustangs quarterback Jordan Gallegoz hit a wide-open Julian Leon, who trotted into the end zone. The extra-point was no good after a low snap, making it 7-6.
The Titans marched down the field and regained some cushion with a 3-yard TD run by Overton as Frontier led 14-6 at the half. He added scoring runs of six and five yards in the second half to increase Frontier's advantage to 28-6 with 2:55 left in the third quarter. The lead was 35-6 after Perez got behind the coverage over the middle and sprinted into the end zone midway through the fourth quarter.
Gallegoz capped the scoring with an eight-yard scoring pass to Jayden Hollis.
Defensively, Miles Ford had an interception for the Titans in a game originally scheduled for March 24, but postponed due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.