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League favorites Shafter, Highland set to square-off in Week 2 football matchup

Tyson Dozhier-2

Shafter junior quarterback Tyson Dozhier.

With at least five area games canceled due to health and safety protocols, it would be easy to focus on the negative heading into Week 2 of the high school football season.

But with several of Kern County’s best teams set to be in action on Friday night, there’s still plenty to be excited about.

For starters, two schools favored to win their respective leagues will be squaring off in northeast Bakersfield in a game featuring BVarsity All-Area co-player of the year Tyson Dozhier and Shafter playing at Highland, which has won two of the last three Southeast Yosemite League titles, and is expected to compete for another this season.

The Generals, which went 5-0 during the abbreviated spring schedule, were a bit shorthanded in its season-opening 27-20 loss to West last week at North High. Dozhier, who had 17 touchdown passes in his first three games in the spring, was just 9-of-17 for 113 yards with an interception and no TDs through the air last week, but rushed for 126 yards and two scores on 19 carries.

“I don’t think there’s ever good losses, but if there was ever a good loss for us, I think last week’s loss was (it),” said Shafter coach Jerald Pierucci, whose team fumbled at the goal line and had a pass intercepted inside the five last week. “This is a different team from last year … We currently have three guys that are returning starters on offense and two returning starters on defense. So we have a bunch of young kids that are playing. We have some of the main guys, but for the most part, these are new faces. So we’re still learning ourselves.”

Shafter, which has won two straight South Sequoia League titles, was missing six players due to health and safety protocols last week, and then lost three more due to injuries, finishing the game with just 18 players. Six players will return this week, but All-Area senior Walker Maino is still out with a back injury.

“I think last week was a really good eye-opener,” Pierucci said. “I think a lot of the guys were like, ‘hey we’ll just let (returning receiver) Devon (Sundgren) and Tyson do a lot of stuff and we’ll still have success.' There were a lot of things to celebrate, but there were a lot of things we did wrong. And it was due to youth and West High really pounded us inside.”

Highland, the SEYL favorite this season according to the BVarsity preseason coaches’ poll, rushed for 336 yards and six touchdowns in a 39-0 victory at Arvin.

“We say as a cliche every year that our goal is to get better every day and every week, but with how young we are it’s truly carrying even more weight right now,” Highland coach Michael Gutierrez said. “We’re truly just every day trying to take a step forward so hopefully by the end of the season we can get on a roll and feel really confident, because we like the young guys that we have. And we think tomorrow playing a very well-prepared Shafter team it will be a very good test for us.”

The Scots figure to rely on a solid running game Friday, one that dominated the action in the season opener. Adrian Juarez ran for 133 yards and four touchdowns, with teammate Jojo Mata gaining 166 yards with two scores on the ground.

“We’re a spitting image of each other,” Pierucci said. “We do a lot of things that are the same. We do a lot of things that look alike, and so it’s two offenses that have a very similar dynamic, and two defenses that are very much the same in the fact that both coordinators like to bring heat. They’re a fun opponent to play and plus Mike is such a good guy and he does such a good job with his program. Any time I can test our mettle against a good coaching staff is always a plus for us.”

Coach Gutierrez has similar thoughts about his counterpart.

“We know Shafter’s always going to be very well-coached and well-prepared,” Gutierrez said. “And I think we’re going on year six of playing each other. So I think us and Coach Pierucci have been very fortunate to lay a foundation where not too much has changed. When it comes to preparation, you kind of know what you’re getting.”

CLOSER TO HOME

Southwest Yosemite League favorite Liberty, which traveled more than 400 miles and six hours to defeat Sparks (Nev.)-Spanish Springs 28-3 last week, will only have to drive 20 minutes south on Friday to play at Ridgeview.

The Patriots were led by big-play senior Jason Oliver who had two long touchdown catches from senior quarterback Carson Woods and finished with 132 yards receiving. Junior running back Jalen Hankins also rushed for two scores and finished with 122 yards on 14 carries.

“The players really handled the two-day trip well last week,” said Liberty coach Bryan Nixon. “It feels good to have a 20-minute bus trip to the game. This week we are looking to improve and eliminate some mistakes made in Week 1. (We’re hoping to have growth from Week 1 and 2.”

BRINGING THE NOISE

Riding high after last week’s 53-12 victory at Arroyo Grande, Frontier is looking to continue its solid play in its home opener Friday against Santa Maria-St. Joseph.

Vincent Igoa threw two touchdown passes and junior EJ Flores ran for two more and 135 yards on the ground in the victory. This week, coach Chris Bandy is looking for a boost from the school’s student section, aptly named the Titans Noise Team or TNT.

“It’s gonna be exciting for the kids to be able to play at home in front of a normal crowd,” Bandy said. “Obviously last week we were able to get the season started off on the right foot, but we can’t be satisfied with one win. We have to work to eliminate the mental mistakes we made and be more disciplined. This is a very big and physical St. Joseph's team that had a great spring season and we are going to have to play really well to get the win.”

ANOTHER STRONG OPPONENT

For the second straight week, Bakersfield High will travel to play at state-ranked team when the Drillers visit Clovis High on Friday night.

BHS lost last week to a talented Los Alamitos squad that has three of the top-ranked players in the country, and will play this week at the Cougars, who rolled past Sanger in its opener 25-12 and is ranked in the top-25 in several state polls.

Garces, which cruised past Clovis West 28-7 last week, will host Lancaster-Paraclete on Friday. The Spirits defeated the Rams 34-6 during the spring. Paraclete won its opener 41-0 over Burroughs-Ridgecrest.

OTHER GAMES

Arvin at Foothill, 6:30

Fresno-Edison at Bakersfield Christian, 7

Independence vs. Paso Robles at Flamson Middle School, 7

McFarland at Tranquillity, 7

Taft at California City, 7

Acton-Vasquez at Desert, 7

Palmdale at Burroughs, 7

Arroyo Grande at Centennial, 7:30

Fresno-Sunnyside vs. South at Golden Valley, 7:30

Bakersfield at Clovis, 7:30

Delano at Rosamond, 7:30

Visalia-Golden West at Tehachapi, 7:30

Kennedy at Fresno-Hoover, 7:30

West at East, played Thursday

Frazier Mountain at Lucerne Valley, canceled

Stockdale at Santa Maria-Pioneer Valley, canceled

Kern Valley at Porterville-Granite Hills, canceled

Golden Valley at North, canceled

Mira Monte at Boron, canceled