BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer email@example.com
Bakersfield's quest for a 35th Central Section football championship won't involve any bus rides.
The Drillers received the No. 1 seed in the Division I section playoffs Saturday, as determined by the section commissioners in Porterville.
Bakersfield (8-2) suffered two non-league losses to state-ranked teams in Westlake Village-Oaks Christian and Long Beach Poly but then swept through the Southwest Yosemite League. The reward is a first-round bye, a quarterfinal date with No. 8 Clovis West or No. 9 Stockdale and home-field advantage at storied Griffith Field throughout the playoffs.
"Griffith is a special place," Drillers coach Paul Golla said. "It's probably one of the few true home-field advantages you see in high school football."
Bakersfield could face a familiar foe in the championship: SWYL rival Liberty (9-1), which lost 45-10 to BHS in the regular season but ran the table otherwise, received the No. 2 seed. There has only been one all-Kern County championship in the section's top division. That was in 1988, when Bakersfield beat West 21-10 for the title in front of 18,000 at Memorial Stadium.
But there's a long way to go for that: After its first-round bye, Liberty will face the winner of No. 10 Centennial (5-5), back in the playoffs after a 2-8 season last year, and No. 7 Clovis (7-3). After that, the Patriots could face County-Metro Athletic Champion No. 3 Fresno-Bullard (9-1) or co-Tri River Athletic Conference champ No. 6 Clovis North (8-2).
Bakersfield's road might even be tougher. If they reached the semifinals, the Drillers could face No. 4 Fresno-Edison (9-1), ranked as the top team in the Valley for much of the season before a Friday loss to Bullard, or co-TRAC champ Fresno-Central (7-3), which has three Pac-12 Conference recruits.
"We've got a pretty tough bracket," Golla said. "No matter who we play, it'll be tough.
"I think we're playing pretty good, and I'm excited about where we're at, but but by no means are we where we can be."
In Division II, defending champion Garces (8-2) received the No. 3 seed behind No. 1 Visalia-El Diamante (9-1) and No. 2 Kingsburg (9-1), even though the Rams have won seven games in a row.
Garces has a bye and will face a rematch with either No. 11 North (4-6) or No. 6 Tehachapi (7-3) in the quarterfinals. The Rams beat Tehachapi 24-14 at home on Friday.
Garces coach Jim Maples said he thought his team deserved the No. 2 seed over Kingsburg, which didn't play a team in Divisions I or II. Garces lost to Division I Bakersfield, beat D-I Stockdale and won games against D-II playoff teams Tehachapi and North.
"It's a little bit of a surprise," Maples said. "When it's all said and done, it really doesn't matter. You've got to play those games anyway."
Tulare Western is the top seed in Division III, followed by Porterville, Fresno-Washington Union and No. 4 South (8-2), which shared the South Yosemite League with West and Ridgeview. The Rebels, who hadn't won a league title since 1995, will play host to No. 5 Dinuba in the quarterfinals. Ridgeview (5-5), the defending champion, is No. 6 and will play host to Delano in the first round Friday.
South Sequoia League champion Bakersfield Christian (8-2) is seeded third in Division IV, behind unbeaten Tulare-Mission Oak and Visalia-Central Valley Christian, which beat the Eagles 34-33 in the second week of the season. Defending champion Wasco (8-2) is seeded fourth.
Liberty-Madera Ranchos is the No. 1 seed in Division V, where High Desert League champion Kern Valley (8-2) is No. 5 and Shafter (6-4) is No. 7.