BY ANDY BOOGAARD The Fresno Bee
Fresno-Central conquered Bakersfield High, the all-time king of Central Section football -- make that, all-time king of state football -- while marching to within two steps of its first section title in school history.
But for all the Grizzlies' excellence in a 42-28 Division I quarterfinal win over defending champion Bakersfield on Friday night at Koligian Stadium, for all their thrills of knowing they'll now get a bonus home game after No. 8 Liberty's 25-23 upset of top-seeded Clovis, they hold onto hope that star running back Nick Wilson will join them.
A 1,500-yard rusher and the go-to weapon in Central's pistol offense, he left for good with a left shoulder sprain late in the second quarter. He already had 84 yards on eight carries by then.
"I don't know how bad it is," Grizzlies coach Justin Garza said. "But he's had that type of stinger before, and I think he'll be all right."
George Wilson said at halftime he expects his son to return Friday for fourth-seeded Central's (10-2) semifinal against Liberty (8-4), which shocked Clovis 25-23 at Lamonica Stadium.
When that score was announced at Koligian Stadium, Grizzlies fans howled in unison: "We're at home, we're at home, we're at home."
This will come three months after Central -- a third-place finisher behind Clovis and Clovis North in the Tri-River Athletic Conference -- won 10-9 in a nonleague game against the Patriots in Bakersfield.
"After we beat them," Garza said, "their coaches talked about playing us again in the playoffs.
"We welcome it."
Echoing his sentiments was Grizzlies middle linebacker Tramell Johnson, the unofficial most valuable player of the game against Bakersfield (9-3) -- the state's all-time leader in wins and section titles (35).
"We wanted to make a statement," said Johnson, who did that and more.
His 13-tackle night featured a bone-jarring blast for no gain of Jeremiah Reddick on fourth-and-1 and the Drillers trailing 28-7 early in the fourth quarter. And, 7 minutes later, he returned a Bakersfield onside kick attempt 50 yards for a touchdown and a 35-14 lead.
"His growth as a person and defensive leader for us has been enormous," Garza said. "I think he was the best defensive player in our league."
Quarterback Asauni Rufus led the Drillers offense. He completed 16-of-20 passes for 279 passing yards, one touchdown pass and one interception. On the ground, he rushed for 100 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns.
Reddick finished with 84 yards on 12 carries. He also returned a kickoff 95 pards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Central pulled away behind L.J. Moore -- a late-season quarterback replacement -- who completed a 57-yard scoring pass to Michiah Quick and also rushed for 4- and 50-yard touchdowns.