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BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer email@example.com
Late into a sweltering Friday night at Griffith Field, Garces put the heat on state No. 5 Bakersfield, again and again.
In the final five minutes, though, the Rams might have pushed a little too hard -- and Bakersfield threw right over the top for two game-changing touchdowns and a 34-24 victory.
Asauni Rufus twice hit Lamishio Hall on play-action passes for touchdowns in the final five minutes, and the Drillers (3-0) stayed alive in their quest for a CIF state bowl regional berth.
"We really felt like we had a lot of things that would work (on offense)," Bakersfield coach Paul Golla said. "But we just couldn't execute. At some point, we felt like we were going to take advantage of it, but hats off to Garces."
The return of this crosstown rivalry didn't disappoint. Garces (2-1) had its share of big plays, including a 75-yard pass from Cruise Adams to Angus Bellue early in the fourth quarter that tied the game at 24.
The Rams forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, recovered and turned it into a 38-yard field goal from Reed Robertson that gave the Division II private school, with an enrollment some 2,000 less than BHS, a 24-21 lead.
“You always want to win a game, but to be in the third, fourth quarter with the lead, that’s a situation you want to be in,” Garces coach Jim Maples said. “I’m really happy with the way the kids played, and we think we have a great football team.”
But Bakersfield, as it has so many times over the past year, had all the answers. The Drillers drove into Garces territory and had to punt, but they pinned the Rams inside their 10-yard line on the next possession.
That led to BHS possession at the Garces 43. Jeremiah Reddick, who finished with 113 yards rushing, went 15 on the first play of the drive, and then Rufus hit Hill wide open over the middle for the go-ahead score.
Bakersfield forced another Garces three-and-out, and again on the second play of the drive, Rufus faked a handoff and found Hill, who this time shook a tackle on his way to a 39-yard score.
“We tried to take away everything, and we ended up with a linebacker covering a kid who could run pretty well,” Maples said. “Then we thought we made an adjustment after the first one, and obviously we didn't.”
Rufus, who finished with 179 yards and three touchdowns passing, plus two rushing scores, also hit Jermaine Ervin for a 64-yard score in the third quarter that gave Bakersfield its first lead.
“Asauni settled down. He was great,” Golla said. “He's only going to get better, because he wants to be coached. We’re lucky to have him.”
The teams were tied at halftime despite a 167-66 Bakersfield edge in total yards. Garces scored on a 35-yard rush on fourth down from fullback Connor Carlovsky to take a 7-0 lead early, and Bakersfield tied it up on Rufus’ 1-yard sneak.
The Drillers then ended the half on the Garces 1. Rufus passed to Parker Campbell for a 10-yard gain, but Campbell was dragged down outside of the end zone. Without any timeouts, Bakersfield was powerless to stop the running clock.
Sheldon Croney, a sophomore who finished with 73 yards rushing, gave Garces the lead back with a 42-yard jaunt in the third quarter.
“Garces had a calendar with this circled back in July, or whenever,” Golla said. “So you know, they did a great job in the offseason preparing, and we’re just lucky to survive.”
But when the barrage of big plays ended, the dust cleared with two big ones both belonging to Bakersfield.
“We survived,” Golla said. “We didn't start off great, but I like the way we ended.”