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By Casey Christie/ The Californian
BY JEFF EVANS Californian staff writer email@example.com
Matt Smith has scored 21 touchdowns and is a top defensive player who leads Bakersfield Christian with nine sacks.
So which side of the ball is he more valuable?
Three-year statistics for Bakersfield Christian's Matt Smith:
"It's tough to put a value on Matt Smith on both sides of the ball because he plays such a vital part defensively, and he's such a big, huge part of the cog offensively," BCHS coach Jerald Pierucci said.
One thing is certain: Smith will play a huge role Friday on both sides of the ball as the Eagles (12-2) face Modesto-Central Catholic (14-1) in the CIF Division IV State Championship bowl game at 4 p.m. at the StubHub Center in Carson.
Smith, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound junior, has been a varsity starter since his freshman season. In his career he has 4,724 rushing yards and 51 touchdowns.
He scored three touchdowns in Friday's 40-8 win over Los Angeles-View Park that propelled the Eagles into the state bowl game.
Of Smith's 18 touchdowns this season, he's scored 11 in the four BCHS postseason games.
"He's a monster," said BCHS junior quarterback Brandon Jones, who has thrown 52 touchdown passes this season. "He's a great athlete. He's one of the best running backs I've seen play, just with his size and how fast he is. His ability to run the ball is amazing."
Jones, who transferred to BCHS from Bakersfield High prior to the school year, needs three TD passes to pass Farmersville quarterback Sam Metcalf's Central Section single-season record for TD passes set this season.
"It definitely opens up the passing game," Jones said of Smith's running. "I can give it to Matt. He gets five yards, they're sucking up on the run and I just pop it over their heads."
Pierucci said Smith's influence on Jones' season is obvious.
"Anytime you're a quarterback, your two best friends are his offensive line and his running game," Pierucci said.
"The last couple of games -- in fact throughout the playoffs -- teams took away Brandon and it's allowed Matt to really flourish.
"Matt is actually nearly 100 carries less than last year but he's averaging more yards per carry.
"He'll be a little under his yardage from last year but it's one of those things: he's taken less of a pounding so his body feels better.
"Matt wouldn't be where he's at now last year because he wouldn't have lasted 15 games just because of how much we had to ride him last year."
Last year, the Eagles reached the Central Section Div. IV championship game, but lost to Wasco 29-22.
Smith said that loss laid the foundation for this season.
"That hurt us," Smith said. "It was like, 'that's not going to happen again.'
"We dedicated ourselves to the weight room in the offseason and over the summer. I don't think anyone missed more than one or two practices. We were all here dedicated. I feel that loss really motivated us this year."
Smith said he added 10 pounds of muscle and knocked a second off his 40-yard time. He said his 40 time is in the low 4.7s.
Smith wound up at BCHS because other family members had good experiences there, he said.
"If I would've gone to a public high school, it would've been Frontier," Smith said. "But my sister (Brittany) came here and my cousin (Gabriel Colbert) came here and my mom just really liked the environment. She liked the school and the people who work here. That's how that worked out."
Smith was listed at 6-feet and 200 pounds as a freshman.
"He was always big. You can't play varsity running back as a freshman if you're not big," said Pierucci, who was the Eagles' offensive coordinator in Smith's freshman season.
"From his freshman year to this year, he's much better running between the tackles. When he was a freshman, he wanted to bounce everything outside.
"This year he's a strong runner with inside presence and the understanding that 'if I hit between the tackles I could get outside after that.' But he also has the wherewithal to bounce it out if he needs to."
BCHS uses a no-huddle offense, which means more offensive plays. And that works to Smith's advantage, Pierucci said.
"When you're in the no-huddle, those plays start racking up and you're hands are on your knees," he said. "All of a sudden 225 pounds is coming through there.
"Now those tackles turn into arm tackles and that's when you'll usually see him break his runs."
Smith said he enjoys playing on both sides of the ball but prefers running back.
"Having the ball in your hands, you get to help determine the game," Smith said. "Defense stops the points, but being able to put points on the board is the best."
The Eagles are averaging 44 points per game and allowing an average of 16 per game.
So are the Eagles stronger on offense or defense?
"That's a hard one because our offense is so explosive," Smith said. "If you try to take away run, we've got the pass; you try to take away the pass, we've got the run.
"Then again, our defense allowing 34 to (Tulare-) Mission Oak is outstanding because they put a lot of points on people.
"CVC (Visalia-Central Valley Christian) puts a lot of points on people and we held them to 14."
On Friday, Smith said he thinks the key is the BCHS defense containing Central Catholic.
"Our defense needs to play lights out," Smith said. "Our offense is going to score, no matter who we're going to play. I'm very confident with our offense.
"I'm very confident with our defense, too. As long as our defense plays solid, which it will, we'll have a good game."