Thursday, Dec 19 2013 08:22 PM

Bakersfield returns to first state title game in 86 years

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    Driller quarterback Asauni Rufus drags one third of the Mission Hills defense with him on a keeper to keep a fourth quarter drive alive.

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BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer

Even for a program that has history before Roosevelt -- that's Teddy, mind you -- took office, 86 years is a long time.

It was two days after Christmas in 1927 when Kern County Union High School routed Fullerton 38-0 for its sixth state championship in eight years under coach Dwight "Goldie" Griffith.

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Today's games

Division IV: Bakersfield Christian (12-2) vs. Modesto-Central Catholic (14-1), 4 p.m.

Division I: Bakersfield (12-2) vs. Loomis-Del Oro (13-2), 8 p.m.

Where: StubHub Center, Carson

TV: Brighthouse Channel 11

Live stream:

If you go: The Stubhub Center is located at 18400 S. Avalon Blvd., on the east side of the 405 freeway, south of LAX. Exit onto Vermont Avenue, take a left onto W. 190th St. and then a right onto Avalon Blvd.

Tickets: $15 for adults, $10 for children, students, seniors, available at the StubHub Center box office. One ticket is good for admission to both games.

Parking: $10 per day.

The next year, the state's high school federation disbanded the state championships; legend has held that the state canceled because dominance from the school that would soon be known as Bakersfield High was making the event a mockery (the team did win two mythical state titles under coach Paul Briggs in the 1960s, but those were voted upon and not decided on the field).

At 8 tonight at the StubHub Center in Carson, Bakersfield is finally back -- seven years after the CIF brought back a state playoff system, the Drillers have broken through; they'll play Loomis-Del Oro from the Sacramento area in the Division I state championship bowl game.

"The support is tremendous," BHS coach Paul Golla said. "I've had guys emailing from all over the country to congratulate us and wish us good luck. Coach Briggs used to say, before he passed away, to 'Keep the fame in the Driller name.' What the state game does is keep the fame in the Driller name. All these guys want to know what they can do to help."

Of all the correspondence, one of Golla's favorites came last week, when Bob Morrison emailed from San Jose. Morrison's father had played for one of those 1920s championship teams, and the younger Morrison had later been taught algebra by none other than Goldie Griffith.

"He was so happy we were back on this stage," Golla said. "I copied that email, and I kept it, and I'll always keep it."

It helped that the Drillers (12-2) kept things going with a 35-28 comeback victory at San Marcos-Mission Hills last week in the D-I Southern California regional. Bakersfield scored two touchdowns in the final three minutes of the game to win.

"We're starting to make all of the old Drillers up in heaven happy," said quarterback Asauni Rufus, who was 10-for-10 passing and rushed for the winning touchdown against Mission Hills. "We're giving them some bragging rights."

The other thing Bakersfield High has been doing is keeping Casey Taylor up at night. Taylor coaches Del Oro (13-2), which beat San Mateo-Serra 28-20 for the Northern California title. The Golden Eagles' only losses are to Sherman Oaks-Notre Dame in an early-season showcase at Oceanside, and to Concord-De La Salle, which will attempt to win its fifth straight Open Division title Saturday night in Carson.

Since then, Del Oro has won 12 straight games. But Taylor said that won't make preparing for Bakersfield, which has won 10 straight, any easier.

"They're one of the best teams I've seen all year," Taylor said. "Tremendous speed, they've got some athletes, and we don't see a lot of that (option) offense up here. And the defense is something we've never seen before. Trying to simulate it in practice has been tough."

Both teams' players have been dealing with finals week, on top of everything else; Del Oro, which bused down to Carson on Thursday, has some players taking finals this morning at their hotel, under the supervision of school administrators.

"It's been a pretty hectic week," said Taylor, who coached the Golden Eagles to a runner-up finish in the Division II bowl game in 2011. "We've had a logistical puzzle."

Bakersfield, which won't leave till 1 p.m. today with hopes of getting to StubHub Center in time to watch Bakersfield Christian play its Division IV championship game, doesn't have as far to travel.

But the Drillers will face plenty of challenges tonight. Del Oro has ran the ball on nearly two-thirds of its plays, but senior quarterback Michael Moore still has big passing numbers from the play-action game: 2,322 yards, 29 touchdowns, 7 interceptions. On the ground, senior Dylan Kainrath has run for 1,890 yards and 24 TDs.

"It's a different style than we're used to -- they're very much an inside run team," Golla said. "The tailback is a great high school wrestler, has great balance, tough to bring down. The offensive line does a fantastic job getting off the ball. They're more like us than anybody else we've played in terms of how aggressive they come off the ball."

Golla preaches process over result, but he and his players realize this is a game like no other they've played.

"It's amazing," junior Marcus Bruce said. "The alumni, other students, even just anybody around town coming up to you and saying, 'Congrats, go get 'em.' It's not just the Drillers anymore. We want to show up for where we're from."

In many ways, Bakersfield has continued the same football tradition your great-grandfather might have known. The Drillers have won 36 section championships and 736 football games, both the highest totals in California history.

But for 86 years, state has eluded them. That streak could end tonight.

"Never in our wildest dreams did we think we would be here, just because we didn't know if we'd be picked," Rufus said. "I mean, sure, it was a goal, but I don't know if we believed it until it was here. Now we have to take advantage of the opportunity."

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