BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer email@example.com
Three high school football games between the Central Section's best leagues will provide a glimpse into the future tonight.
And the winners of big games between Clovis and Stockdale, Clovis-Buchanan and Liberty and Frontier and Clovis North will like what they see. That's because the section playoff seeding, not decided till Nov. 3, will be heavily influenced by what happens tonight.
Southwest Yosemite League brethren will tangle with their Clovis counterparts from the Tri-River Athletic Conference, then root for the other SWYL teams to come through, too.
"Any time our league takes on the TRAC, I pull for every team in our league, no doubt about it," Liberty coach Tony Mills said. "I want all of our teams to do well and represent the South Valley. That gives us strength as a core."
There are less altruistic reasons to root for your league mates, too.
"The better they do, the better you look in the long run," Frontier coach Rich Cornford said. "I'm rooting for the home-town teams."
These three games are especially important for the SWYL because the TRAC already has a 2-0 lead in head-to-head meetings this season: Fresno-Central beat Liberty 10-9, and Clovis knocked off Centennial, 28-17.
Tonight's games, which kick off at 7:30, ought to be hotly contested, too.
Start at Stockdale, where the Mustangs will look to avoid a repeat of the nightmare they faced this week a year ago. It was the Friday morning of the Clovis game that star running back D.J. Martin was declared ineligible because of a credit-transfer problem. The shell-shocked Mustangs lost 42-0 at Clovis that night and proceeded to lose their next five games before Martin returned.
Stockdale is hoping to write a much different script tonight.
"I hope so," coach Mike Snow said. "I don't think it can get any worse. That was the perfect storm. We have seniors who had to experience that last year. None of it was real enjoyable. They know they don't want to have that feeling again."
To avoid it, they'll have to keep their double-wing offense in tune against a physical Clovis defense.
"They're very solid," Snow said. "They just schematically are very balanced, outside, inside. There are no holes, and there's no magic plays that will work. We just have to be balanced on offense and hold onto the football."
A couple of miles up the road, Liberty takes on Buchanan. The Bears finished 3-8 last year but are 2-0 on the young season, with a 36-14 rout of defending Division I runner-up Fresno-Bullard included.
"Buchanan is much improved," Mills said. "They have guys flying around on defense, they spread the field to create running lanes on offense. And they have an axe to grind with us after we beat them last year."
Perhaps the SWYL team with the biggest challenge is Frontier, which must travel to Clovis North, ranked No. 2 behind Bakersfield in The Californian's section rankings, in a matchup of two teams that moved from Division II to D-I for this season.
"It'd be a great one if we could knock them off," Cornford said.
The Titans will have to contain dual-threat Broncos quarterback Christian Rossi -- and they'll have to perform better on offense than they did last week, when Moorpark held them to 7 points and less than 100 yards of offense in the second half.
"You've got to give them credit, they took it to us, but I was really disappointed that fundamentally we didn't execute," Cornford said. "It definitely took a shot at our pride."
While those three teams wage battles that will determine Central Section pecking order, SWYL favorite Bakersfield travels to Long Beach-Poly in a game that's important to the section as a whole.
The Drillers and Jackrabbits are the two most winning programs in state history -- Bakersfield No. 1 with 718 wins and Poly No. 2 with 710 -- though it's only Bakersfield that comes into this one with momentum.
The Drillers have won 16 games in a row and are ranked No. 6 in the state by Cal Hi Sports. The Jackrabbits lost 56-0 last week to Harbor City-Narbonne and are 1-2, a record that surely doesn't sit well with that proud program.
"Their backs are against the wall," Golla said. "I'm sure if you're in that locker room, there's a lot of pride. They're going to be ready to go, and we've got to endure the first punch and hopefully be disciplined enough to go the whole four quarters."
Another key out-of-section game tonight is Ridgeview (2-1) hosting Newhall-Hart (1-1) of the Southern Section.
Elsewhere, 3-0 Arvin hits the road to take on 2-1 Tehachapi in a game that's no longer a South Sequoia League affair. Independence (1-1) meets Highland (1-2) and South (1-1) travels to East (0-2) in crosstown showdowns, while Mira Monte (2-1) and Foothill (0-2) clash in the "Highway 58 Classic."