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BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The rain and the fog appear to be rolling in just in time for the conclusion of the Central Section football season, which is just fine by me. Gives it that extra feel of importance — so long as the fog isn't so thick that I can stay in the press box and type out sweet live blog action to you fine folks.
As for what will happen on those fog-shrouded fields, my take is that four of the five section championships being played this weekend have big favorites. The other, Dinuba at Ridgeview in Division III, is a bona fide toss-up. That doesn't mean the four favorites will win, but that's the way logic tells you to point right now.
Then, of course, you have the whole issue of regional bowl games. The winner of the D-I game between Central and Clovis North is in pretty good shape for a Division I berth; all they have to do is be picked over the winner of the San Diego Section, which is pretty weak in Division I this year.
The big question mark comes with the winner of the D-IV title. If Wasco wins, it'll be the only undefeated team in the SoCal Division III selection pool, and win-loss record is the CIF's top criterion. But the Tigers also played a much weaker schedule than the finalists in San Diego D-IV, St. Augustine and Madison, and in the Southern Section's Mid-Valley Division, Paraclete and Monrovia. If Bakersfield Christian wins, it will have a shot at the D-IV regional bowl, though it would help the Eagles a lot if Ontario Christian, which beat BCHS 34-7 in Week 0, lost its championship game to Rim of the World.
But no matter what happens with selections on Sunday, Friday will be a glorious night of championships (played in honor of my daughter Hannah's second birthday, I'm assuming, though she'll be in bed shortly after kickoff). Here's how the predictions went in the semifinals.
The good: Not too shabby overall, with a perfect night in Divisions II, III, V and VI, though the favorites won all of those games.
The bad: Bakersfield Christian stunned the section by winning at Mission Oak, but honestly, who could have called that game right? Not kicking myself over that one.
The ugly: Thought Liberty could muck up another game and come away with a win late, but the Patriots faded badly in the second half.
Friday, Nov. 30
CENTRAL SECTION CHAMPIONSHIPS
NO. 4 FRESNO-CENTRAL (11-2) AT NO. 2 CLOVIS NORTH (11-1) — It was about midway through the third quarter of these teams' first meeting — a 50-7 Clovis North rout — that I gave up on Central as a D-I title contender and cemented the Broncos in my mind as favorites. Things have certainly changed on the Grizzlies' end, with a quarterback switch to the athletic L.J. Moore, a little winning streak to end the season and then big-time playoff victories over Bakersfield and Liberty. Now they've got to face that nemesis again. Clovis North QB Christian Rossi picked apart Central's secondary, which is supposed to be the Grizzlies' strength. Truth is, Rossi and his running game and receivers have carved up just about every defense they've faced. I think Moore at quarterback will help Central keep pace for a while, but unless the Grizzlies come up with a few turnovers, Clovis North will win a D-I title for Bakersfield native Cory Hall in its first year in the division (remember, the Broncos beat Garces for the D-II title in Bakersfield a year ago).
Prediction: Clovis North 45, Central 28
NO. 2 SANGER (10-2) AT NO. 1 GARCES (11-1) — I've become somewhat starry-eyed about Garces offense like everyone else, and I suppose there's good reason for that: Cruise Adams has obliterated school passing records, and Jake Sweaney, Angus Bellue, Dominic Frasch and Sheldon Croney are the real deal — but this game makes me pause. Sanger is a legitimate defensive power, and the Apaches are the best team Garces has faced at least since Stockdale — and possibly since Bakersfield back in Week 2. Of course, the Rams hammered Stockdale and nearly knocked off the Drillers. But since then, they've had a few issues with the good teams on the schedule, even in what turned into relatively easy wins over Tehachapi and Sunnyside. Sanger could do this. But I think the Apaches would need a few turnovers, some more special-teams mistakes from normally sound Garces and, even then, the offensive performance of their season to out-score the Rams. Not gonna bank on all that happening at Sam Tobias Field. Since its move to D-II, Garces has: lost in the first round to West (2008), lost in the quarterfinals to Frontier (2009), lost in the semifinals to Tehachapi (2010) and lost in the championship to Clovis North (2011). Time for the last step and the school's first title since a D-III crown in 2006.
Prediction: Garces 40, Sanger 21
NO. 2 DINUBA (11-1) AT NO. 1 RIDGEVIEW (10-2) — Ridgeview, too, is looking to take the final step after losing in the D-III first round to Tehachapi in 2008, the quarterfinals to Porterville in 2009, the semifinals (also to Porterville) in 2010 and in the final to Kingsburg in 2011. Kind of remarkable that that's how it's gone down, but here we are. The Wolf Pack, though, are going to have a much tougher time finishing the job, methinks. Dinuba is a tough customer, with Marcus McMaryion and his eye-popping stats at quarterback. Check these out: 63 percent completion, 3,261 yards, 41 TOUCHDOWNS, ONE INTERCEPTION. That's what the Wolf Pack is up against in this final. That said, McMaryion hasn't seen too many defenses with the speed of Ridgeview's, and the Emperors' defense hasn't seen any running quarterbacks like Kamari Cotton-Moya. It's certainly possible that McMaryion goes off and turns this into another shootout like last week's Independence-Ridgeview semifinal, but I like Cotton-Moya's chances to control the clock and the game better with his style. Plus, how can you not like the Wolf Pack as a team of destiny after the rabbit it pulled out of the hat in the semifinals?
Prediction: Ridgeview 35, Dinuba 31
NO. 3 BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN (10-2) AT NO. 1 WASCO (12-0) — This season will be a success for Bakersfield Christian no matter what happens here, while Wasco needs a victory to improve upon last year and complete a mission that's been building for five or six years. That puts all the pressure on the Tigers, hypothetically, but the Tigers have avoided all pressure this year because they've yet to play a close game. So two questions: (1) Can BCHS hang around better than they did in the teams' first meeting, which was a 35-0 Wasco lead early in the second quarter? and (2) How much have the Eagles improved defensively since then? There's no question BCHS is healthier this time around (start with Matt Smith) and that just about everything that could go wrong did in that first meeting, but the Eagles have a big hill to climb. Even if BCHS can play lights-out defense like it did against Mission Oak, chances are Wasco is still going to pop a number of big plays; behind this offensive line and with these backs, that's just going to happen. Can the Eagles, with Smith and QB Jake Thompson, control the clock and move the ball well enough to limit Wasco's chances? I just don't see it. Wasco will give up some big plays of its own, but the Tigers have too much firepower to be caught. Tigers win another easy one, then hold their breath for the CIF's selection committee to make a choice on the D-III regional bowl game participants.
Prediction: Wasco 49, Bakersfield Christian 21
NO. 6 CORCORAN (7-5) AT NO. 1 LIBERTY-MADERA RANCHOS (11-1) — The one remaining Cinderella in the Central Section is from Corcoran, which has a strong enough program to where it probably never should be considered a big underdog. Another thought: Taft, which didn't go to the playoffs after a 4-6 season, beat Corcoran by 20 points. Makes you wonder about how the Wildcats would have done (though they would have been in Division IV). Corcoran has made its run with defense: After holding Shafter's high-powered attack at bay in a 21-18 quarterfinal victory, the Panthers shut out Woodlake at home last week. Can they do the same job against Liberty? Very certainly possible, considering the teams' first meeting was only 13-10 in the Hawks' favor. But after a sweetheart draw so far (reeling Shafter, No. 7 seed Woodlake) Corcoran is going to have to answer to the favorites here. I'm going with Liberty in a game that will stay close for four quarters but in which the Hawks will keep the Panthers at bay and become the fourth team this week to win a championship after finishing second in 2011.
Prediction: Liberty-Madera Ranchos 33, Corcoran 20
Last week: 9-2 (.818)
This year: 227-61 (.788)