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By Rod Thornburg / Special to The Californian
BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer email@example.com
It was, to say the least, an interesting Quarterfinal Friday. More interesting than usual, which is saying something, because Quarterfinal Friday is one of my favorite days of the high school football season.
For most teams in Kern County, interesting was a very good thing. Liberty pulled off the stunner of the postseason so far, and if that title didn't belong to Liberty, it belongs to West, the No. 11 seed out of 11 playoff teams in Division II but now a semifinal team. Top seeds Garces, Ridgeview and Wasco all held serve, as did Independence and Bakersfield Christian.
If you were Bakersfield or Frontier (or I guess Shafter, though the Generals have to be pretty happy with a 6-5 season, all things considered), it was interesting in a bad way. A season-ruining kind of way. But in the playoffs, you've got to be at your best every week. If you're not, well, them's the breaks.
Liberty 25, Clovis 23: I said in this space last week that every playoff team left had earned its spot in one way or another and that there were no easy outs left. This is what I'm talking about. Liberty didn't exactly out-play Clovis; on the contrary, the Cougars out-gained the Patriots and led most of the game. But the Pats were good enough to stick around and keep things close, and then they caught a couple of breaks and made some huge plays in the fourth quarter. First Derek Frost returned a fumble for a touchdown to turn a 17-12 deficit into an 18-17 lead midway through the fourth quarter (the Patriots, who were chasing points all night after a missed PAT, didn't get the two-pointer). Then, just three minutes later, it happened again: Justin Nieto scooped up a fumble and went 42 yards for another score and a 25-17 lead. Clovis scored late, but Liberty stopped the two-point try, then sacked Cougars QB Jake Gatewood four times on the Cougars' last-ditch possession. The Patriots now get another shot at Central, which beat them 10-9 early in the season in a game that featured a missed PAT and blocked field goal from Liberty. Needless to say, the Pats will feel like they can win the rematch.
Fresno-Central 42, Bakersfield 28: Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. The Drillers had as much, if not more, talent than anyone in the section — they proved it by pummeling Pac-5 semifinalist Long Beach-Poly 29-6 in non-league play — but in the second half of the season, BHS simply couldn't hold onto the football. Part of that is just bad luck, like when an early pass deflected off Derrick Vickers' hands and into the arms of a Grizzlies defender, who took it 75 yards for a touchdown the other way. The Drillers had several chances to get back in it (Asauni Rufus, who was 16-of-20 passing for 279 yards and ran for 100 more, had an outstanding night) but kept making mistakes at crucial junctions. That's the difference between a good team and a great one. Drillers faithful, take heart; next year's team might be even more talented, with a group of juniors, including Rufus and Kevin Hayes, hungry to end their careers with another title.
Fresno-Edison 42, Liberty 21: Edison scored 35 unanswered points to win this one, but the game really can be summed up in about a two-minute sequence of game time. Frontier trailed just 14-7 and was driving late in the first half when Justin Holmes made a diving interception of a deep ball from Evan Moore (who had to leave with a hip injury, rendering Frontier's comeback chances severely damaged). The Tigers went 84 yards before halftime, with the big play a 58-yard one-handed catch and run from Isaiah Runderson that's a must-see in the highlights below. That made it 21-7 at the half. Then, on the second play from scrimmage in the second half, Blake Wright busted an 80-yard touchdown run to stretch the lead to 28-7. Bottom line: Runderson, Wright, receiver Deondre Howard and quarterback Khari McGee had too much speed and knack for the big play for methodical Frontier to have a chance after it fell behind.
Garces 73, Kingsburg 14: Wow, Rams. Turnabout is fair play, I guess, and I seem to remember Kingsburg putting up 70-plus on a few playoff opponents over the years. Garces scored touchdowns on its first four possessions, led 38-0 at halftime and generally punked the three-time defending section champions, who were playing their first year in Division II. Garces gained 527 yards of offense and had touchdowns on defense (Patrick Sakowski's pick-six) and special teams (Dominic Frasch's kickoff return TD) too. Californian correspondent Steve Lynch told me this week Kingsburg was riding the longest playoff winning streak in the section at 11 — and I'm thinking that's one of the longest in the state this side of Concord-De La Salle, but it ended in emphatic fashion. Up next for Garces is Sunnyside, which took out El Diamante and what I thought could be a major roadblock for Garces. Hard to see anyone in D-II stopping the Rams now.
West 17, Lemoore 3: A good first year for Mark Camps at his alma mater keeps getting better and better, with this defensive masterpiece the Vikings' latest coup. They intercepted three passes and blocked a punt and added just enough offense, including two Enrique Salazar touchdown passes, to take out the No. 3 seed a week after West beat No. 6 Tehachapi. It's been a hell of a run for West, the 11th seed out of 11 in Division II, which plays No. 2 Sanger next. The truth of the matter? After Garces, the Division II field was wide open. West is the team that has taken advantage.
Ridgeview 56, Delano 35: No question the individual performance of the night belongs to Ridgeview QB Kamari Cotton-Moya. Sit down for this stat line: 322 rushing yards and SIX touchdowns, plus 148 yards and TD passing. Outside of one Brandon Tripp touchdown run, Cotton-Moya had a hand in all of Ridgeview's many points. The concern for Ridgeview comes in a place that hasn't been much of a problem all year: Defense. Daniel Quiroz tossed for 186 yards and a couple of touchdowns and ran for another as Delano stayed right with the Wolf Pack in the first half. Independence will be a tougher nut to crack, so Ridgeview has to shore some things up if it's going to continue a run for the D-III championship.
Independence 26, South 12: Don't read too much into the score: The Falcons led 26-0 until late in the third quarter, and one of South's TDs came on a long fumble return. Independence clearly is one of the best three teams in Division III, and now it gets another shot at Ridgeview, a neighborhood rival that has had the Falcons' number so far in the school's brief history. If you're going to get off that schneid, now would be a great time to do it. Kony Ealy and Preston Hodges combined for more than 200 rushing yards in this one, but Independence is going to have to throw the ball better if it wants to keep up with Cotton-Moya. That individual battle at quarterback, by the way, could very well be for Californian Player of the Year (though Cruise Adams, Isaiah Sharp and any number of Division I players also might have a say in that).
Wasco 54, Arvin 14: As has been the case in so many of Wasco's 11 victories, this one was over before the first quarter ended, with the Tigers up 28-0, which became 35-0 early in the second. By the end, Isaiah Sharp, Terrance Grinner and Casper Lopez, Wasco's three primary ball-handlers, had carried 19 times for 322 yards and six touchdowns in about three quarters of action. That's absurd, and it's also why Wasco shouldn't be challenged next week against Chowchilla. The Tigers' first real test could await in the championship against Mission Oak; no doubt they'll be rooting for their SSL brethren to take care of the Hawks first.
Bakersfield Christian 34, Fowler 25: That SSL brethren had a big win of its own Friday night; I mentioned during the week that these two teams played often deep in the Division V playoffs, and you can probably consider this the equivalent of a D-V Valley championship for the Eagles, who had a pretty big lead cut to 27-25 late before Jake Thompson put it away with a late TD pass to Blake Keathley. Matt Smith had 184 yards on 40 workhorse carries for BCHS, too, which now steps up in class to face Mission Oak. BCHS will need its balanced offense and the best effort of the year from its offensive and defensive lines to hang in.
Elsewhere: A tough one for Shafter, which gave up only 282 yards of offense but lost 21-18 to Corcoran and saw its once 6-0 season end with a five-game losing streak. Still much progress for the Generals in Year 2 of the Ricky Ishida era. ... Kern County struck out in the Southern Section. No surprise that Burroughs (20-3 to Rialto-Carter) and Desert (47-0 to Arcadia-Rio Hondo Prep) lost, but Boron (19-16 to Santa Monica-St. Monica) and Mojave (78-43 to Victorville-Excelsior in the 8-man semifinals) will tell you their seasons ended earlier than expected.
Here's a replay of this week's BVarsity Live, followed by next week's big games (as if you needed me to tell you).
I usually do five big games, but there are six left involving Kern County teams, so let's make it easy on ourselves.
Liberty (8-4) at Fresno-Central (10-2): Patriots have never made a Division I section final, but they're smaller underdogs this week than they were last
Fresno-Sunnyside (8-3) at Garces (10-1): Wildcats are salty defensively, but they haven't seen an offense close to as good as the Rams'
West (6-6) at Sanger (9-2): Things get a bit tougher for West, but here's the truth: The Vikings have been easily the better team in both playoff games thus far
Independence (6-5) at Ridgeview (9-2): The first meeting was a one-score game until late. This one should be good
Chowchilla (9-3) at Wasco (11-0): The Redskins have won nine of 10 since an 0-2 start. This might be Wasco's toughest test yet, but then that's not saying much.
Bakersfield Christian (9-2) at Tulare-Mission Oak (9-2): The Eagles have been thumped in their first two games at this level. How much have they improved?