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BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer email@example.com
Not a strong start to the playoffs for the predictions column, which missed a game in each of the top three divisions in the Central Section. But, as the action on the field heats up, hopefully I will, too. Lots of good ones this week, and lots of tough games to call. Looking forward to being wrong a bunch again. Surprises are fun, you know?
Quick recap from the first round:
The good: Predicting BHS by a lot to a little, taking Liberty over Buchanan, Arvin over Chavez and Avenal over McFarland in games separated by just one seed line.
The bad: Thought Washington Union would score more on Delano, but the Tigers came up big. Also picked Kern Valley, which lost a close one, and against Burroughs, which won a close one.
The ugly: Not sure how many saw West winning on the mountain, but I certainly didn't. The Vikings made me look silly — but perhaps not as silly as Bullard, which thumped my predicted winner, Stockdale.
Friday, Nov. 16
CENTRAL SECTION PLAYOFFS
DIVISION I QUARTERFINALS
NO. 8 LIBERTY (7-4) AT NO. 1 CLOVIS (9-1) — This might surprise you, but the No. 1 seed hasn't had a particularly easy time in the Division I quarterfinals. In the past nine years — that's as far back as my records go, at least the ones that are handy — the No. 1 seed has defeated the 8/9 seven times. But only twice (Clovis West 35-7 over Sanger in 2006 and 42-14 over Stockdale in 2010) has the game been lopsided. Last year's 1/9 game was particuarly memorable, with Bakersfield storming back to beat Centennial 49-42 after trailing by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but also remember that No. 8 Centennial beat No. 1 Buchanan in 2009, and No. 8 Clovis beat No. 1 Clovis East in 2005. And, if you look at this year's matchup, it's easy to see a close game again. Clovis and Liberty play similar, close-to-the-vest styles on offense, and both have rock-em, sock-em defenses. This has one-score game written all over it. That said, I'll take the top-seeded Cougars, who have a running back in Adrian Salas who can match Corbin Jountti blow for blow and who have simply been more consistent this year. Clovis hasn't been dominant, but it hasn't lost much, either. That sounds about right in this one.
Prediction: Clovis 20, Liberty 14
NO. 6 FRESNO-EDISON (8-3) AT NO. 3 FRONTIER (7-3) — The headliner of the weekend in Division I is below, but this one is an intriguing matchup in its own right. Both teams are hot, coming off of league titles — Frontier undefeated in the SWYL, Edison a co-champion in the CMAC and then a 41-15 winner against Clovis West in the first round last week. Both teams are playing very well after slow starts against tough schedules. But the teams don't have a whole lot else in common. Edison gets athletes in space, most notably dual-threat quarterback Khari McGee and running back Kevin Nutt; Frontier comes right at you with its huge offensive line and running game, led by Justin Cash, mixing in the occasional Evan Moore pass. Both teams are strong on defense, but again, the Tigers are probably better in the back seven while the Titans are big and physical up front. That all makes this an exceptionally hard game to call. I'm leaning Frontier because the Titans are at home and because I think they've been better tested: Hard-fought games against Lompoc, Moorpark, Clovis North, Bakersfield and Liberty are going to come in handy in this one, while Edison has played Clovis, Crenshaw and nobody else of that caliber. But I won't be surprised by anything — other than a blowout either way — in this one.
Prediction: Frontier 24, Edison 21
NO. 5 BAKERSFIELD (9-2) AT NO. 4 FRESNO-CENTRAL (9-2) — Five or six weeks ago, these were two of the top three teams in the section and no one would have batted an eye had this been the section championship. Instead, we get to see it in the quarterfinals after both teams stumbled twice in league play. Both seem to be back on track after finishing the regular season strong and then taking care of overmatched opponents in Round 1. The biggest difference for the Drillers has been on offense, where quarterback Asauni Rufus has improved the passing game (thanks in large part to Kevin Hayes, who might be the best receiver in the state who doesn't play full-time on offense) and where BHS has shored up its turnover problem from losses to Liberty and Frontier. Simply put, if Bakersfield holds onto the ball, it's tough to see anyone in the section beating it. That's a big if, obviously, and one or two turnovers could be huge with Central's offense on the other side. Still, I can't seem to get the Grizzlies' 50-7 loss to Clovis North out of my head; if Bakersfield jumps out quickly, can Central keep pace? Can it keep faith? I'm going with the Drillers to set up a Bakersfield-Clovis rematch in the semifinals.
Prediction: Bakersfield 38, Central 28
DIVISION II QUARTERFINALS
NO. 8 KINGSBURG (9-2) AT NO. 1 GARCES (9-1) — I'm sure the Rams were just thrilled — THRILLED — to learn that their quarterfinal opponent would be a 9-2 team that has won three consecutive section championships. Kingsburg is a program that no longer has Tyler Bray at quarterback but still has a bunch of hard-nosed players who know how to win games, particularly in the playoffs. That said, the Vikings haven't played a team nearly as good as Garces this season. The two opponents who come remotely close are Dinuba and Paso Robles, who beat Kingsburg by 27 and 28 points, respectively. If Garces avoids mistakes and gets rolling in its spread offense, which has been wildly successful in Year 1, this won't be close.
Prediction: Garces 42, Kingsburg 17
NO. 11 WEST (5-6) AT NO. 3 LEMOORE (7-3) — At some point, West will cross over into "happy to still be playing" territory, but the Vikings certainly weren't there last week, when they went up to Tehachapi and won easily in one of the toughest playoff environments in the Central Section. Now comes a Lemoore team that has been somewhat inconsistent — early losses to Sunnyside and Redwood stick out — but still split the West Yosemite League title with El Diamante (and beat the Miners head to head). When the Vikings have struggled this year, it's been against elite rushing teams like Frontier and Ridgeview. The defensive effort obviously improved against Tehachapi, but you've still got to favor the Tigers and running back Richard Doctor (292 yards in season finale against Hanford) at home here. But West will keep pace for a while.
Prediction: Lemoore 34, West 26
DIVISION III QUARTERFINALS
NO. 8 DELANO (6-5) AT NO. 1 RIDGEVIEW (8-2) — Let's put it this way, Delano fans: I'm a much bigger believer now in the Tigers than I was a week ago. That's what a win over a defending state bowl champion will do for you, and Delano was impressive particularly on defense. Against Ridgeview, however, quite a few things change, starting with the guy under center for the Wolf Pack. Kamari Cotton-Moya has found a way to move the ball on everyone Ridgeview has played, and he can be instant offense at times. Combine that with Ridgeview's elite special teams and defense, and the Wolf Pack should have no trouble reaching the D-III semifinals for the third consecutive season.
Prediction: Ridgeview 41, Delano 16
NO. 5 SOUTH (7-3) AT NO. 4 INDEPENDENCE (5-5) — We saw what the rugged competition in the SWYL did for Independence in 2010, when the Falcons rode a No. 11 seed to the D-III semifinals before falling to eventual champion Kingsburg. But I expect even more out of the Falcons this year; the team was more competitive in the SWYL and has generally had a swagger to it that past Falcons teams lacked. That's partly because the program has taken big steps and partly because Preston Hodges is a Player of the Year candidate at quarterback. Tough matchup for South High, which has had one of its best seasons in years. The Rebels have some speed on defense, but I don't think they can keep pace with Hodges and all of Independence's weapons for 48 minutes. Take the Falcons to set up an intriguing semifinal with neighborhood rival Ridgeview.
Prediction: Independence 33, South 16
DIVISION IV QUARTERFINALS
NO. 8 ARVIN (7-4) AT NO. 1 WASCO (10-0) — The Central Section's lone unbeaten and perhaps its best chance at a regional bowl berth opens its playoff run with a familiar foe. Arvin gave Wasco problems for about 2.5 quarters in the teams' first meeting, but the Bears eventually succumbed to the big plays created on almost every possession by Wasco's running game. We're still yet to see how this Tigers team responds when it's really pushed or when things go poorly (i.e., penalties or turnovers) on offense. But at this point, I'm not convinced we will be. Wasco has been incredibly crisp for 10 weeks, and there's no reason to believe that won't continue in front of what should be a boisterous home crowd.
Prediction: Wasco 56, Arvin 14
NO. 6 FOWLER (9-2) AT NO. 3 BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN (8-2) — A few years ago, you could expect to see these two programs deep in the Division V playoffs every single year — in fact, the Redcats and Eagles met for a classic D-V championship game in 2007, which BCHS won 35-34 in overtime the year before Derek Carr arrived. Now they're up in D-IV, where title contention is tougher. Both would love a shot at (likely) Mission Oak in the semifinals, though, and this is the game that will get them there. Both have players who are used to winning, too, but again, I see this as a matter of strength of schedule. BCHS has played quality teams in Ontario Christian, Shafter (before the Generals' skid), Wasco, South and Arvin. The only team Fowler has seen that's remotely close to the strength of any of those teams is Liberty-Madera Ranchos, the top seed in Division V. The Hawks beat Fowler 35-25 back in September. That kind of a margin seems about right here.
Prediction: Bakersfield Christian 31, Fowler 20
DIVISION V QUARTERFINALS
NO. 6 CORCORAN (5-5) AT NO. 3 SHAFTER (6-4) — I'm not close enough to the Shafter program to say for sure, but it seems as if the Generals' four-game losing streak to end the regular season was a product of a not-very-deep team wearing down and perhaps a few bumps and bruises taking their toll. Still, the Generals are in their first playoff game since a 22-21 loss to Chowchilla in 2006. The hometown crowd should be rollicking for this one, losing streak or not, and a bye week probably did Shafter a whole lot of good. I'm hesitant to go with a team struggling like Shafter is, but plain and simple, I think the Generals are good enough to win this game. That should be enough, for this round.
Prediction: Shafter 27, Corcoran 23
EASTERN DIVISION (VIII) QUARTERFINALS
RIALTO-CARTER (11-0) AT BURROUGHS (6-5) — A grind-it-out win in the playoffs is a beautiful thing, and that's exactly what the Burros got last week against San Jacinto. As a bonus, Burroughs won a coin flip to play its quarterfinal at home, where it has been a much better team (5-1 with a close loss to Tehachapi, vs. 1-4 on the road). The good news for Burroughs ends there, though, because Carter is a much tougher task than San Jacinto was. The Lions dominated a pretty good San Andreas League and are ranked just behind Garces in Cal Hi Sports' Division II state bowl rankings. I think it's probably time that a good season for the Burros meets its end.
Prediction: Carter 38, Burroughs 14
NORTHEAST DIVISION (XIII) QUARTERFINALS
BORON (10-1) AT SANTA MONICA-ST. MONICA (6-4) — I didn't give St. Monica enough credit last week, because the Mariners were able to come up to Lake Isabella and pip Kern Valley by a couple of points. That's a heck of a road win, and now St. Monica gets to return home to take its shot at Boron. Of course, the Bobcats beat Kern Valley 54-0 back in Week 0 and so will expect to win this game. Actually, Boron hasn't played a single competitive game yet: Its "closest" win was a 50-0 mercy win over a Riverside Prep team that Boron could have defeated hopping on one foot, and the Bobcats' only loss was 48-6 to Rio Hondo Prep. I'm thinking that changes this week. This one will be competitive, but you've got to like Austyn Fink, Jadrian Wiser and a high-flying Boron offense to take care of business and likely get another shot at Rio Hondo in the semifinals.
Prediction: Boron 42, St. Monica 20
ARCADIA-RIO HONDO PREP (9-1) AT DESERT (7-4) — The Scorpions' reward for a big road playoff win at Saddleback Valley Christian is a home game against a team better than any Desert has seen this year. That's a cool thing for a group that has had its ups and downs: Playing a big playoff game in front of a home crowd is a memory these guys will always carry. The result, however, might fade from the stories they'll tell over time, because Rio Hondo Prep is really, really good.
Prediction: Rio Hondo Prep 45, Desert 10
8-MAN DIVISION I SEMIFINALS
MOJAVE (10-1) AT VICTORVILLE-EXCELSIOR (9-1) — I picked against the Mustangs last week, and they surprised me with an easy win over Carpinteria-Cate. Dare I do it again? It's certainly tempting, considering Excelsior put up 90 — yes, that's nine-zero — points in a quarterfinal win over Nuevo-Nuview Bridge. But at this point, I'm riding with Mojave, a team that was pretty darn good in 11-man ball last year. Road game? Peh. Give me the Mustangs in a game that might break the scoreboard.
Prediction: Mojave 70, Excelsior 66
Last week: 9-6 (.600)
This year: 211-52 (.802)