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BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer email@example.com
I have more of a love/hate relationship with my weekly predictions column than I do with anything else I write. It's fun to delve into matchups and make picks every week, but it's also a very time-consuming job that takes a lot of work.
This week, though, the metere tilts a little more towards love. There are only two matchups, of course, and I should be able to handle that. However, with out-of-town teams, it's a little bit harder to get a comfortable level of knowledge and therefore make an accurate prediction.
But I am here to serve, after all, and so here we are. Much thanks to UT San Diego reporter John Maffei, by the way, for giving me some serious insight into Mission Hills (you can catch John, by the way, on Thursday's BVarsity Preview show, live at 2 p.m. on bakersfield.com. We'll be talking a bunch about these two games and slip in some basketball talk and highlights, too.)
A quick look at section championship weekend (2-3 overall):
The good: Picking BHS to roll in Division I, though as usual, the Drillers out-performed even my expectations. Also got Division III right. And that's about it.
The bad: I'm actually reasonably proud of my Division IV pick; some had it as a Mission Oak blowout, but I figured Bakersfield Christian would keep it close. I just didn't figure the Eagles would pull it out on the road.
The ugly: Taking Garces to win on the road was clearly misguided, as the Rams never led and lost by two touchdowns. My D-V pick, backing Mendota and superstar Edgar Segura was way off, too, as Liberty-Madera Ranchos took the title.
Friday, Dec. 13
DIVISION I SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
BAKERSFIELD (11-2) AT SAN MARCOS-MISSION HILLS (12-1) — First things first: As much as Bakersfield has been rolling through the Central Section, Mission Hills is the best team the Drillers will have seen since they lost 27-7 to Long Beach Poly. Of course, it also might be true that Bakersfield is the best team Mission Hills has seen all season. The possible exception to that is Oceanside, a traditional San Diego Section power that went 10-3 this season, with two losses to Mission Hills. Anyway, the point is that these appear to be exceptionally evenly matched teams (in fact, if you look at MaxPreps/Calpreps computer rankings, Mission Hills is a 62.7 and Bakersfield is a 62.4, or essentially dead even). It's also a fascinating matchup between one of the state's oldest schools, Bakersfield, which is looking for its record seventh state title but first since 1927, and Mission Hills, which is about the age of Golden Valley. Mission Hills also appears to have a beautiful stadium with artificial turf and an all-weather track, which is ... not the same as storied Griffith Field in the least.
So if we consider all that to be a wash, let's delve into the matchup on the field itself. The Grizzlies appear to be the type of team that could certainly give the Drillers trouble. They're built a bit like Long Beach Poly, with athleticism and size up front and athletes in the backfield and around the perimeter (you can see highlights from the SDS final here). In this case, Mission Hills' standouts are linebackers Fred Warner, a four-star recruit committed to BYU; Ricky Liuchan, a three-star committed to Oregon State who returned an interception for a touchdown in the SDS final; and Dechaun Holiday, one of the top junior defensive backs on the West Coast. The Grizzlies' other weapon will be quarterback Connor Wynn, a 6-foot-2 gunslinger who spreads the ball around to a number of backs and receivers (Warner, Liuchan and Holiday all see time on offense, too). That's the type of attack that gave Bakersfield problems in its season opener against Oaks Christian. All told, Mission Hills appears to have the talent and the type of team necessary to counter much of what Bakersfield likes to do.
But Bakersfield has the talent and type of attack on offense and defense necessary to flummox about any opponent, especially one that has only six days to prepare for the Drillers (and only on film, to boot). People praise Bakersfield's speed all the time, but what's underrated is the Drillers' speed on their offensive and defensive line. On offense, that springs blocks to the linebackers, giving Asauni Rufus and the speedy backs plenty of space to operate. On defense, it puts immediate and regular pressure on the quarterback and/or running backs — though it sometimes leaves open space in the secondary if the team is good enough to take advantage. These are obviously key matchups: When Bakersfield has the ball, are the Mission Hills highly touted linebackers good enough to make plays even though they'll have blockers on them more quickly than usual? And when the Grizzlies have the ball, can Bakersfield force Connor Wynn to throw before he's ready — or will Wynn pick them apart and allow Mission Hills to sneak in some productive runs, too?
Mission Hills does appear to have an advantage in the kicking game. Scott Higgins has returned three punts for touchdowns this season, and kicker Esteban Santeno has field-goal range out to 50 yards. Bakersfield's Coleman Olivas has a good leg but has been unsteady at times this season, including the section title game in which he missed three extra points.
It's a true toss-up. Mission Hills is at home, but I think Bakersfield is harder to prepare for on one week's notice. The other key factor could be motivation; both teams won their section titles (and for Mission Hills it will have been a long layoff, as they played the SDS final last Monday), which is often the ultimate motivation for teams. Which of these two can get back up and motivated for another playoff run? I'm not sure I know the answer, but I can't see myself picking against a Bakersfield team that has looked so incredibly dominant of late. Mission Hills could be the team that proves that sentiment wrong, but it's the feeling I've got, and I'm sticking with it.
Prediction: Bakersfield 37, Mission Hills 31
DIVISION IV SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
LOS ANGELES-VIEW PARK PREP (12-0) AT BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN (11-2) (AT CENTENNIAL) — I know even less about View Park than I do about Mission Hills, so I'm in the dark more than a bit here. Obviously, View Park is going to be competitive; teams don't get to 12-0 for nothing. But there is a pretty major caveat to that unblemished record, and that's that the Knights really haven't played anyone of note. Only four of their opponents have a winning record, and the one that's rated the highest on MaxPreps/Calpreps is Verbum Dei, which gets a 3.2 rating (that's roughly the equivalent of West High or Delano). Now, those rankings can be skewed by weak competition, and View Park hasn't played many close games (other than a 24-20 victory over Verbum Dei, which came back in September, the Knights' closest game was 13 points, and they've been especially rolling in the playoffs, outscoring their four opponents in the City Section Division III bracket by 188-21. View Park also clearly has talented players, starting with 6-3, 210-pound linebacker Cameron Griffin, who was verbally committed to San Diego State until he really started to catch college coaches' eyes this season, picked up some more offers and switched his commitment to UCLA. That the Bruins are interested says a lot, obviously, and you can expect Griffin to win plenty of battles. Bakersfield Christian coaches say that on film, there are plenty of other View Park players to look out for, too.
That leaves one major question: Will View Park be ready for a team the caliber of Bakersfield Christian, which is clearly the best opponent the Knights have seen? Film study seems to indicate that View Park will try to fight the battle up front to a draw and allow Griffin room to operate, whether as a linebacker (146 tackles, 11 TFL, 4 sacks, 3 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries, 3 forced fumbles, one blocked punt) or as a running back (597 yards rushing on 10.3 ypc, 322 yards receiving on 12.4 ypc). Those numbers show what kind of an impact that guy can have, and BCHS will have to limit him. However, BCHS also has the ability to match up its best all-around athlete, Matt Smith, with Griffin. At times, Griffin will have to tackle Smith, and vice-versa. At other times, Smith will have to block Griffin in the backfield to given Brandon Jones time to throw. Jones won't need much in the Eagles' quick-hitting passing game, and if he can get the ball to Josh Jackson, Hayden Kuchta and Zach Balfanz without getting hit, BCHS should be able to make some big plays. When the Eagles are on defense, it's going to be about winning the battle up front and then tackling Griffin or quarterback Luis Medearis, who's an efficient passer (8 TDs, 2 INT) and a dangerous runner (451 yards on 11.3 ypc) or running back Julian Smith, who has 811 yards on 10.3 yards per carry.
Again, View Park has gaudy numbers in part because it hasn't played a very tough schedule by anyone's standards. Bakersfield Christian should be equal to most tasks here. That said, it's just as clear that View Park has enough athletes and playmakers to put a scare into Bakersfield Christian and walk away with a win if the Eagles don't play well. But after the longest road trip View Park has made all year (and possibly in several years, because City Section schools don't have need to travel much) to face the toughest team the Knights have seen, I'm going to go with Bakersfield Christian here.
If I'm right in both of these picks — far from a certainty, with the way I've been going lately — there will be a doubleheader of state-championship bowl games involving Bakersfield teams at the StubHub Center next Friday. Anyone see that coming a month ago? Not me.
Prediction: Bakersfield Christian 42, View Park 26
Last week: 2-3 (.400)
Year to date: 242-49 (.832)
All-time: 1,322-362 (.785)