BOLD BULLARD MOVE: LATE QB SWITCH
Bullard High football coach Donnie Arax, in arguably the boldest move of his 13-year Knights career, made a quarterback change before the 10th-seeded Knights' 42-14 Central Section Division I-opening upset at No. 7 Stockdale last week.
And the replacement, junior Isaiah Justice, delivered Bullard's first playoff win in Kern County since quarterback Joe Lamoure led the Knights to a 20-14 semifinal upset of No. 1 North in 1970, says section historian Bob Barnett.
Last week's win advances the Knights (8-3) into today's 7 p.m. quarterfinal against No. 2 Clovis North (9-1) at Buchanan's Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Arax, an All-North Yosemite League offensive lineman for Bullard in 1981, has routinely quoted section history while producing a 96-52-1 record with one section title and two runner-up finishes with the Knights.
But never has he made such a startling call such as this, given the timing.
In Niko Pacheco, the coach has not only replaced a quarterback who led the program to a 10-3 record and runner-up D-I finish in 2011, but a Bee baseball Player of the Year last spring who powered the Knights to the D-I championship.
"To blame Niko for all our troubles wouldn't be fair," Arax says. "But (Justice) is a special kid, the type of guy who comes around every once in awhile. He energizes our whole team. And he did some phenomenal stuff against Stockdale."
The Knights tied Sanger and Edison for the County/Metro Athletic Conference title with 4-1 records, but lost to Buchanan (36-14) and Clovis West (28-12) of the Tri-River Athletic Conference in nonleague, and Edison (41-21) in league.
"We've been good against average teams," Arax says, "but have failed against the big tests."
He harkens to former Clovis coach Tim Simons, a Fresno Athletic Hall of Famer: "Look at all the offenses he ran -- wishbone, I backs, then shotgun. You have to be able to adapt to the personnel you have."
With Justice, a safety projected to be the program's starting quarterback in 2013, Arax has flushed his pro-set bias and a quarterback behind center with one improvising running options out of shotgun.
"This has taken me out of my comfort zone with the (anti-pro set) situation," Arax says, "but I felt like we needed a guy who can create some things on the run, kind of heading toward a more spread-type look, adapting to our personnel. The great high school athletes raise the level of their teammates and, all of a sudden, Isaiah makes plays and everybody's levels rise. Some guys have it, mixing physical and mental ability to get incredible results. He's a special kid."
That said, Justice will be opposed by Clovis North and the area's premier quarterback in Christian Rossi.
"Unbelievable," Arax says. "He's something; he puts them over the top. It's going to take a flawless game for us to have a chance."
- Michiah Quick of Central set a school record by returning two interceptions for touchdowns, covering 30 and 29 yards, in a 55-15 D-I first-round win over Tulare. He also scored on a 12-yard run.
- Bullard's Dejonte Oneal established a school standard by returning an interception 102 yards for a TD in the win over Stockdale.
- Madera's Jo Jo Contreras' three interceptions in a 49-8 D-III win over Fresno tied for second in a single game in school history.
- Fowler's Hugo Martinez of Fowler set a school record by returning a kickoff 96 yards for a TD in a 57-14 D-IV rout of Dos Palos.
- Strathmore's Cody Styles rushed for 314 yards -- second-best in school history -- and scored six touchdowns on runs of 49, 21, 27, 4, 62 yards and an 84-yard kickoff return in a 49-28 D-VI defeat of Kennedy. Teammate Rico Madrigal tied a school record with three interceptions in the game.
PLAYER IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Sam Metcalf, Farmersville: The Aztecs (5-5) have rolled, going 4-1 and averaging 43.4 points, since the sophomore quarterback returned from a foot injury.
After bursting upon the section scene with a 2,921-yard passing season as a freshman, he has thrown for 1,623 yards and 19 TDs with only six interceptions entering the second-seeded team's D-VI semifinal tonight at home against No. 3 Strathmore (6-5).
OTHER GAMES TO WATCH
No. 6 Edison (8-3) at No. 3 Frontier (7-3): Edison's averaging 46.0 points in a five-game winning streak. And QB Khari McGee will get the call after injuring an ankle in a 41-15 D-I first-round win over Clovis West. But this is a major step up in class against the Southwest Yosemite League champ.
No. 5 Bakersfield (9-2) at No. 4 Central (9-2): The section's potential game of the night, matching super quick D-I teams who were top-ranked in the section earlier in the season.
Follow us: Keep up with the action tonight at fresnobee.com/blitz and on Twitter @scoopysports. Coverage will be provided by Andy Boogaard (Bakersfield at Central), Nick Giannandrea (Sunnyside at El Diamante) and Andrew Rich (Bullard at Clovis North). Coaches: Got a score to report? Call (559) 441-6379 or email email@example.com.