Central High is back.
All the way back.
That is why Bolu Olorunfunmi — a real tough dude — and the rest of those typically real tough dudes from Clovis North can probably be found in a giant ice tub today.
Fourth-ranked Central — crushing the No. 3 Broncos at their own game, a game that had delivered a combined 27-6 record and two Central Section titles in the past three seasons — staged a physical clinic in a 30-14 Tri-River Athletic Conference victory Friday night at Deran Koligian Stadium.
One of the section's games of the year, one that could have decided the TRAC championship and surely will impact the Division I seedings, came 12 months after Clovis North whipped the Grizzlies 50-7 at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
And, six weeks after that, the Broncos beat Central yet again, 27-10, for the D-I title.
But all that was shoved deep into history on a night Nick Wilson rushed for 203 yards, sophomore Nick Szpor came off the bench to pass for 118 yards and two touchdowns to Michiah Quick, and the Grizzlies forced six turnovers.
That included four fumbles — one in particular that framed the game.
Clovis North (6-2, 2-1), already on the ropes with a 16-0 deficit, had quarterback Austin Autry hand off to Olorunfunmi at the Broncos' 19.
The 5-foot-10, 210-pound junior took one step and was pummeled by 6-1, 293-pound Tashon Smallwood.
So violent was the collision the ball popped free and flew a few yards back before Central linebacker Ruben Diaz scooped it and danced 15 yards for a touchdown.
"You've got to get 'em, got to show 'em," Smallwood said. "After I hit him, he was running scared. That's what you've got to do."
Olorunfunmi, on pace for a 2,000-yard rushing season, indeed no longer ran with a forward lean, also fumbling 3 minutes later in a game he finished with 60 yards on 18 carries.
Central (6-2, 3-0) leads No. 5 Clovis (6-2, 2-1) and No. 8 Clovis West (3-5, 2-1) by a game with two regular-season games remaining.
The Grizzlies will close with Clovis West and Clovis East, while the Broncos play Clovis and Buchanan.
Clearly, Central has regained its balance after opening the season with a 31-7 loss at Valor Christian of Highlands Ranch, Colo., in a game shown nationally on ESPN2.
The Grizzlies lost two-way star lineman Sharif Williams (knee) for the season and Wilson (shoulder) for two games that night.
Further, they lost 43-41 in triple overtime at home to Liberty-Bakersfield two weeks later, a decision that promises to hurt Central in seeding — especially with the Patriots headed toward a second place finish at best in the Southwest Yosemite League.
But that no longer is a concern to the Grizzlies, who defeated Clovis 13-9 on the road last week.
"I feel like we've bounced back as a team," Smallwood said. "Now we'll move on, try to win the TRAC and get into the Valley championship."
The buckling blow of Olorunfunmi was a major college-type shot from an athlete who made an oral pledge to USC in the summer.
But no more: "I've decommitted. Just didn't feel it."
Central is feeling it as a team, though, after going 3-2 in the TRAC and 11-3 overall last season in coach Justin Garza's first year.
And to think he was almost apologizing Friday night: "It was my first year, give me a break. It was the first time we played Clovis North. Our kids know what to do now; they've got a year under their belts, and they're only getting hungrier."
McLane has arrived
Ask McLane coach Pete Joseph about the magic going on in his program, and he'll look back before he looks forward.
The Highlanders are a classic example of how progress can be found in defeat — specifically, a 28-27 loss at Coalinga last year in the first round of the D-IV playoffs.
McLane, seeded 13th while making its first playoff appearance in 18 years, was denied a possible overtime against the Horned Toads because of a late missed extra point. But the positive carryover has been evident for the Highlanders (5-3, 3-0), who rallied from an 18-0 deficit to defeat Fresno 46-40 in overtime Thursday night.
They will likely decide the North Yosemite League title Friday at home against Sunnyside (5-3, 3-0).
McLane last won a league championship in 1996, according to section historian Bob Barnett.
"People said we couldn't get here," second-year coach Joseph said. "We have 148 kids playing football (on three teams) at McLane. We've had to buy new equipment a couple different times."
The Highlanders, in one of their biggest victories in 20 years, followed the lead of quarterback Brandon Moua, who passed for 248 yards and three TDs and rushed for another 75 and a score.
And Ronald Davis rushed for 165 yards and three TDs.
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