Man of Steele: Kingsburg's Garrett Steele, a lifetime running back, has spun an accident into a season highlight reel for a quarterback.
"He's done everything that could possibly be done," says uncle and Vikings coach Dave Steele. "He's taken on a new role and the challenge, and has been phenomenal. And he's our strong safety, punts and could kick if I wanted him to. He's very, very special."
Positioning himself well for a stocking full of Central Section and state honors, Garrett Steele has passed for 1,967 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for 1,944 yards and 21 more scores for the second-seeded Vikings (11-1), who will visit No. 1 Porterville (12-0) tonight at Granite Hills for the Division III championship.
A 1,000-yard running back last year for a 13-0 Kingsburg team that captured the D-IV title, Steele shifted to quarterback for good in the second half of a nonleague season opener at San Luis Obispo after Austin Bray broke his wrist.
Steele closed that game with a zigzagging, sack-escaping, last-second 80-yard touchdown pass to Taylor Abernathy for a 19-15 win and a play that gained national attention.
And away the 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior went from there while helping bond a team that lost 31 seniors from 2009.
Dave Steele says he's baffled that his nephew, with 4.5-second speed over 40 yards, has had but one scholarship offer, from Sacramento State: "I would think other schools would pursue him because [of] how good an athlete he is. I definitely feel he's a major college running back, and I think he could play quarterback for somebody, depending on the system. He has thrown the ball extremely well."
Meanwhile, tonight at Granite Hills, Garrett Steele's footing is sure to be tested by a Rankin Stadium surface that has been reduced to dirt and mud after Porterville, Monache and Granite Hills played virtually all of their home games there.
Porterville College's Jamison Stadium used to be shared before it was deemed unfit for play this season after Monache played two games at the site this season.
But soiled uniforms surely won't temper the enthusiasm at Porterville, which is seeking its first section football title in school history. And this comes a year after the Panthers lost 31-21 to Dinuba for the D-III crown.
Porterville has gone 28-9 in the past three seasons under coach Rick Stewart after going 4-26 in the previous three.
Stewart has the Panthers in a forward lean operating an up-tempo wing-T offense featuring running backs David Ali and Bruce Volaski, both at or near 1,000 yards.
"That offense is very hard to emulate," Dave Steele says. "They are very physical, very efficient and well coached."
Panthers coach Anthony Goston names seven reasons entering tonight's title game at home against No. 6 Tehachapi (12-1).
Five of them, from tackle to tackle, are David Keller (6-4, 280, jr.), Robert Garcia (6-0, 235, jr.), Victor Martinez (5-9, 215, soph.), Alex Cameron (6-2, 220, soph.) and Mason Ruiz (6-4, 250, sr.).
And the other two are offensive line coaches Mike McClurg, also the team's offensive coordinator, who has extensive experience at the local junior college and high school levels; and Steve Williams, a former 15-year assistant under Tim Simons at Clovis.
"We're big, agile and tough," Goston says. "And David and Robert are two of the best in the Valley; they're just awesome."
The Panthers, seeking their seventh section championship and first since 2003, buried Lemoore 41-20 in the semifinals with 452 yards rushing behind quarterback Jordan Stallworth (256) and backs Mike Vinuela (128) and Titus Garrett (110).
South Sequoia League winner Tehachapi, meanwhile, fired junior Marcus Curiel (168) and sophomore Jorge Garcia (123) out of its wing-T in a 34-21 road upset of No. 2 Garces.
The third-seeded Drillers (10-2), also with a state-leading 702 wins in a program launched in 1897, scored 13 points in the final 9 minutes to shock the Golden Eagles 19-16 in the 2007 championship at Bakersfield.
Top-seeded Clovis West (11-1), which played its first varsity game in 1978, leads the series 6-4, including title-game wins of 27-14 in 1993 and 27-20 in '98.
The Drillers will march into town with a hot quarterback in Brian Burrell and a defensive scheme unlike anything Eagles coach Mike Parsons has seen in his career.
Burrell, upstaging Centennial's USC-bound Cody Kessler, rushed for 198 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 191 yards and two more scores in a 37-20 conquest of the No. 1 Golden Hawks that many neutral observers actually expected.
Bakersfield's defense, which has given up seven points or fewer in five games, averages only 5-9, 171 pounds per player, rarely has a lineman in a three-point stance and rushes five to eight Drillers every play.
"Pressure, pressure, pressure," Parsons says. "They bring it."
CAL-HI BOWL RANKINGS
While MaxPreps, a national high school website, has Washington -- given a D-IV title win over Coalinga -- projected to represent the section in the CIF State Bowl Championships Dec. 17-18 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, section commissioner Jim Crichlow isn't as confident.
He says Clovis West, with a D-I title win over Bakersfield, would actually have the best shot of giving the section its first entrant into the five-year event: "Washington and anyone else will be a long shot."
Crichlow and the state's nine other section commissioners will determine the 10 participants -- five from the north and five from the south -- Sunday. Teams have to be section champions to be eligible. The Central Section is associated with the south.
Crichlow says the committee is conscious of the fact the section hasn't been represented, but that there is no particular sentiment among the group to invite a team from the Valley.
Cal-Hi Sports' South Region rankings for state bowls purposes has No. 8 Clovis West, No. 18 Bakersfield and No. 20 Centennial in D-I, No. 4 Porterville in D-II and No. 8 Washington in D-III.
The four bowl divisions vary from the six the Central Section uses in playoffs.
The Cal-Hi rankings, while no doubt influential, are used as a guide, not a rule, for the selection committee.
Typical of Cal-Hi rankings that have never done the Central Section any favors, in the D-III South, they promoted two teams that weren't even previously ranked -- Madison-San Diego (12-1) and South-Torrance (12-1) -- to Nos. 1-2 after they scored what were perceived to be major playoff upsets.
And Washington, meanwhile, merely goes from No. 9 to No. 8 following a 51-0 drubbing of Chowchilla.
PLAYER IN THE SPOTLIGHT
He'll carry the second-seeded Panthers (10-2) into the D-IV final at home against No. 5 Coalinga (10-2) after passing for 233 yards and three TDs in a 45-14 rout of No. 7 Selma and 261 yards and three scores in the drubbing of No. 3 Chowchilla.
It will be Washington's first section title game appearance since defeating Sierra 28-27 for the Sequoia Division-Large School crown in 1999 behind quarterback Adam Rothenfluh, who would then sign for Oregon State under coach Dennis Erickson. Since, the Panthers' QB factory has included Mike and Matt Garza, Ebahn Feathers, Adam McCurley and now Stell.
As opposed to Stell -- flanked by a 1,000-yard running back in Yafett Thomas and 1,000-yard receivers in Joshua Williams and Deontay Greenberry -- Coalinga will counter with an offense charged by running back Brian Alvarado.
The junior has stirred the community by rushing for 2,386 yards -- 63% of the team's offense -- and 29 TDs.
But the Horned Toads, in a startling turnaround under first-year coach Carlos McCaleb after going 2-18 the past two seasons, did receive three TD passes from Fabian Andrade in a 49-22 throttling of top-seeded Dos Palos. That matched the junior quarterback's TD total for the season.