A college steal?: Maybe the best unrecruited football player in the Central Section wears No. 15 in blue and gold, passes the eyeball test at 6 feet, 2 inches and 190 pounds, plays wildcat-formation quarterback and free safety and is the primary reason tradition has been restored at 7-4 Clovis, which had nothing to do but scarf turkey in late November in the previous three seasons (5-26).
Name? Donnell Vercher.
College recruiters? None.
Nonjudgmental coach? Rich Hammond.
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"I never get to make those decisions," the Cougars' second-year boss says of the senior who scored three touchdowns and intercepted two passes in the team's 38-18 Division I rout of Edison last week. "I think he has the ability to play at that level, but I never know how those fits work. That's up to the guys at the next level."
Hammond does say this about Vercher, who participated only in track and basketball through his sophomore year: "On defense, he makes a ton of tackles -- and touchdown-saving tackles -- gets picks, deflects a lot of balls and, then on the offensive side, is able to get in there [as QB in wildcat formation] and allow us to pound the ball and ride him the last 15 or 20 yards of a drive. That's been paramount for us."
Hammond says quarterback Andrew Smith, who sprained an ankle against Edison, remains questionable for tonight as fifth-seeded Clovis visits No. 4 El Diamante (9-1).
One of the section's marquee quarterfinal matchups will have Vercher shadowing the Miners' Aaron Sing, a 3,000-yard career rusher.
"He's incredible, a one-man show," Hammond said of the El Diamante senior. "They've got a lot of good pieces. It will be a definite challenge for us."
It will be more than that for Miners, who haven't lost a West Yosemite League game in four years.
It will be about saving face for the standard-bearers of Tulare County a week after 9-1 Tulare, as a No. 6 seed, lost 20-7 at home to No. 11 Clovis East, which had gone 0-5 in the Tri-River Athletic Conference.
Tulare (37-2) and El Diamante (32-5) had gone a combined 69-7 -- virtually exclusively against Tulare-Kings counties competition, and as D-II members -- before being raised to D-I this season in the section's CIF effort to achieve competitive equity and deepen the D-I playoff pool.
Where's the heat?: Easy answer -- the TRAC and Southwest Yosemite League, which have a combined 9 of 12 teams still standing in the postseason.
CAL-HI BOWL RANKINGS
Now begins the squeeze for Dos Palos, which, at No. 3 in D-III in Cal-Hi Sports' South Region rankings for state bowls purpose, is best positioned to make unprecedented Central Section representation in the fifth State CIF Bowl Championships Dec. 17-18 at the Home Depot Center in Carson.
The top-seeded Broncos (9-1), with an enrollment of 775, will host eighth-seeded Roosevelt (8-3), with 2,430, in an extreme example of the section's CIF playoff mission to match teams by competitive equity.
Other Cal-Hi bowl rankings: No. 9 Clovis West and No. 16 Centennial in D-I, No. 7 Porterville in D-II and No. 10 Washington in D-III. The section has no one ranked in D-IV, which only includes schools with 500 students or fewer.
The four bowl divisions vary from the six the Central Section uses in playoffs. The bowls' main event is an Open Division game, closing the five-contest event. Bowl selections made by the state's 10 section commissioners will be determined Dec. 12.
PLAYER IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Jordan Stallworth, Memorial: How many quarterbacks in the Central Section are running, passing and returning punts for touchdowns in the same playoff game? One: Stallworth. He did last week in a 56-12 throttling of North, but now the competition elevates significantly for the junior and the fifth-seeded Panthers (8-3) tonight at No. 4 Redwood (8-3), which is bent on sending out retiring coach John Yavasile with a CIF plaque. In a matchup once projected for running back greatness with Memorial's Chris Brown opposing the Rangers' Dillon Root, Brown is questionable (shoulder) and Root's out (lacerated kidney), meaning the spotlight brightens upon Stallworth. He didn't become the Panthers' full-time starting quarterback until Week 7, but, when he did, he gave the team an added dimension with his ability to escape.
OTHER GAMES IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Stockdale (6-5) at Clovis West (9-1): In the year of the running back in the section, here are two of the finest in Stockdale sophomore Deon Martin (1,796 rushing yards, 23 TDs) and Golden Eagles senior Kendall Brock (1,706 and 32).
Clovis East (4-7) at Bakersfield (8-2): A step up in class for Clovis East, shifting from Tulare to the Drillers, who many neutral observers say have been the primary team to fear in Kern County all along -- as opposed to much more advertised Centennial.
Central (8-3) at Centennial (9-1): Splendid matchup of future major college quarterbacks in Central junior Michael Baker, who's leaning toward Utah, and Golden Hawks' senior Cody Kessler, who has committed to USC.
Clovis North (5-6) at Garces (9-1): Here's the best of all quarterfinal matchups. And ignore the record of Clovis North, which comes out of the TRAC, has lost four games by four points or fewer and, by a score of 35-27, is the only section team to stay in the house with Clovis West.
Yosemite (6-5) at Kingsburg (9-1): Rematch of a Sept. 24 nonleague game in Oakhurst won 40-28 by Kingsburg as Garrett Steele rushed for 196 yards and four touchdowns and passed for 169 yards and another score. The Badgers counter with Cody Essary, who rushed for 110 yards and two TDs in that one.
Caruthers (9-2) at Fowler (9-1): Difficult double for Fowler, having to come right back and conquer the Blue Raiders again after doing so 29-13 for the West Sequoia League title two weeks ago.
Follow us: Keep up with the action tonight at blitz.fresnobeehive.com and on Twitter: @scoopy sports. Coverage will be provided by Andy Boogaard (Stockdale at Clovis West, follow on Twitter: @beepreps), and Nick Giannandrea (Clovis at El Diamante). Coaches: Got a score to report? Call (559) 441-6379 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.