Cougars No. 1- worthy?: The three-week ride atop the Central Section rankings, regardless if deserving, has been an eventful one for resurgent Clovis High.
"Anytime you're 3-0, you really don't have too much to complain about," coach Rich Hammond says. "But it hasn't necessarily been an easy 3-0."
The Cougars separated from a 21-all tie while opening with a 48-21 win at Golden Valley-Merced; escaped 7-0 at home against Atascadero; and scored on Jaryd Weakley's miraculous 65-yard pass in the final minute of regulation before prevailing 28-22 in overtime last week at now-No. 6 Centennial.
And a 4-0 start promises to be a difficult step, also, for the Cougars, who are bracing for No. 4 Stockdale (2-0), standout junior running back D.J. Martin and the Mustangs' wing-T offense tonight at Lamonica Stadium in the section's game of the week.
Martin, still only a junior, who rushed for 1,900 yards and 23 touchdowns last season, is only two weeks removed from Cal-Hi Sports state athlete of the week honors after schooling East Bakersfield for 407 yards and five scores – including two 80-yarders – on 13 carries in a 60-16 win.
But surely, he's itching for another shot at Clovis after gaining only 63 yards on 16 carries and fumbling three times in a 6-0 homefield loss to the Cougars a year ago.
That proved to be a breakthrough for Clovis, which had gone 3-22 dating to its final game of 2006. The Stockdale conquest has launched a 10-3 run for the Cougars.
In the year of the running back in the section, Clovis junior Yoon Conner is on the marquee. But the Cougars continue to be carried by a defense featuring linemen Jeffrey Caton, Dakota Gordon and Nicholas Nevils, linebackers Ryan Davies and Nate Palomino, and free safety Jason Black.
PLAYER IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Christian Ramirez, Madera: Given good health for all, the County/Metro Athletic Conference likely will produce three 2,000-yard running backs this season, and Ramirez is the anonymous star of the group.
Bullard's Demetrius Warren and Memorial's Chris Brown have been well advertised. But Madera coach Scott McKinney is quite comfortable with his own: "I know there are some impressive running backs in the CMAC, but I wouldn't trade Christian for any of them."
Ramirez, averaging 10.4 yards per carry out of the Coyotes' pistol offense, has rushed for 637 yards and seven touchdowns after toasting Buchanan (213 yards, three TDs), Fresno (184-2) and Yosemite (240-2). And he had a school-record 99-yard TD nullified by a penalty against the Badgers.
No. 19 Madera (3-0), in its best start since opening 6-0 under coach Randy Blankenship in 2006, will play at home tonight against once-ranked Hanford (2-1), a West Yosemite League favorite.
Last year, Ramirez bolted for 167 yards in a 40-27 loss to the Bullpups, and – with 1,084 yards and 12 TDs in five games – was well on his way to a 2,000-yard season as a junior before he was lost with a knee injury.
"He's a great kid with unbelievable work ethic," McKinney says, "and he deserves to be playing on Saturdays next season. A full season will get him the attention and recognition he deserves this year. Whatever [college] finds him and signs him is going to get a great football player who can play with anyone."
OTHER GAMES IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Central (1-1) at El Diamante (0-2): A nonleague duel of intrigue here, matching the mysterious yet still-dangerous No. 9 Grizzlies of the Tri-River Athletic Conference against the Miners, who were bound to lose traction at some point after going 61-13, including a 34-2 WYL mark, in the previous six seasons under coach Mark Rogers.
Clovis North (3-0) at Frontier (2-0): In a loaded D-II, two of the finest collide in Kern County in a game sure to impact seedings in November. And the Broncos will follow this one with a home game next Thursday against the division's top-ranked Memorial. MRI results this week were negative for Clovis North QB Christian Rossi, who injured a knee in last week's 21-0 win over Madera South. But Broncos coach Corey Hall says he'll hold him out until the team's TRAC opener against defending D-I champion Clovis West Oct. 14. Hall has the luxury of having another force behind center in David Wells, a 6-6, 210-pound junior.
Sunnyside (2-0) at Washington (2-0): Defending CMAC champion Sunnyside and all-conference QB Andy Phimmavong, representing more D-II strength, visit the best of D-IV.
Garces (3-0) at Memorial (2-0): A year after delivering 280 yards rushing and six TDs, including a 99-yard kickoff return, in a 41-35 win at Garces, and a week after scoring seven times in a 74-3 beating of Fresno, Panthers senior RB Brown is primed for another holier-than-thou performance.