One more win tonight and Washington High will knock on the state-bowl door like none before it from the Central Section.
"Nothing matters if we don't take care of business [tonight]," said coach Jeff Freitas, whose top-seeded Panthers (12-0) will play at home against No. 3 Wasco (11-1) for the Central Section Division IV football championship.
That said ...
"Sure, it's in the back of our minds," he said of a possible invitation to the CIF State Championship Bowl Games. "It's definitely there."
Never miss a local story.
The five bowls – matching section winners from the state's north and south in an Open Division and divisions I, II, III and IV – will be Dec. 16-17 at The Home Depot Center in Carson. The participants will be determined Sunday in a vote of the state's 10 section commissioners.
Never in five years have they invited a team from the Central Section, which is associated with the state's south.
The enrollment-based bowl divisions vary slightly from the section's playoff format. Washington, for example, qualifies for D-III in the bowls. The Panthers' primary competition is Lompoc (13-0). The Braves will play tonight for the Southern Section's Northwest Division title against Cabrillo, a team they whipped 42-7 earlier in the season.
Regardless, there's some sentiment in the state that the Central Section is due for representation. And because of that, Cal-Hi Sports editor Mark Tennis says, "it's not going to be surprising if the Panthers were to win the vote."
He has Lompoc and Washington ranked Nos. 1-2 in the D-III South.
The D-III bowl game will be at noon Dec. 17.
"If we win [tonight] and don't get a bowl bid, the Central Section should be extremely upset," Freitas says. "What else could we possibly do?"
The Panthers have a 2,303-yard passer in Chris Cain, a 1,141-yard rusher in Donald Phelps and one of the nation's premier receivers in Deontay Greenberry.
A top Bee Player of the Year candidate, the 6-foot-3, 195-pounder has caught 91 passes for 1,885 yards, with 28 touchdowns. He routinely has beaten double- and triple-team defenses in jump-ball situations. And he also plays safety for a defense that hasn't given up a touchdown in the past 22 quarters.
"He's a very, very, very special player," Freitas says. "When you have one guy who takes up that much attention, it frees up a whole lot of other things."
Wasco rocked second-seeded Mission Oak 35-13 on the road in the semis. The Tigers' double-wing offense features running backs Austin Tijerina (1,865 yards, 22 TDs) and Michael Martinez (1,399-18).
Division I championship
Bullard (10-2) at Bakersfield (12-0): This is a rematch of the 2005 D-I title game won 35-28 by the Drillers at McLane Stadium. And it will feature Knights running back Demetrius Warren (2,437-33) against a quick Bakersfield defense basically stacked with a combination of 11 linebackers and deep backs.
Division II championship
Clovis North (8-3) at Garces (11-1): Clovis North, which already has won D-II section titles in five of seven sports this fall, guns for its first football championship in its third season of varsity play. Key matchup will have the Broncos' David Ford, one of the section's elite linebackers, opposing the Rams' wing-T offense.
Division III championship
Kingsburg (11-2) at Ridgeview (12-0): No one program in the section has it going like Kingsburg, which is appearing in its fourth-straight title game, having won the past two. They came in D-IV and III, meaning the Vikings can expect to be lifted to D-II next year. Ridgeview, typically very athletic, will probably join them.