This is a Central Section Division I football playoff game, of course, that many would have forecast in August: Bakersfield versus Edison.
And why not?
Bakersfield is the state’s all-time winningest program, and with a record 36 section titles.
Edison is the section’s defending D-I champion.
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So, sure enough, off they go Friday night to Sunnyside Stadium, only without the hype expected of the pair.
Bakersfield – only two years removed from a 13-2, state D-I winning team that averaged 44.7 points a game with arguably the finest offense in section history, is 5-5 and seeded ninth.
Edison – but 11 months this side of a 12-2 team that captured the school’s first top-division section championship in 39 years – is 4-6 and seeded eighth.
It’s a rematch of a nonleague game won 14-7 by the Tigers on Sept. 4 at Bakersfield. And the winner goes to top-seeded Clovis (9-1) next week.
The early loss to Edison was a precursor for a Drillers team that hasn’t fulfilled its legacy at running back and the offensive line – and rarely, if ever, has that been a problem in the 11-year career of coach Paul Golla (108-30).
That said, Bakersfield has a quarterback, KeAyr Gragg, who can wing it to some gifted receivers. And the Drillers’ typically unorthodox defense, which often has not one player in a three-point stance, is difficult to attack.
“You can’t replicate in practice what they do,” Edison coach Matt Johnson said. “It’s not like you can watch a college game and say, ‘Oh, here’s Bakersfield,’ or get on Google and find their defense somewhere in Texas.
“No, they don’t have the personnel they’ve had in the past. But it’s still a program we aspire to beat. And they’ve survived on guts.”
The Tigers, likewise, haven’t displayed the firepower of recent past.
But there have been flashes, as seen only a week ago in a 28-21 loss to third-seeded Bullard (8-2) in a game that was tied with 4 minutes to go.
Edison’s Damon Rogers returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown and also caught a 47-yard touchdown pass from Gerard Mendez, a sophomore who has found his footing after missing the season’s first half because of CIF transfer mandates after coming from Sunnyside.
And the Tigers’ defense has been as good as there is in the area behind linemen Leevel Tatum, Alim Shabazz and Kevin Jeanniton, linebacker David Tate and deep backs Steve Stephens and Dee Tillman.
Games of the week (all Friday)
No. 10 Central (3-7) at No. 7 Centennial (6-4), D-I: The Golden Hawks in no way are feeling comfortable opposing a Central team that defeated Clovis (21-20) and was narrowly denied in losses to Bullard (21-17), Buchanan (17-13) and Clovis North (23-20) – all top-five seeds.
No. 11 North (5-5) at No. 6 Tulare Western (7-3), D-III: Mustangs are a No. 6 seed to fear, having gone 5-0 since Mission Oak transfer Andre Aguilar took over at quarterback. And they beat then-unbeaten Tulare 20-17 last week for the East Yosemite League title.
No. 10 Liberty-Madera Ranchos (6-4) at No. 7 Exeter (7-3), D-IV: Unfamiliar territory for Liberty, seeded this low. Fact is, the postseason is when the Hawks fly high, having won three consecutive section titles (one in D-IV, two in D-V).