The first round of the Central Section football playoffs had no shortage of highlights/lowlights on Thursday, depending on your dialogue.
Consider this balance:
▪ A dream 10 hours for Buchanan coach Matt Giordano, having seen former college coach Jeff Tedford land the Fresno State job earlier in the day before the seventh-seeded Bears throttled No. 10 Bullard 30-9 at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Division I.
▪ A reward in a big way for Memorial and Madera South after banging heads with the big boys (see Edison, Bullard and Sanger) in the County/Metro Athletic Conference. While the Panthers and Stallions went a combined 0-6 against those schools, the preparation was obvious Thursday night as No. 5 Memorial crushed No. 12 North Bakersfield 70-37 in D-III, while No. 11 Madera South defeated No. 6 Liberty-Madera Ranchos 63-27 as senior quarterback Jonah Johnson accounted for six touchdowns in D-IV.
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▪ Should the Madera South win be considered an upset? Perhaps not, as that game was the latest example of the section’s contentious, competitive equity model being exposed with Liberty-Madera Ranchos (enrollment 600) matched with an opponent, Madera South (enrollment 2,900), nearly five times larger.
▪ And then there was the section seeding committee’s worst nightmare in D-V, with four higher seeds not only losing, but by an average of 27.5 points and fairly new section imports Desert-Edwards and Bishop of the High Desert League humbling Immanuel and Caruthers on their home turfs.
First, to Giordano.
It was pretty much a perfect day of football for him, beginning at noon with the announcement of Tedford in Bulldogs red and then Buchanan, in pretty much the same shade, dominating Bullard at night.
Giordano, as a safety, played on two bowl teams for Tedford in 2003-04 at Cal. Giordano then played nine years in the NFL, his last in 2013 with the St. Louis Rams.
He coordinated Buchanan’s defense last year before taking over the Tri-River Athletic Conference program this season.
Nolan LeForge passed for 238 yards and a touchdown, and Fresno Bee Player of the Year candidate Zach Presno extended a marvelous season at running back and linebacker as the seventh-seeded Bears improved to 7-4 with their second win over No. 10 Bullard.
Buchanan, which led 28-0 at halftime en route to a 28-17 nonleague victory over the Knights on Sept. 1, now climbs the ladder significantly in terms of competition in a quarterfinal against No. 2 Bakersfield on Nov. 18 at West High.
The 8-2 Drillers – champions of the Southwest Yosemite League and state record holders with 36 section titles – have played their “home” games on various fields in Kern County this season while historic Griffith Field is being renovated.
“I was kind of looking forward to playing there,” Giordano says. “I’ve heard the stories.”
A story – and perhaps one that wouldn’t surprise many – would have Tedford speed dial Giordano and offer him a job on the Bulldogs’ staff.
Giordano wouldn’t bite when asked about the possible scenario Thursday night. But he didn’t exactly reject the idea, either: “I’m focused right now on the Buchanan Bears, and I’m very happy.”
Most pleasing to him is Presno, a Fresno State-bound and Bee All-Star catcher who also happens to be one of the section’s most dominant two-way players.
If you want to find what we look for as coaches, it’s Zach Presno.
Buchanan coach Matt Giordano on the senior running back/linebacker
“If you want to find what we look for as coaches, it’s Zach Presno,” Giordano said of the 6-foot, 185-pounder. “The way he carries himself, on and off the field, he’s just a true Buchanan Bear. I can’t say enough about that young man.”
Buchanan complemented LeForge’s passing and Cornell Washington’s eight receptions for 102 yards with 171 rushing yards behind Trevor Ervin (14 carries, 57 yards), freshman Kendall Milton (12-53, one TD) and Presno (7-33).
Jack Wilkins, an emerging star as a junior cornerback, was another key in shutting out Bullard (5-6) in the second half.
“What’s fun about Jack is he’s starting to get it mentally,” Giordano says. “He’s blessed amazingly, physically. Now he’s starting to get it mentally, which will only help him progress as a player. We have great expectations for him this year and next.”
Attention in the Knights’ program now shifts to 17-year coach Donnie Arax (125-69-1), who said earlier this week he’s going to “take a couple weeks” to figure out his coaching future and “go from there.”
Memorial hardened for postseason again – A year after reaching the D-III championship following a 2-3 record and fourth-place finish in the CMAC, Memorial could follow the same script, if not better.
“We knew our schedule would be difficult and definitely prepare us like last year,” said coach Anthony Goston, whose Panthers once again went 2-3 and placed fourth in the league a year after placing second to Hanford in the D-III final.
They entered this postseason 5-5, having lost 63-20 to D-II No. 2 seed Garces; 36-35 to Sunnyside on a last-second field goal in a game they led by 22 points; and 35-25, 42-20 and 56-21 to Edison, Bullard and D-II top-seeded and unbeaten Sanger in the CMAC.
Linebacker Austin Yniguez scored defensive touchdowns on interception and fumble returns and Demarcus Wilson scored three times, including a 92-yard kickoff return, as Memorial routed North while marching to a quarterfinal duel at No. 4 South Bakersfield.
Alec Trujillo passed for three TDs, including two to Jalen McMillan, for the Panthers, who hadn’t scored that many points since defeating Fresno 74-3 in September 2011.
The arrival of Exeter transfer Trujillo gained, essentially, three positions for Memorial – Trujillo at quarterback and former starting quarterback Michael Alvarez to wide receiver and safety.
Big odds for little Liberty-MR – Liberty-Madera Ranchos coach Mike Nolte resisted “bashing the system” of the section’s competitive equity model, which shapes divisions by recent performance as opposed to enrollment: “Everybody plays by the same rules.”
2,300Enrollment disparity between Madera South (2,900) and Liberty-Madera Ranchos (600)
Yet he added: “Maybe we’re an extreme case. And the whole deal does benefit the bigger schools more than anybody, because if they don’t have success, they get moved down. We’ve shown we belong where we are.”
The Hawks won consecutive D-V titles in 2012-13 before being bumped up to D-IV, where they won again in ’14.
While some would interpret that as a promotion, others consider it a punishment for an achiever.