Central High must dig deep one final time to take that one final step to history.
And oh what an enormous step that will be after a pulsating 34-28 overtime escape against Clovis West in a Central Section Division I semifinal Friday night at Koligian Stadium.
The top-seeded and 11-1 Grizzlies, winners of 11 straight, will return there only after receiving a pivotal sack of Adrian Martinez by Chifumnanya Enunwa when the No. 4 Golden Eagles had the first possession in overtime, then a 24-yard touchdown pass from Trent Tompkins to Malik White.
“I was thinking, ‘Where’s the pylon? I’ve got to get to the pylon,’ ” said White, who caught the ball at the 1-yard line and, somehow, while in the grasp of one of Clovis West’s top defenders, Diego Cruz, lunged into the corner of the end zone.
Never miss a local story.
Central’s sideline emptied into an on-field eruption unlike perhaps any other in the 86-year history of the program.
I absolutely wanted the ball – that’s my type of game.
Malik White after his game-winning catch in overtime sent Central High to the Central Section Division I final
But the Grizzlies will have to recapture that energy and emotion next Friday while pursuing the school’s first section title. Because guess who stands in the way?
None other than Bakersfield, merely the author of a state-record 36 section championships and the winningest prep football operation in state annals.
The 10-2 Drillers advanced with their eighth straight win, a 44-34 victory over Liberty-Bakersfield.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Central first-year coach Kyle Biggs said. “We’ve earned one more week of practice, one more week to get better, one more week to win the championship.”
To have the opportunity, the Grizzlies had to pass an absolutely frightening test – beating in OT, and with the season on the line, arguably the most gifted player in the section in Martinez.
The Eagles junior quarterback and Cal commit arrived at Koligian having averaged 449 yards in total offense while also accounting for 12 touchdowns in his previous three games – two against Clovis and one against Central, that in a 49-28 Tri-River Athletic Conference loss to the Grizzlies a month ago.
Martinez would account for another 400 yards and four TDs this time, but the Grizzlies managed to get to him in the clutch.
Clovis West (8-4), with the scored tied 28-28, had reached the Central 42 in the final minutes of regulation, but consecutive sacks by Enunwa and Samuel Satele sabotaged the drive.
Then, with the Eagles having possession on the Grizzlies’ 25 to open OT, Martinez first threw two incompletions while being pressured by linebacker Adrian Lopez.
Enunwa then sacked him again, leading to a missed 49-yard field goal by Eli Riofrio.
Central then took its turn on the same 25, toward the synthetic surface’s north end zone.
Sophomore Austin Bebout, who rushed for 78 yards in place of injured Diotry Brewer, gained 1 before the Grizzlies beat a blitz, Tompkins recognized the proper matchup, and the game was ended by White, who had missed five early games with a knee injury.
“I absolutely wanted the ball – that’s my type of game,” White said of his sixth catch. “My teammates count on me, and I had to capitalize on it.”
Tompkins passed for 219 yards and three TDs, increasing his season totals to 2,961 and 35. He also continually ran the team out of trouble while rushing for 89 yards.
Jacob Torrez, a wire-to-wire target of dependability for Tompkins this season, caught six passes, including scores of 63 and 17 yards.
Martinez passed for 262 yards and two TDs and rushed for 142 yards and two more scores. His 68-yard TD pass to Rodney Wright on third-and-10 tied it, 28-28, with 9:37 remaining. Wright, also a junior, finished with five catches for 109 yards.