BEAR TRAP AWAITING BULLARD IN D-I OPENER?
Perhaps the game of most intrigue to open the Central Section football playoffs Friday night can be found in Division I at McLane Stadium.
A Bear trap for Bullard?
There’s plenty to justify the question in the sixth-seeded Knights’ (6-4) 7 p.m. game with No. 11 Buchanan (2-8).
It comes two months after Bullard, down 6-0 at halftime, rallied for a 21-13 nonleague win over the Bears.
More importantly: It comes a week after the Knights, in their annual duel of emotion with County/Metro Athletic Conference rival Edison, pitched a shutout for a half before losing 24-7. And it comes a week before a potential quarterfinal at defending champion and No. 3 Bakersfield (8-2), the preeminent football program in the section and the winningest in state history.
Hence, a classic trap Friday for the Knights, especially considering Buchanan actually established momentum in a loss -- a 14-7 decision to Clovis North (7-3) in a game the Broncos required a touchdown with 2 minutes remaining to escape while closing a 5-0 Tri-River Athletic Conference championship.
Never, Bears athletic director James Gambrell makes clear, did the school considering not participating in the playoffs.
“No, never discussed, really never an option,” he says a year after Buchanan, as a No. 12 seed, lost 36-0 to No. 5 Central.
That finished a 1-10 season for the Bears, who are 10-33 in the past four.
Yet they’re not feeling like losers under second-year coach Mike Jacot.
“We truly believe we can make a run, beat any team and win a section title,” Gambrell says. “We absolutely, 100 percent believe that. The improvements made in the weight room, on the field and in toughness are immeasurable.”
A week after keeping Clovis North running back Bolu Olorunfunmi and his 20 touchdowns out of the end zone, Buchanan now confronts another section star in Bullard’s Charles Williams.
The junior has rushed for 1,348 yards and 18 scores in nine games, but he was held to a season-low 29 yards on 11 carries in early September by a Bears defense that features lineman Bryson Young and Ben Parker, linebacker Nico Moreno and cornerback Trevon Cummings.
“We feel good,” Jacot says. “The way the playoff system works out here, it gives us basically another season, another opportunity, and that’s all we can ask for. We played well defensively against Bullard the first time and we want to build on that.”
The top D-I seeds have byes in No. 1 Edison (9-1), No. 2 Liberty-Bakersfield (8-2), Bakersfield and No. 4 Clovis North.
Edison, which last won a section large school title in 1975, awaits the winner of No. 8 Central (5-5) and No. 9 Centennial (5-5).
No. 12 Clovis East (1-9), like Buchanan, taking advantage of the section’s carte blanche playoff policy that carries no bias against losing records, will play No. 5 Clovis (6-4) at Lamonica Stadium a month after the Cougars prevailed 61-35 in a track meet staged at the same venue. Friday’s winner will play Clovis North.
The remaining D-I opener will send No. 10 Frontier (5-5) to No. 7 Clovis West (5-5). And that winner will go to Liberty-Bakersfield.
JONES VS. JOHNSON? NOT HAPPENING
A potentially dandy duel of section elite running backs — Porterville’s Isaiah Jones against Memorial’s Stevan Johnson — won’t come to fruition in a D-II opener at Memorial.
Jones, a junior ranked among the state leaders with 2,103 yards rushing and 26 TDs, is serving an automatic one-game suspension per CIF rules after being ejected in the second quarter of last week’s 49-31 East Yosemite League win over Monache for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Johnson, a senior with 40 TDs in a three-year career, will play but not start, says Panthers coach Anthony Goston, who didn’t elaborate other than to say Johnson is not injured.
Johnson didn’t play in last week’s 24-7 CMAC home loss to Sanger. A win Friday would create a rematch for No. 5 Memorial (7-3) against the No. 4 Apaches (7-3), only this time at Tom Flores Stadium.
Porterville (4-6), which tied for third with a 3-2 record in the EYL, is seeded 12th in the deepest of the section’s six divisions. Top seeds Ridgeview (9-1), Lemoore (10-0), Dinuba (9-1) and Sanger all have first-round byes.
GAMES TO WATCH
•No. 10 Frontier (5-5) at No. 7 Clovis West (5-5), D-I:
The Golden Eagles are seeking their first winning record since capturing their ninth section title in 2010 (12-1). But they’ll have to win this one in addition to a road upset of No. 2 Liberty-Bakersfield next week to do it.
•No. 9 Sunnyside (6-4) at No. 8 Tulare (6-4), D-II:
Here’s your Friday night bargain if you fancy running games in football. It will match Sunnyside senior Malcolm Williams (2,112 yards, 16 TDs, 8.7 per-carry average) against Redskins junior Romello Harris (2,287-25-8.1). Williams has had a 360-yard game; Harris has had a 402 and 357. The winner goes to No. 1 Ridgeview (9-1) in the quarterfinals.
•No. 11 Kingsburg (5-5) at No. 6 Independence (6-4), D-II:
Vikings coach Dave Steele, who has brought up six sophomores and two freshmen to bolster his roster, says the school will petition to return to D-III next season. Kingsburg has an enrollment of 1,100 while competing in a division whose average is 2,140. The Vikings freshman teams have gone a combined 1-13 the past two seasons, and Steele says the school may not field one next season for lack of numbers.
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