It didn’t take long for Hanford High coach Josh Young to know his junior gunslinger was going to have a good night.
On the sixth play Friday, junior Ryan Johnson found Brandon Sanchez for a 45-yard touchdown pass and the No. 1 seed Bullpups poured it on after that, beating No. 12 Golden Valley 42-14 in the Central Section Division III semifinals.
Johnson was 16 for 22 for 240 yards and four touchdowns, all in the first half, to help Hanford (11-1) earn a return trip to the D-III final after defeating Madera 35-14 for last season’s title – the first in Bullpups history. Johnson, a few months later, then helped the school win the section D-II championship in basketball.
“He makes plays, man,” Young said. “He’s getting better every game and maturing as the season goes on. He just does what he does.”
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The Bullpups will remain home to play No. 2 Memorial (9-3), which beat No. 6 Tulare Western 35-26. The Panthers of the County/Metro Athletic Conference had an off-season petition approved by the section’s California Interscholastic Federation office to drop from D-II.
The loss ends an improbable playoff run for Golden Valley (6-7), which beat No. 5 Fresno in the opening round 35-33 and No. 13 Highland 28-9 in the quarterfinals.
Hanford led 28-0 at the half and took a 42-0 lead into the fourth quarter. Ben Abdulla’s interception in the second quarter was the lone blemish for Johnson, who seemed to scramble out of the pocket on each of his four scoring tosses to find an open receiver downfield.
“Our line did a great job and our receivers were getting open,” Johnson said.
Juwuane Hughes had seven catches for 115 yards and caught two passes for 35 and 38 yards.
Johnson attempted just two passes in the second half, both incompletions, but Hanford was able to run the ball at will with Joseph McDaniel going for 167 yards. He scored twice in the third quarter on runs of 4 and 40 yards.
No. 2 Liberty-Bakersfield 41, No. 3 Bullard 7 – It was uttered once, twice, many more times in both team huddles on the field after the Patriots throttled the Knights in a D-I semifinal Friday night.
“More physical team.”
“Weren’t physical enough.”
“Wanted to be physical.”
It’s safe to say, then, that the host Patriots knew how they’d attack Bullard in a seemingly close matchup coming into the game.
“Every single day, our coaches are telling us to be physical,” Liberty defensive lineman Kurtis Brown said. “Be the more physical man. It’s a major key for us.”
Liberty (9-3) advances to its second consecutive D-I championship game, this time against top seed Clovis, a 28-14 winner over Clovis North. After dominating Bakersfield in last year’s semis, the Patriots lost 21-14 to Edison on a fourth-quarter, tie-breaking 63-yard scoring pass in the final.
Bullard (9-3) converted a fourth-and-1 on its opening series, but the Knights went three-and-out from there and punted away to a Liberty team that marched 66 yards in nine plays for a 7-0 lead. Quincy Jountti scored on a punishing 2-yard run to cap the drive.
“That is a very, very good football team,” Bullard coach Don Arax said. “We played Grant (a top Sacramento-area team), and this team was more physical. You don’t get a sense of that until you see them in person, but when I saw them, I had a feeling we didn’t quite match up.”
Jountti finished with 173 yards and four touchdowns, the final one coming on the second play of the fourth quarter to account for the final score.
He outplayed Bullard’s star back, Charles Williams, who came in with nearly 2,300 yards of offense and became the school’s all-time leading scorer with a third-quarter touchdown. Williams finished with 103 yards on 19 carries.
Liberty has never won a D-I football title, and coach Bryan Nixon is 0 for 5 in his career at Centennial and Liberty in championship games. The Patriots’ only section football crown came in D-III in 2001.
No. 1 Ridgeview 56, No. 5 Sunnyside 16 – If this one had been a boxing match, the referee would have mercifully stepped in and stopped it soon after it began.
The Wolf Pack delivered an early TKO of the visiting Wildcats, scoring four touchdowns in the game’s first 6 1/2 minutes.
Ridgeview didn’t stop there, building a 49-0 halftime lead on the way to a 40-point victory over a clearly overmatched Sunnyside squad that previously hadn’t lost a game by more than eight points or given up more than 42 points in a game this season.
Ridgeview (12-0) will become just the fourth football program in section history to play a fifth-straight section championship game, according to section historian Bob Barnett. The Wolf Pack joins Bakersfield High (1920-29) and (1935-39), Kingsburg (1952-56), and Dos Palos (1997-2001) as the only other schools to do it.
Ridgeview will host No. 2 Lemoore, a 13-5 winner over No. 3 Sanger in the other D-II semifinal, next Friday night.
Most of the second half was played with a running clock. Both of Sunnyside’s touchdowns came in fourth quarter garbage time against Ridgeview’s backups.
The Wildcats (8-4) had just 36 net yards in the first half. Only three of their 16 first-half running plays were for positive yardage.
“They caught us off guard,” Sunnyside coach Gordon Wood said. “We haven’t seen anyone play defense like that all year.”
No. 3 Washington 31, No. 2 Chavez 28 – Sparked by a big fumble return for a touchdown, the Panthers (9-3) scored 15 points in the final 5 1/2 minutes in Delano to take down the Titans (10-2).
Quarterback Ashanti Ross connected with Noah Beukers for a 15-yard touchdown with 47 seconds left in the game for the go-ahead score, with Ross running in the conversion for the final margin.
Washington trailed 28-17 in the fourth quarter when Ricky Dow picked up a fumble off a sack by Deondre Eason and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown that got the Panthers within 28-23 with 5:39 to play. The defense forced an ensuing three-and-out to set up the Washington offense at its own 45-yard line to start the winning drive.
The Panthers next Friday will host the D-IV title game in an all-North Sequoia League affair against No. 4 Chowchilla, which defeated No. 9 Kerman 46-27. Washington beat Chowchilla 30-12 in league play Oct. 16 – the first of six straight victories for the Panthers.
It’s Washington’s first trip to the section final since 2011 when the Panthers went on to win a state championship. Chowchilla last reached the section championship in 2008, beating Kingsburg 20-0.
Ross finished with three touchdown passes (the others 33 yards to Carlos Silva and 24 yards to Devontae Massey).
Damien Avila ran for three touchdowns for Chavez.
No. 1 Immanuel 42, No. 4 Woodlake 7 – The Eagles (9-2) poured it on in the closing minutes of the first half, scoring 21 points to break a 7-7 tie en route to a blowout victory over the Tigers (9-3).
After a Robby Stevenson touchdown for Woodlake tied it 7-7 with nine minutes to go before halftime, Immanuel pounced with Caleb Paulson firing a 54-yard touchdown to Chris Rosedale and Ryan Case running in a 3-yard score with 2 minutes until the break. The Eagles then came up with an interception and Paulson capitalized, hitting Andrue Lackey for a 21-yard touchdown and 28-7 lead at the half.
Paulson finished with four touchdown passes, two going to Rosedale. A.J. Pease also caught one. Kyle Dunigan capped the scoring with a 4-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Immanuel, the D-V runner-up to Corcoran last season, will play Mendota in the championship next Friday at Reedley High.
No. 7 Mendota 49, No. 3 Dos Palos 34 – Junior Cardenas passed for 358 yards and five touchdowns to lead the Aztecs (9-4) past the Broncos (7-5).
Mendota, which rarely passed the ball while rolling behind section career-leading rusher Edgar Segura in section-winning D-VI seasons of 2011 and ’12, had Cardenas, a junior, complete 14 of 25 attempts without an interception. His featured targets were Fabian Jasso (5-138, two TDs) and Luis Mojarro (4-128-1).
The Aztecs outscored the state’s sixth-winningest program all-time 29-14 in the fourth quarter on 5- and 1-yard TD runs by Marquez Navarro and Cardenas scoring passes of 37 yards to Jasso and 44 to Mojarro.
Adrian Marrufo carried 29 times for 182 yards and two TDs for Dos Palos, a 15-time section champion, according to historian Bob Barnett.
No. 1 Kennedy 49, No. 4 California City 18 – The Thunderbirds (9-3) topped 40 points for the eighth time this season, ending the underdog run by the Ravens (8-4) from the High Desert League.
No. 2 Avenal 35, No. 3 Sierra Pacific 21 – The Buccaneers made it a sweep of close games with the Golden Bears, rallying for a section semifinal win at Avenal.
Sierra Pacific (8-4) led 14-7 at halftime and 21-14 after three quarters before Avenal (8-4) roared back.
The Bucs beat the Bears 25-19 in a Labor Day weekend nonleague game.
Central Section Football Finals
All games 7 p.m. Dec. 5
- D-I: No. 2 Liberty-Bakersfield at No. 1 Clovis
- D-II: No. 2 Lemoore at No. 1 Ridgeview
- D-III: No. 2 Memorial at No. 1 Hanford
- D-IV: No. 4 Chowchilla at No. 3 Washington
- D-V: No. 7 Mendota at No. 1 Immanuel
- D-VI: No. 2 Avenal at No. 1 Kennedy