NO. 2 LIBERTY-BAKERSFIELD (8-3) AT NO. 1 CLOVIS (11-1)
How they got here: Patriots won the Southwest Yosemite League at 5-0 before defeating 10th-seeded Central 40-27 and No. 3 Bullard 41-7; Cougars tied Buchanan for Tri-River Athletic Conference title at 4-1 before defeating No. 8 Edison 28-6 and No. 5 Clovis North 28-14.
Section titles: Liberty (1) 2001 (D-III); Clovis (8) 1970 (Yosemite Division), ’74 (Yosemite Division), ’79 (Yosemite Division), ’84 (Yosemite Division), ’91 (Yosemite Division), ’97 (Yosemite Division), ’99 (D-I), 2002 (D-I).
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Common opponents: Liberty d. Buchanan 27-6, d. Stockdale 42-7, d. Centennial 49-0, d. Central 40-27; Clovis d. Buchanan 34-13, d. Stockdale 49-42, d. Centennial 28-27, l. Central 21-20
The book on Liberty: As “what have you done lately” applies, the Patriots are striking – a 41-7 knockout at home of No. 3 Bullard in the semifinals. For all of the results – notably, comparative scores: Liberty crushing Centennial 49-0 and defeating Central 40-27; Clovis escaping 28-27 via a late fumble recovery vs. Centennial and losing 21-20 to Central – there’s nothing quite like the Patriots’ domination of Bullard, which was believing, as opposed to dreaming, D-I title achievement since August. No section team rivals Liberty’s quarterback/running back rushing threat of Jordan Love and Quincy Jountti – they torched Bullard for a combined 243 yards on the ground. And, oh by the way, Love passed for 220 yards also. Defense? Begin with a national-class linebacker in Krys Barnes, a UCLA commit.
The book on Clovis: The reality question can’t be denied: Could anyone in Fresno County expect the Cougars to whip Bullard 41-7? No. Yet Clovis is confident in hanging a section banner last attached 13 years ago. Reasons? Count the ways: Home-field advantage; an aerial assault rarely encountered for a Kern County opponent, featuring quarterback Sean Kuenzinger and receivers Coltin Velasquez and JJ Wills, and a non-rain stage assisting them; that continued magical school wrestling/football time share counting, among the latest, Josh Hokit and the Nevills brothers, A.J. and Seth; and coach Rich Hammond 3-1 head-to-head with Bryan Nixon in a combination of Centennial (2-1) and Liberty (1-0).
He said it: “We’ll pack the place out and, in high school football, avoiding the bus ride is a big deal. (Liberty) brings a a lot to the table, but I feel good about the whole deal.” – Clovis coach Rich Hammond.
NO. 2 LEMOORE (10-2) AT NO. 1 RIDGEVIEW (12-0)
How they got here: Lemoore blitzed through the West Yosemite League, going 6-0 while outscoring its opponents 258-26 before beating No. 7 El Diamante 24-7 in the quarterfinals and No. 3 Sanger 13-5 in the semis. Ridgeview beat four Division-I opponents, including finalist Liberty-Bakersfield 29-14, before going 5-0 while winning the South Yosemite League. The Wolf Pack then downed No. 8 West 54-35 in the quarters and No. 5 Sunnyside 56-16 in the semis.
Section titles: Lemoore (1) 2005 (D-III); Ridgeview (2) 2012 (D-III), 2014 (D-II)
Common opponents: None.
The book on Lemoore: Tigers coach Shannon Pulliam has declared his Scott Silva-coordinated defense to be the best in the section, and it’s a hard point to argue. Lemoore’s starting defense has allowed three points – on Sanger’s 41-yard field goal that capped a 56-yard, first-half closing drive last week – before mop-up time in its past eight games. A fast and physical front – led by linemen Angel Solis (12.5 sacks), Noah Wright (7.5 sacks) and Kelechi Ndoh (3.5 sacks) as well as outside linebackers Rigoberto Carrillo (5 sacks) and Christian Martinez (4.5 sacks) – has held seven opponents to one score or fewer, with three shutouts. Offensively, the Tigers feature big-play threats in receivers Reggie Davis and Allen Perryman, and a quarterback who can get them the ball in Logan Ahlin. Running back Trey Perryman is also a threat.
The book on Ridgeview: The Wolf Pack takes aim at second straight D-II title while making a fifth straight appearance in the section finals under Dennis Manning, who has gone 71-20 with a D-II and D-III title in his seven seasons. Ridgeview was 28-58 in eight seasons before Manning’s arrival. Ridgeview features an explosive offense that’s averaged 43.4 points a game behind quarterback Lawrence White (1,594 yards and 20 touchdowns passing, 508 yards and five touchdowns rushing), running backs Darius Smith (1,553 yards and 23 touchdowns) and Jamar Moya (640 yards and 10 touchdowns) and receiver Jaylen Prevost (706 yards and nine touchdowns).
He said it: “We had four goals: Keep the Milk Can, win WYL, win Valley and get to state. What they set out to accomplish, they have. But we’ve got one more to go.” – Lemoore coach Shannon Pulliam.
NO. 2 MEMORIAL (9-3) AT NO. 1 HANFORD (11-1)
How they got here: Memorial opened 5-0, went 2-3 and placed fourth in the County/Metro Athletic Conference, then beat No. 7 South 27-21 in the quarterfinals and No. 6 Tulare Western 35-26 in the semis, rallying from a 26-7 halftime deficit. Hanford started 9-0 before having a potential perfect season derailed by Kern County rival Lemoore 42-7 in the Milk Can game, finishing a 5-1, second-place run in the West Yosemite League. The Bullpups rolled past No. 8 Kingsburg 42-7 in the quarters and No. 12 Golden Valley 42-14 in the semis.
Section titles: Memorial (6) 1953 (Sequoia Division), 1972 (Sequoia Division), 1974 (Sequoia Division), 1991 (Sequoia Division), 1994 (Sequoia Division), 2003 (D-IV); Hanford (1) 2014 (D-III)
Common opponents: None.
The book on Memorial: With more sophomore (six) than senior (four) starters on a young team that graduated 21 off its 35-player roster last season, Panthers coach and athletic director Anthony Goston successfully petitioned for a move from D-II into D-III. “I didn’t know we’d get to this point,” Goston said. “I just didn’t think we were suited for D-II. I thought for the next couple-year cycle, based on how young we were and who we lost, we’d be better suited in D-III.” Memorial has been led by running back/linebacker Joey Ruiz (1,177 yards and 16 touchdowns while also making a team-leading 100 tackles with six sacks and two interceptions). The Panthers feature a threat in quarterback Michael Alvarez (2,252 yards and 17 touchdowns pass, 556 yards and nine touchdowns rushing) and receiver Chris Paz (973 yards and six touchdowns).
The book on Hanford: The return of receiver/defensive back/returner Juwuane Hughes, who missed six games with a broken arm, has bolstered the Bullpups in their bid to repeat as D-III champions. Hughes has surpassed 100 yards receiving in both of Hanford’s playoff wins while scoring three touchdowns and breaking up seven passes on defense. “He’s come back and energized our team,” Bullpups coach Josh Young said. “He’s making plays on both sides of the ball. It’s awesome to watch.” Hughes (616 yards receiving and seven touchdowns) adds to an explosive offense led by quarterback Ryan Johnson (2,288 yards and 25 touchdowns passing, 601 yards and eight touchdowns rushing), running back Joseph McDaniel (1,654 yards and 20 touchdowns) and receiver Brandon Sanchez (514 yards and nine touchdowns). Linebacker Kaipo Barnes (a team-leading 143 tackles and 8.5 sacks) is the heart of Hanford’s defense.
He said it: “It’s a big statement to get back here. We haven’t done anything yet, but we got back to the game and we want to finish it. We want to keep this thing going. The seniors on this team have won a lot of games, not only in football, but in basketball and other sports. We’ve established a culture, and we’d like to solidify that with back-to-back wins.” – Hanford coach Josh Young.
NO. 4 CHOWCHILLA (10-2) AT NO. 3 WASHINGTON (9-3)
How they got here: Chowchilla went 4-1 while finishing second in the North Sequoia League, losing 30-12 to champion Washington before moving on to beat No. 5 Madera South 27-20 in the quarterfinals and No. 9 Kerman 46-27 in the semis, defeating both for a second time this season. Washington won the NSL title at 5-0 and has beaten No. 6 Selma 31-14 in the quarters and No. 2 Chavez 31-28 in the semis while running its winning streak to six games.
Section titles: Chowchilla (5) 1951 (Small Schools), 1955 (Small Schools), 1967 (Sequoia Division), 2004 (D-IV), 2008 (D-IV); Washington (5), 1983 (Sequoia Division), 1992 (Sequoia Division), 1999 (D-III), 2010 (D-IV), 2011 (D-IV).
Common opponents: Chowchilla d. Liberty-Madera Ranchos 15-13, d. Sierra 49-7, d. Yosemite 41-12, d. Kerman 46-21 and 46-27; Washington d. Liberty 37-20, d. Sierra 35-6, d. Yosemite 49-0, d. Kerman 33-7.
The book on Chowchilla: Offensively and defensively, the return of running back/linebacker Alex Gutierrez has provided a huge lift to the Redskins. Gutierrez (713 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing to go with 37 tackles, including five for losses), missed most of four games with a broken hand suffered on the third play against Washington on Oct. 16. Gutierrez’s presence helps power Chowchilla’s double-wing offense that also features running backs Anthony Stewart (1,424 yards and 19 touchdowns) and Danny Chavez (427 yards, seven touchdowns). “He’s one of those irreplaceable kids,” Redskins coach Alex Pittz said of Gutierrez. “All the things he does physically are great, but even more, he’s an emotional leader. Having him on the field brings everyone else up.”
The book on Washington: After opening with consecutive losses to Memorial (10-7) and Mission Oak (25-19 in five overtimes), the Panthers are 9-1 since as they pursue a second appearance in the CIF State Championships, which will grant berths to all section champions for the first time this year. “Our kids are dialed in,” coach Dennis Randle said. “They know what’s at stake. We’re going to get Chowchilla’s best shot. Our kids are not overlooking them.” Washington’s surge was sparked by the return of senior quarterback Ashanti Ross, who missed all of last year and the first two games this year after suffering his third concussion in nine months to close his sophomore season. With Ross (1,504 yards and 18 touchdowns) back, it’s allowed Noah Beukers to shift from quarterback to running back (he’s rushed for 747 yards and eight touchdowns since the switch) and become an impact player at safety for a defense allowing 14.2 points per game. Washington’s fortunes also improved after running back Adam Martinez and right guard Jose Bustamonte, transfers from Riverdale and Caruthers, respectively, gained eligibility after sitting the first four games.
He said it: “We’re looking forward to the game. It’s always nice to get a second shot at a team that beat you earlier. I’m also extremely happy for our league. It’s full of great coaches and hard-working teams. This opportunity is well-deserved.” – Chowchilla coach Alex Pittz.
NO. 7 MENDOTA (9-4) AT NO. 1 IMMANUEL (9-2)
How they got here: Aztecs tied for second in the West Sierra League (3-2), then in the playoffs beat No. 10 Bishop 41-14, No. 2 Fowler 24-7 and No. 3 and WSL champ Dos Palos 49-13; Immanuel went 7-2 as an independent before defeating No. 8 Caruthers 44-14 and No. 4 Woodlake 42-7 in the playoffs.
Section titles: Mendota (2) 2011 (D-VI), 2012 (D-VI); Immanuel (8) 1973 (Sierra Division), 1975 (Sierra Division), 1983 (Sierra Division), 1993 (Sierra Division), 1996 (Sierra Division), 2000 (D-V), 2002 (D-V), 2005 (D-IV).
Common opponents: Mendota l. Immanuel 31-21, l. Dos Palos 14-13, d. Dos Palos 49-34; Immanuel d. Dos Palos 31-18
The book on Mendota: Obvious two-month improvement from the team that lost to Immanuel and Dos Palos in the first month of the season. No longer will Immanuel be opposing a 25-player team with multiple injuries. Offensively, as opposed to Edgar Segura’s legendary rushing of the past, the Aztecs can sling it behind Junior Cardenas (2,533 passing yards, 29 TDs) and receivers (cousin) Julian Cardenas (53-702-4), Fabian Jasso (37-688-9) and Luis Mojarro (34-525-4). And not to forget Edgar Segura’s younger brother, sophomore Erick (668 rushing yards in injury limited season).
The book on Immanuel: A year after emphasizing the ground game behind 1,800-yard rusher Robert Grier while going 9-4 and placing second to Corcoran in the division, the Eagles have taken flight behind former Mendota coach Matt Armstrong and quarterback Caleb Paulson. The senior has passed for 2,600 yards and 33 touchdowns, including six in the routs of Caruthers and Woodlake. And he threw four scoring passes in the win over Mendota on Sept. 19. Chris Rosedale has caught nine of his TDs. Defensively, senior linebacker Cody King ranks among the state leaders with an average of 14 tackles per game.
He said it: “Paulson torched us the first game. Oh God, his throws were perfect. We really need to get drives, kill the clock and keep that kid cold on the sideline.” – Mendota coach Beto Mejia.
NO. 2 AVENAL (8-4) AT NO. 1 KENNEDY (9-3)
How they got here: Buccaneers tied for second in the West Sierra League (3-2), d. No. 7 McFarland 72-6, d. No. 3 Sierra Pacific 35-21; Kennedy placed fourth in the South Sequoia League (3-3), d. No. 8 Strathmore 40-28, d. No. 4 California City 49-18.
Section titles: Avenal (0); Kennedy (1) 2014 (D-VI)
Common opponents: Avenal d. McFarland 35-8, d. McFarland 72-6, d. Strathmore 48-35; Kennedy d. McFarland 42-6, d. Strathmore 40-28.
The book on Avenal: Buccaneers have endured an unusual transition that had last year’s coach, Charles Price, return after Mike Crews resigned after three games. And, after going 8-4 and finishing runner-up to Kennedy in the division last season, they’ve responded well again to the 2000 Avenal graduate with a returning wing-T cast. It features quarterback Santiago Padilla, running backs Jordan Barrera, Manuel Alvarez and Felipe Padilla, and wide receiver Eric Ramirez. Alvarez, who rescued the Bucs with an end-zone interception n a 24-18 WSL win over Firebaugh, and Felipe Padilla also have excelled as linebackers.
The book on Kennedy: Thunderbirds, who went 9-3 a year ago, are surely destined for D-V status in 2017, when the section will implement a new three-year realignment cycle. Kennedy has 1,000 students – 340 more than Avenal – and competes in the SSL against D-III Bakersfield Christian, D-IV in Chavez, Taft, Arvin and Wasco, and D-V Shafter. Also deploying the wing-T, the Thunderbirds have turned to running back David Zepeda (2,000 yards, 22 TDs) a year after Rolando Arrona blistered Avenal for 235 yards and four TDs in the D-VI final.
He said it: “I had about 10 players in my house when I got the call from the school asking me to come back. The players said, ‘Coach, we need you.’ And I was ready to jump back in the saddle. It was really sweet.” – Price, who had stepped down after last season because of a job conflict.