Bullard High is two steps away from fulfilling a 54-year dream, but guess who stands in the way? Again.
Behind the passing combination of Kerr Taubler and Jajuan Hammond, a defense that has been bruising for three months and a blocked punt return for a touchdown by Daniel Snelling that was equal parts bizarre and impacting, the second-seeded Knights methodically buried No. 7 Clovis West 35-9 in a Central Section Division I quarterfinal Friday night at McLane High.
Bullard (11-0), never a section football champion since the school arose in 1955, will return next Friday to oppose No. 6 Bakersfield (9-2), which defeated No. 3 Stockdale 24-12.
This will occur four years after the Drillers downed the Knights 35-28 for the D-I title at the same site.
"Gotta love it -- we go from one team with great tradition to another," Bullard coach Donnie Arax said.
This is a season he has been pointing to for three years. And, in this one, the stars have been aligned since Labor Day.
Here are the Knights, with their only 11-0 record in school history, and the Nos. 5, 6 and 8 seeds left in the bracket -- all from Kern County, no less -- after Bakersfield's win, Centennial's 26-24 conquest of No. 1 Buchanan and Liberty's 27-21 double overtime upset of No. 4 Central.
"I like where we are," Arax said. "There's something special about these kids. We're trying to get them to focus on playing playoff football with a sense of urgency, and they certainly did that tonight."
That applied to Taubler, who completed 12 of 16 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns.
It applied to Hammond, who caught 10 passes for 161 yards and the two scores.
And, above all, it applied to Snelling, who in addition to leading the defensive charge at linebacker, gave the Knights a 14-3 lead 1 minute, 4 seconds into the second half on the blocked punt return -- one you had to see to believe.
"It changed the whole game," Eagles coach Coby Lindsey said of the play that had Snelling block the punt, catch it when it ricocheted directly to him off an official's foot, and transfer it into the end zone from 15 yards.
"I didn't notice that," Snelling said of the official deflection. "I didn't know, really, it happened so fast."
Lindsey, who received but 4 yards rushing on four carries from injured Kendal Brock (ankle) -- the section's best, according to Arax -- will wait to see whether he'll be given the permanent job after the 5-6 season: "I have no idea, but I'll be back at Clovis West for sure, as a coach [in some capacity]."