Memorial High turns to Chris "Downtown" Brown again tonight – and maybe with more dependence than ever.
"I always like our chances with him," Panthers coach Anthony Goston says of the 4,873-yard career rusher, who has narrowed his college choices to Oregon and Oregon State.
But first, there's the business at hand. And for second-seeded Memorial (8-3), that means a rematch with third-seeded Clovis North (7-3) in the semifinals of the Central Section Division II playoffs on the Panthers' field.
It was Brown's 87-yard touchdown in the final minutes that lifted Memorial to a 28-21 nonleague win over the Broncos on Sept. 29 at Buchanan's Veterans Memorial Stadium.
That closed a 193-yard night for Brown, who's being recruited by all but USC, UCLA and Stanford in the Pac-12 Conference, in addition to Missouri, Purdue and others in the Midwest.
A 6-foot, 200-pounder with 4.5-second speed over 40 yards, he's linked three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, including 1,806 this season.
"Having a guy like Chris, with his experience, you know what you're going to get," Goston says. "You can't find many guys who've done it three years like that; it's pretty impressive. We're in this position because of him."
The Panthers had also been in good position with receiver/defensive back Johnny Johnson and middle linebacker Teryn Torosian, who made strong contributions in the win over Clovis North.
But Torosian was declared ineligible for the season a week later because of a transfer issue and Johnson transferred to Central a week after that.
Memorial then lost three of five games – two to D-I powers Edison and Bullard in the County/Metro Athletic Conference – before escaping with a 21-17 quarterfinal win at home against seventh-seeded Frontier last Friday on Brown's 8-yard touchdown with 45 seconds remaining.
"It's been a grind of a year," says Goston, who, with an eight-year record of 60-35 at Memorial, has passed Jim Boone (55 wins) as the school's winningest coach.
"A lot of things have gone on and we've played a tough schedule. But we've persevered through it and are one of four teams remaining, so I feel good about our chances."
Brown motors behind one of the section's best offensive lines, featuring Fresno State commit David Keller (6-5, 295) at left tackle. He teams up front with right tackle Robert Garcia (6-0, 240), guards Alex Cameron (6-2, 240) and Eric Carrillo (6-1, 245), and center Victor Martinez (5-9, 225).
Garcia, one of the section's top two-way players, also leads the Panthers' defense at end. And nose tackle Jaylen Ruiz (6-4, 260) has been dominant.
Clovis North, meanwhile, is on a roll behind junior quarterback Christian Rossi, running backs Trent Barnes and Bryan Parmer, and linebacker David Ford.
Rossi, since returning from a knee injury, has passed for 1,306 yards, 15 touchdowns and 60% accuracy in six games.
Ford, a 6-3, 200-pounder playing his position as well as anyone in the section, is averaging 11 tackles per game.
Clovis North, sure to bump up to D-I in all sports following the section's next two-year realignment cycle in the spring, has already won five D-II section titles this fall after finishing with 10 with its first senior class last year.
Other D-II semifinal
No. 4 Tehachapi (10-1) at No. 1 Garces (10-1): This matches league champions in defending D-II titlist Tehachapi (South Sequoia) and Garces (Southeast Yosemite) and comes a year after Tehachapi, as a sixth seed, upset the then-No. 2 Rams 34-21 in the semis. Garces then answered with a 34-28 win over the Warriors in early September.
Division I semifinals
No. 3 Bullard (9-2) at No. 2 Edison (10-1): A capacity crowd is expected at Sunnyside Stadium, where Edison coach Tim McDonald – as the higher seed – chose to play in an interesting call a week after selecting McLane Stadium in the quarters.
It was there that the Tigers rallied for an epic 52-50 CMAC win over Bullard on Oct. 14 and also edged seventh-seeded Tulare 27-21 last week.
But McDonald wasn't pleased with the conditions: "They overseeded the middle of the field and it was really slippery. Sunnyside's more like home to us and I want the kids to be comfortable. So if the footing's going to be bad, I want it to be bad at home."
The game will feature three of the section's most electric players in Edison's aerial tandem of Khari McGee and Terell Green, and Bullard running back Demetrius Warren.
No. 4 Clovis (10-1) at No. 1 Bakersfield (11-0): This one oozes with history, matching Clovis, which has won eight section titles since 1970, and the Drillers, who've won a state-record 34 and are the state's winningest program since their first game in 1896.
And Bakersfield added yet another chapter to the legend by closing with a 28-0, fourth-quarter rush to stun ninth-seeded Centennial 49-42 in a quarterfinal at Griffith Field.
The Cougars dominated fifth-seeded Central 26-0, setting up a duel with Bakersfield's versatile Chris Hannible (1,376 yards, 18 TDs passing; 1,101 yards, 21 TDs rushing) opposing the section's premier defense in Clovis.
While it's not a particularly big defense, the Cougars combine strength, athletic ability and experience with a unit bolstered with state-class wrestlers in linemen Dakota Gordon and Nick Nevills and linebacker Adrian Salas.
The Cougars' offensive front, dominant all year behind tackle Wylie Brand and guard Nick Salomonson, confronts its most difficult assignment against a quick, unorthodox Bakersfield defense that rarely has a player in a three-point stance.
Division III semifinals
No. 5 Kingsburg (10-2) at No. 1 Dinuba (11-0): The top-seeded Emperors, led by a Bee Player of the Year candidate in three-year quarterback David Rico, attempt to sweep the defending champions after beating the Vikings 17-15 in a Central Sequoia League-opener Sept. 30.
No. 3 Madera South (11-1) at No. 2 Ridgeview (11-0): Madera South's double-wing offense marches into Kern County to oppose the Wolf Pack, which has been suspect in wins over No. 15 Independence (28-21) and No. 7 Porterville (32-22).
Division IV semifinals
No. 4 Coalinga (9-2) at No. 1 Washington (11-0): Wouldn't seem to bode well for Coalinga in that the Horned Toads were a yard away last week from losing to a Chowchilla team blown out 56-14 by Washington on Oct. 21. Coalinga senior running back Brian Alvarado, with 5,216 yards rushing and 66 touchdowns, has delivered one of the most prolific careers in section history.
No. 3 Wasco (10-1) at No. 2 Mission Oak (9-2): Mission Oak's 17-14 East Yosemite League win over Tulare a month ago has grown in credibility following the Redskins' rout of Buchanan (49-14) and near-victory against Edison (27-21) in the D-I playoffs.
Division V championship
No. 4 Liberty-Madera Ranchos (6-6) at No. 2 Fowler (10-2): Liberty, which lost 31-28 to Corcoran for the 2009 D-V title, is gunning for its first section football crown. Not so for Fowler, the defending champion, which roars into the final following a 45-7 rout of Orosi in the semis. The Redcats defeated the visiting Hawks 23-14 on Sept. 23.
Division VI championship
No. 2 Farmersville (8-2) at No. 1 Mendota (11-0): Showdown of youth, matching Farmersville freshman quarterback Sam Metcalf (2,720 yards, 21 TDs passing) against Aztecs sophomore running back Edgar Segura (1,880 yards rushing, 36 TDs). Neither school has won a section football title.