His 16-year-old quarterback shouldered all the blame, so the coach placed his thick hands upon the young man’s slender shoulders and spoke into his eyes.
And when Kyle Biggs was through speaking, he pulled Trent Tompkins close and hugged him while Tompkins buried his face into his coach’s chest and sobbed.
“We’re not here without you,” Biggs told the disconsolate sophomore. “If you didn’t do the things you did, we aren’t in this game.”
Central High School had a chance to make west Fresno history on Friday night at Koligian Stadium, 86 years’ worth. Instead, it was the Bakersfield Drillers who continued writing theirs, prevailing 21-14 in the Central Section Division I championship with a boost from four Grizzlies turnovers.
None were more costly to the home side than the second of two Tompkins interceptions, both corralled by free safety Tahj Wright, that gave Bakersfield an 18-yard field with 5:38 remaining. Five plays later, Josh Maran lofted a 3-yard play-action pass to Navonte Demison for the decisive touchdown.
Central had two drives in the final 3:11 that came up far short of the goal line. And when the Drillers took a knee before swarming the field in celebration of their state-record 37th section title, no one took it harder than the quarterback of the school still stuck on zero.
“It’s totally my fault,” Tompkins said outside the Grizzlies locker room. “Two mistakes that shouldn’t have been made. Should’ve thrown the ball away. Tried to make a play. Wasn’t good.”
It was a huge game, and I studied as much as I could for it. I broke everything down. But I made two dumb plays and that was that.
Central High QB Trent Tompkins
Tompkins had been nothing short of sensational since September, running the Valley’s scariest offense with both precision and pizzazz. He was the “Houdini” of the broken play, as termed by Clovis coach Rich Hammond.
The Grizzlies showed flashes of their usual explosiveness – Jevon Bigelow’s 80-yard touchdown bolt being the prime example – but spent most of the chilly evening stifled by their own mistakes.
Twice Central coughed up the football on fumbled snaps. (By contrast, Bakersfield recovered three of its own fumbles, including two on the go-ahead drive.) And twice Tompkins lobbed passes while under duress that should have been chucked toward the cheerleaders.
Twice Tompkins lobbed passes while under duress that should have been chucked toward the cheerleaders.
On other occasions, the 6-foot, 195-pounder held the ball for sacks that left the Grizzlies chasing the yard marker. Certainly a swarming Drillers defense played a role in that as well.
“I told him after the Edison game, ‘When we play a team with speed, just throw it away and we live to play another down,’ ” Biggs said. “We can’t just take sacks and throw ’em up. We threw two up that we shouldn’t have, and we took about three sacks we shouldn’t have.”
No one had to tell Tompkins. Twenty minutes after the final whistle, he had already processed what happened.
“The quarterback always takes the blame, and now I know why,” he said. “The ball’s in their hand, and they have to make a play. I had the ball in my hand and didn’t. It’s totally my fault.”
Tompkins and his Grizzlies teammates badly wanted to make history. They wanted to be the first team to bring a section football trophy to their campus, to their school district, to their west Fresno community.
We wanted to make history at this school. It didn’t happen for us seniors, but we built a foundation for them and hopefully they can get one next year.
Central High DE Samuel Satele
Central Unified has always felt like the “other” school district in town. And, to me, that part of Fresno has always felt like the Land That Infrastructure Forgot. As if someone said, “Let’s build hundreds of houses, and strip malls, but never mind the access roads.”
Competing in the Tri River Athletic Conference against the Clovis Unified juggernaut has spurred Central to build top-notch facilities, establish its own feeder programs and hire the best coaches (including Biggs).
With a combined enrollment of 4,200 between the East and West campuses (some students attend classes at both), the Grizzlies have more numbers to draw from than any area school.
“We represent Fresno,” Central track coach Gary Davis said. “We are an exact replica of Fresno. People may not think so, but this is a place where every nationality and economic level is represented.”
Winning the section title would’ve been “a huge step,” “put a stamp on the growth of the athletic program” and “legitimized us.” I heard each phrase while standing on the home sideline during pregame.
Now that final step, that long-awaited stamp of legitimacy, remains elusive.
We’ve got two more years of him. Just like people are scared of (Clovis West quarterback) Adrian Martinez, they’re going to be scared of Trent Tompkins.
Central High coach Kyle Biggs
Still, if Biggs’ first season as Grizzlies coach is any indication, Central will be back in this position. Perhaps even within the next two years, as his dynamic quarterback garners more experience and studies his mistakes.
“We’ll learn from this,” Biggs said. “We’ll go back. We’ll watch the film and we’ll critique it. It’s going to be hard, but it’s going to make him better and it’s going to make us better.”
Tompkins will eventually grasp that lesson. He’ll grow, and he’ll learn. Right now, though, it hurts.
“I want that ring,” he said. “I wanted it with these seniors. I love these seniors, and I wanted to do it with them. But that chance went away.”
With that, Tompkins went off in search of a hug and a chest to cry on. He didn’t have to look far.