Central Section football began with a full moon, 100-degree kickoffs and on-field performances to match.
And now buckle up for what’s to follow.
It promises to further bubble the boiler, with nonleague – but hugely important playoff-seeding impact games next week – sending Bullard to Buchanan, Edison to Bakersfield, Lemoore to Clovis, Clovis West to Centennial and Liberty-Bakersfield to Ridgeview.
But first to review in what, semantically, they called “Week 0” – silly in that it was actually Week 1. It’s all about scheduling, bye weeks, how long the regular season actually extends and, well, whatever.
But let’s not dignify that. Let’s concentrate, instead, on:
▪ A Bearish boost against Edison in a breathtaker at Sunnyside Stadium.
▪ The end to a “Battle of Barstow” that has long lost its fight.
▪ Tulare’s Romello Harris and surely his record-breaking march to the section’s rushing pinnacle.
When you’re 11-34 in four years as a representative of the mighty Clovis Unified School District/Tri-River Athletic Conference and open the season with a final-play, 16-14 conquest of section reigning D-I champion Edison at a neutral venue, well, you flood the field.
And that’s what Buchanan Bears players, coaches, cheerleaders and students did at Sunnyside Stadium just after 10 p.m., when it was still 90 degrees and senior wide receiver Ezra Owens was dogpiled following an 11-yard touchdown reception from Josh Friesen with 0:00 showing on the west scoreboard.
It was 14-10 Edison when Owens – opposing an elite athlete, Damon Rogers, in one-on-one coverage to the right – drove into the end zone, turned, came back, established preferred position against the cornerback, and wrestled away a zipped pass from Friesen for the winner.
There was no reason to line up for the PAT, so they didn’t, but know this: When section seedings are determined in Commissioner Jim Crichlow’s Porterville office Nov. 7, this result – sans the meaningless conversion – will factor big in D-I.
Bottom line: Black and gold Edison had better get fit for some red, white and blue and hope Buchanan, ultimately, produces better than its 1-4, 1-4, 2-3, 1-4 and 2-3 TRAC finishes in the past five years.
Should Edison beat the likes of Bullard and Sanger and win the County/Metro Athletic Conference, it will not bode well for Tigers’ seeding leverage if Buchanan finishes again in the bottom shelf of the TRAC.
Edison coach Matt Johnson, meanwhile, had no November thoughts, only the stunner of a late-August defeat on his sideline of an immaculate Sunnyside field.
“The shock of finally having that last-minute finish against us ... ” he said a year after the 12-2 Tigers rallied from behind repeatedly while capturing a first section top-division title in 39 years – and, by the way, at this venue: 21-14 over Liberty-Bakersfield. “We were definitely due not to have the cardiac syndrome work for us. But I loved the way our kids battled.”
Edison, the Central Section’s defending Division I champion, had taken a 14-10 lead with 1:07 remaining on a 4-yard run by DeAndre Lockhart. That was set up by a sensational 50-yard kickoff return by Elijah Isiah, who reversed field after nearly being tackled on his own 5.
All this came a year after Edison escaped 13-7 against Buchanan at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
But the Tigers wouldn’t get away this time on a night Bears middle linebacker Logan Fogg recovered two fumbles, the first of which he returned 60 yards for a touchdown, tying it 7-7 with no time remaining in the third quarter.
A 25-yard kickoff return by Trevon Cummings gave Friesen, Owens and Buchanan a chance for the game-winning score.
And the Bears pulled it off against Rogers, who late in the third quarter had taken a short pass, beat a defender and blazed 80 yards down the Buchanan sideline to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead.
But Owens – without a reception (“I had dropped one”) – got position on Rogers in the corner of the end zone for the winner.
“I was in single coverage and I expected the ball,” Owens said. “But it was a crazy feeling that I actually caught the game-winning pass. The official (then) asked me for the ball but I said, ‘No, this is my ball; I got the TD.’”
If this was about expectations, the Bears had plenty. And to heck with their recent history at a school that otherwise has been generally dominant in sports while winning TRAC Supremacy Awards and contending for top state overall honors as well.
“We expected to win this game,” third-year coach Mike Jacot said. “We expect to finish games this year; we’re not going to be satisfied with moral victories.”
He’s 5-19 at Buchanan, but he’s also clearly now playing with a deeper, more experienced deck, including several three-year varsity players like Friesen, running back Chuby Dunu and defensive stars Fogg, Ben Parker and Bryson Young.
“We’ll obviously build off this,” he said. “I don’t know if it could have set up any better for us to really give us that belief. That last drive and the way we finished is really going to boost our confidence.”
“The win speaks a long way,” Friesen said after the game. “It’s been three years of hard work, and we’re finally going to roll.”
Asked how he expected to feel when he awoke Saturday, he added: “Sore, but it will be a good sore.”
Good night, Bullard and Hoover
An enthusiastic capacity crowd of 5,000 saw Bullard beat Hoover 55-6 Friday night at McLane Stadium.
Both student body sections cheered to the end.
Bullard senior star Charles Williams celebrated his 17th birthday by scoring five touchdowns.
But that’s a wrap: “The Battle of Barstow,” after long ago losing its punch, is over.
“Our football programs have grown apart, which is unfortunate, because it was a great atmosphere,” Bullard athletic director Brandon Gilbert said.
He and Hoover athletic director Tim Carey have agreed to end the series between the former North Yosemite League rivals that began in 1963, according to section historian Bob Barnett, and has seen the Knights win the past 14 straight while increasing their series lead to 36-17.
Most important is this: Bullard has scored more than 50 points in the past five games of the series and has won by an average of 27 points in the 14-game winning streak.
A concern for D-I Bullard, also, is Hoover’s a D-III program. The Knights also play D-III programs in Memorial and Madera in addition to D-IV Madera South in the County/Metro Athletic Conference. That’s no way to prepare for an annual D-I postseason juggernaut.
“Do I want to end a long-running game?” Carey said. “Not really. Do I want Hoover football to get better? Of course. I feel this is more about suspending the series until we can become a better program.”
To which Gilbert added: “Obviously, if they get better and get back to D-II, we add the game back in a heartbeat.”
El Diamante coach applauds Harris
After seeing Tulare’s Romello Harris shred his team for 333 yards and five touchdowns Thursday night at Bob Mathias Staduim, El Diamante coach Mark Rogers said the senior is the best running back he’s seen in the section since eventual Fresno State second-team All-American Ryan Mathews played at West of Bakersfield 10 years ago.
“That tells you a little bit,” Rogers says. “He’s not that big, maybe 5-10, 175. But he runs so, so hard. It seemed like there were 10 times we hit him, we thought we had him and, the next thing we knew, he was going downfield. He’s a really good back and an equally good kid.”
Harris – recruited by Fresno State, Washington State, Colorado State and all three service academies – has rushed for 5,701 yards in his four-year career, according to Barnett.
Should Harris remain healthy while 10th-ranked Tulare plays at least 10 more games – including at least one in the playoffs – he must average 233 yards to replace Mendota’s Edgar Segura (8,029, 2011-13) as the leading career rusher in section history.