There were 24 quarterfinals in Central Section football this week, and compelling story lines accompanied most.
Upsets included ninth-seeded Kerman beating No. 1 Central Valley Christian 21-14 in Division IV, No. 7 Mendota dominating No. 2 Fowler 24-7 in D-V and No. 5 Sunnyside absolutely mauling No. 4 Tulare 46-14 in D-II.
Escapes had No. 3 Sanger winning 13-10 over No. 6 Garces in D-II after trailing 10-0 at halftime and No. 3 Bullard winning 35-28 over No. 6 Clovis West in a game the Knights led 35-14 entering the fourth quarter.
Joy saw Hanford two-way star Juwuane Hughes not only return after a six-game absence with a broken arm, but with brilliance in the No. 1 Bullpups’ 42-7 rout of No. 8 Kingsburg in D-III.
Sadness saw Tulare’s Romello Harris – one of the finest running backs the section has known – close his career in jeans and jersey at Mathias Stadium because of a leg injury.
And the most stirring development of all – a brawl late in No. 5 Clovis North’s 45-28 conquest of No. 4 Buchanan in Division I at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
We obviously don’t condone that behavior and we’ll take care of it. We will hold players, coaches and the schools accountable. We’ll make sure we get it right.
Steve France, Clovis Unified assistant superintendent of educational services, in regard to a Buchanan-Clovis North brawl Friday night
“We obviously don’t condone that behavior and we’ll take care of it,” says Steve France, assistant superintendent of educational services for Clovis Unified School District. “We will hold players, coaches and the schools accountable. We’ll make sure we get it right.”
One player from each team was ejected and there could be more ramifications, pending film review in a district investigation that should be completed Monday, says France, who oversees the district’s athletics.
For Clovis North, that means, at the very least, safety Jason Helmuth will not play at No. 1 Clovis in a Friday night semifinal at Lamonica Stadium. He was the Bronco ejected, and that draws an automatic one-game suspension, per California Interscholastic Federation rules.
For Clovis North, that also means a key defensive link absent against the section’s best passing attack. And it will come four weeks after quarterback Sean Kuenzinger and the Cougars torched the Broncos 41-28 in the Tri-River Athletic Conference.
Safety is a critical position defending Clovis and its exceptional wide receiver tandem in Coltin Velasquez and JJ Wills and complementary running game led by Josh Hokit.
“Critical,” Clovis North coach Tim Simons says, “is an understatement.”
The Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame coach was none too happy with the fight that involved multiple players.
“We met with our team (Saturday morning),” he says, “and they know that kind of thing is unacceptable. There will be consequences for behavior we don’t condone.”
How did it all unfold in a rematch of a game Buchanan won 31-28 in the TRAC only two weeks earlier?
“An intense battle that hit a spark,” Simons says, “and one thing led to another.”
The game was judged by a crew from the California Sports Officials Association, headed by referee Daren Miller.
Chris Cota, co-supervisor of the CSOA, says officiating mechanics in fights call for the sideline officials to turn, face benches and write numbers of players who leave the sideline and join the melee. The three remaining officials in the middle of the field document as much as they can among those fighting.
“Really, that’s it,” he says. “You can’t catch it all. There are a lot of judgment calls there. For those actively fighting, yes, they’re ejected; for those pushing and shoving, that’s another story.”
Cota, who refereed Clovis’ 28-6 win over Edison on Friday night, says Miller’s crew will supply the Clovis district with a game report: “Then it’s the district’s deal after that.”
Any additional suspensions, if any, will be rendered by the district.
Good news for Clovis North (7-4) has senior quarterback Jeremy Miller heating up.
90 Percentage of passes completed by Clovis North’s Jeremy Miller in his past five games
The left-hander has completed 90 percent of his passes – 72 of 80 – for 778 yards and seven touchdowns in the Broncos’ past five games.
“We’re pretty pleased,” Simons says. “We believe we’ve raised our level of play and are getting statistical results we weren’t getting in the first half of the season.”
That said, as hot as Miller may be, Simons makes this clear: “Our preference is not to get into a shootout with Clovis.”
Kuenzinger has completed 61 percent of his passes (160 of 263) while throwing for 2,621 yards and 28 touchdowns against only five interceptions.
“They’ve got firepower,” Simons says. “Obviously, we’ve got to find a way not to allow them so many big plays. And that’s not easy with all their talent.”
Primary concern for Cougars coach Rich Hammond is the percentages of beating a good team twice.
Last year, Clovis North defeated Clovis 21-14 in the TRAC, only to lose 28-17 to the Cougars in the D-I quarterfinals.
Friday’s winner will play either Bullard (9-2) or No. 2 Liberty-Bakersfield (7-3) for the D-I title. The Knights will go to Kern County to play the Southwest Yosemite League champion in the semifinals.
College next for Harris – The prep book is closed on Tulare’s Harris, who rushed for 7,311 yards in a four-year career – trailing only Mendota’s Edgar Segura (8,029, 2011-13) and Tulare’s Dominique Dorsey (7,761, 1998-2001) in section annals, according to historian Bob Barnett.
A combination of finger and leg injuries this season likely denied Harris the section record.
He had no carries in four games and missed half of another. In the six complete games he played, he averaged 306.5 yards.
Harris’ career was defined much deeper than all the glossy stats, Tulare 21-year coach Darren Bennett says.
Harris bounced among 18 schools for various reasons between kindergarten and eighth grade. He was raised since birth by his maternal grandmother, Lena Reedom. She died when he was in sixth grade.
Tulare principal Michelle Nunley and husband Greg were granted legal custody of Harris three years ago, and he’s lived with them since, earning a near straight-A average.
Asked what he’ll remember most about Harris, Bennett says: “Probably knowing all he did, especially from where he came from. Even while being hurt, he was always positive. He was such a great leader to the young kids. And he led by example, working hard in the weight room and classroom.
“Put that together with his athleticism, he was one of the most enjoyable players I ever coached. He has it all, a kid with a great disposition.”
Harris has multiple scholarship offers, including from Fresno State. Bennett suspects he’ll land at Washington State, where he’s been told he’ll have a good chance to start as a true freshman.
Lions roaring at Kerman – Kerman (7-4) found more in the tank at CVC (8-3) after delivering a dramatic 28-27 first-round win at No. 8 Taft.
The Lions of first-year coach Anthony Taylor last week beat the Wildcats on a 48-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Sean Chambers to Brandon Smith and a subsequent conversion run by C.J. Palma with seven seconds remaining.
Taylor called for the conversion run after his team had actually kicked the PAT, but Taft was flagged for roughing the kicker.
“That moved the ball half the distance to the end zone,” Taylor says, “and (Palma) basically walked into the end zone.”
9 Seed of Kerman, which remains standing in D-IV after eliminating No. 1 Central Valley Christian
The Lions then marched into Visalia and clipped CVC as Chambers continued to play beyond his years, rushing for 163 yards and a TD and passing for 93 more yards out of a spread offense.
Chambers caught Taylor’s eye last year on the junior varsity level. Taylor was then a varsity assistant in his first year at Kerman after assisting at Washington for nine years.
“I thought we should have brought him up last year,” Taylor says of the 6-2, 205-pounder who has cleared 1,000 yards in both passing and rushing. “He’s an athlete who rises to the occasion. He begged me to run the two-point conversion (at Taft). You want a kid like that, the type who wants to take the last shot in basketball.”
Yet another formidable road assignment awaits the Lions in a semifinal at No. 4 Chowchilla (9-3). The Redskins crushed Kerman 46-21 in the North Sequoia League five weeks ago.
“More than having just a good record, the kids are over the hump, believing they should be here,” Taylor says. “And they’re hungry for more. I’m ecstatic to be where we are and on the upswing. We’re peaking at the right time.”