The Central football team that went 3-7 and kept finding ways to lose close games? That team didn’t show Friday night in the first round of the Central Section Division I playoffs.
And the Centennial squad that started 6-2 and seemed poised for a long playoff run? Those Golden Hawks were nowhere to be seen, either.
Instead, poised and athletic No. 10-seeded Central beat mistake-prone and badly wounded Centennial 30-19 behind 213 yards and three passing touchdowns from Nick Szpor.
“That’s a good football team; don’t be fooled by their record,” Centennial first-year coach Chad Brown said. “We can’t have those kind of mistakes. They hurt you against good teams.”
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Central will play at No. 2 Liberty-Bakersfield (6-3) next Friday in the quarterfinals. The Grizzlies and Patriots, who went 5-0 in Southwest Yosemite League play, had a nonleague game at Central canceled in September because of poor air quality.
Prime among the mistakes: A lost fumble and a failed fourth-down try inside the Central 10-yard line in the first half, a bad snap that led to a Central touchdown in the second and numerous blown coverages that Szpor pounced on.
And then there were the injuries. No. 7 Centennial (6-5), already missing standout running back Brandon Robinson, lost dynamic receiver/kick returner Cole Beaty in the first half; he was taken away by ambulance as a precaution after apparently aggravating a stinger in his neck. Centennial’s defensive leader, linebacker Parker Holbrook, and backup running back Monoleto Robinson joined the walking wounded soon after.
In the second half, Centennial also lost lineman Gabe Cherry and receiver Cole Nelson, both of whom were ejected after unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties.
Central took full advantage. Down 7-3 after Centennial quarterback Cesar Deleon hit Nelson for a 42-yard touchdown, the Grizzlies responded quickly with a five-play, 53-yard drive capped by Szpor’s 22-yard scoring strike to Jaylon Johnson.
Central made it 17-7 at halftime when Szpor hit Nate Howard, who finished with 114 receiving yards, for a 51-yard score just two plays after the Grizzlies converted a fourth-and-3 on a fake punt.
The Grizzlies added two third-quarter touchdowns to make it 30-7 before Centennial rallied with a Deleon TD pass to Danny Roach, an onside kick recovery and a Deleon one-yard sneak on fourth down.
But Central recovered the next onside kick and ran out the clock.
Central has defeated Tri-River Athletic Conference co-champion and D-I top-seeded Clovis (21-20) and lost to No. 3 Bullard (21-17), No. 4 Buchanan (17-13) and No. 5 Clovis North (23-20) this season.
No. 6 Clovis West 30, No. 11 Frontier 10 – Sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez threw three touchdown passes and ran in another score as the Golden Eagles defeated the Titans in the first round of the D-I playoffs.
Clovis West (6-4) led throughout and built a 14-0 lead thanks to a 15-yard touchdown strike from Martinez to Caleb Kelly and a 16-yard score from Martinez to Darian Owens.
Martinez then ran for a 16-yard score that made it 21-3 at halftime.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Martinez found Owens for a 39-yard touchdown with 14 seconds left in the third quarter before the Golden Eagles added a 31-yard field goal for the final score.
Clovis West next plays No. 3 Bullard (8-2), which had a first-round bye. The Knights defeated the Golden Eagles 42-23 in late September.
No. 6 Tulare Western 41, No. 11 North 7 – The Mustangs continued their surge under the direction quarterback of Andre Aguilar.
The junior completed 10 of 12 passes for 134 yards and one touchdown, and rushed for a team-best 66 yards and another score as Tulare Western eliminated North.
The Mustangs did not allow any points through the final three quarters and ended the game with 34 unanswered points, including a 27-yard pass from Aguilar to Jesse Macias and an Aguilar 16-yard run.
Tulare Western (8-3) improved to 6-0 since Aguilar joined the Mustangs following a five-game ban from the CIF Central Section office following his transfer from Mission Oak.
The Mustangs will next face No. 3 Tehachapi (7-2).
No. 8 Kingsburg 38, No. 9 Madera 26 – A one-handed interception by Seth Brooks in the third quarter spurred the Vikings (6-5) to a come-from-behind victory against the Coyotes (4-6).
Kingsburg advances to face No. 1 Hanford (9-1) in the quarterfinals next week.
A few plays after his interception, Brooks put the Vikings in front 21-17 with a rushing touchdown. Brooks then nabbed another pick to set up a field goal, then tacked on another rushing touchdown that made it 31-20 with 4:42 remaining.
The Coyotes made it a one-possession game at 31-26, scoring a touchdown with just under four minutes to play. But the Vikings recovered the ensuing onside kick and added a rushing touchdown by Brandon Perez.
No. 12 Golden Valley 35, No. 5 Fresno 33 – The Warriors (9-2) were denied a two-point conversion with 1:31 left that would have tied the score against the Bulldogs (5-6).
North Yosemite League champion Fresno scored twice in the final 6:27 to nearly erase a 15-point lead for Golden Valley, which placed fifth in the South Yosemite League.
The Warriors received touchdown runs of 69 yards from Nyric Hinton, 57 yards from Lee Major and four yards from Khory Day in a first half that saw them trail 21-20 at halftime.
The Bulldogs move on to face No. 4 Highland in the quarterfinals.
No. 7 South 39, No. 10 Reedley 7 – The Rebels (9-2) practically silenced the Pirates’ offense in their first-round win at Bakersfield as Reedley (3-7) was held to just 38 rushing yards and 11 passing yards.
The Pirates’ only points came on a fumble return for a touchdown by Argeny Cruz.
The Rebels built their lead to 31-7 in the third quarter as P.J. Jones ran in his second touchdown of the night. Jones led all rushers with 117 yards on nine carries to go with three TDs.
South, which has won five games in a row, plays at No. 2 Memorial (7-3) in the quarterfinals.
No. 9 Kerman 28, No. 8 Taft 27 – With 8 seconds left on the clock, the Lions were down to their last gasp and in need of a Hail Mary pass and a two-point conversion.
Kerman got just that – as quarterback Sean Chambers connected with Brandon Smith on a 48-yard touchdown pass and Alex Pina punched in the conversion as the Lions upset host Taft (8-3).
Kerman (6-4) heads to Visalia next week to take on No. 1 Central Valley Christian (8-2).
No. 6 Selma 42, No. 11 McLane 21 – Jordan Dominguez ran for 124 yards and four touchdowns, including three in the second half, as the Bears (8-3) had little trouble holding off the visiting Highlanders.
McLane (5-6) tied the score twice, including 21-21 in the third quarter, but couldn’t overcome the Bears’ running game. Selma quarterback Henry Ramirez Jr. added a game-high 158 rushing yards on 23 carries and was 5-of-12 passing for 57 yards.
The Highlanders got on the board via a passing and rushing touchdown from Julian Kelley and a three-yard run from La’Quante Harris.
The Bears travel to No. 3 Washington (7-3), winner of four in a row, in the quarterfinals next week.
No. 7 Exeter 52, No. 10 Liberty-Madera Ranchos 49 – Ryan Buchanan – facing a brisk 46 degrees at Exeter Stadium – drilled the winning field goal from 31-yards out with 5 seconds left in the game as the Monarchs edged the Hawks (6-5) in a first-round thriller.
Exeter (8-3) heads to Delano to play No. 2 Chavez (8-2) in a quarterfinal next week.
No. 7 Mendota 41, No. 10 Bishop 14 – The Aztecs started the playoffs just as they had hoped – and on a strong enough note to forget about losing last week’s regular-season finale.
Running back Erick Segura, brother of 2013 Bee Player of the Year and section career-leading rusher Edgar Segura, ran for a season-best 188 yards, including a 46-yard scoring run, and quarterback Junior Cardenas threw for 161 yards and two touchdowns as Mendota downed Bishop.
A week ago, Mendota had its lowest scoring output of the season in a 14-7 loss to rival Firebaugh with Segura held to just 16 rushing yards.
But the Aztecs got going early against the Broncos, thanks in part to a ground attack that generated 384 yards.
No. 8 Caruthers 37, No. 9 Lindsay 0 – The Blue Raiders recorded their first shutout of the year in their opening-round victory.
Caruthers (7-4) now gets a date with top-seeded Immanuel (7-2), which had a first-round bye. The teams did not meet during the regular season.