Staring a 21-7 deficit in the face, Bakersfield Christian High junior quarterback Braden Wingle went to work.
Wingle didn’t stop, even after the Eagles took the lead and he topped 400 yards passing. Five touchdown passes later, Wingle and Bakersfield Christian had held on for a 41-35 win over Memorial that sends the top seed into the Central Section Division III final against No. 2 Tulare Western.
“Our team just kept on fighting,” Wingle told the Bakersfield Californian. “We had some big mistakes early on, but we started to pick up blitzes, I started seeing the field better and that was it.”
Three of the touchdowns went to Jeremiah Foster, who also intercepted three passes. Wingle finished 25 of 45 for a career-high 487 yards with one interception, while Foster had nine catches for 164 yards. Three Eagles receivers in all topped 100 yards.
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“He’s big-time,” Bakersfield Christian coach Darren Carr said of Foster. “He had a fire in him tonight, and that’s good to see.”
Fifth-seeded Memorial (7-6) had it going early, as scoring runs of 4 yards by Alec Trujillo and 2 by Demarcus Wilson made it 14-0 with 4:19 to play in the first quarter.
Wingle hit Foster for a 10-yard scoring pass in the second quarter, but Dashawn Holliman’s 2-yard run allowed the Panthers to rebuild the lead to 14. Two bad punt snaps set up short fields of 11 and 2 yards for Memorial.
Bakersfield Christian (11-1), however, needed just 63 seconds to pull within 21-14, as Wingle threw 39 yards to Alex Wallace with 1:06 to go until halftime.
Brock Holloway’s 15-yard run tied it with 8:31 to go in the third. Five plays after Foster’s second interception of the night, it was Wingle-to-Foster for 37 yards and a 28-21 Bakersfield Christian lead with 6:15 left in the quarter.
Memorial missed a 20-yard field goal and Wingle and Co. made it a 27-0 run on an 80-yard pass to Stephen Figures.
Wilson’s 80-yard run finally got the Panthers back on the scoreboard and within 34-28 with 1:06 remaining in the third, but it was Wingle and Foster again, this time from 20 yards, with 7:43 remaining in the game.
Turnovers continued to plague Memorial, as Jordan Smith picked off one pass and Foster added his third interception with 4:15 to go. Alec Trujillo’s 32-yard pass to Michael Alvarez with 12 seconds remaining accounted for the final score.
Wilson rushed for 179 yards on 19 carries and Alvarez caught four passes for 108.
It is the first trip back to the section finals for Bakersfield Christian since 2013, when the Eagles advanced to the CIF State D-IV championship game. They have won 11 consecutive games since losing to Garces in the opener.
“This is huge,” Carr said. “It’s massive, man. That start was worrisome. But the kids battled back and finished strong.”
Tulare Western 39, Hanford 16 – Mason Bernardo had a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs and the second-seeded Mustangs (9-3) scored a pair of second-quarter safeties to speed just the school’s second trip to a section championship.
Andre Aguilar was a workmanlike 14 of 21 for 192 yards and two touchdowns through the air and also threw a pair of conversion passes. He capped the scoring with a 15-yard TD run.
Two-time defending section D-III champion and reigning state Division IV-AA champ Bullpups overcame the opening week loss of Bee Player of the Year and San Jose State-bound quarterback Ryan Johnson to reach the semifinals as the No. 3 seed, but saw 1,200-yard rusher Jordan Perryman held to 62 yards on seven carries.
Perryman did run for a 68-yard TD to pull the Bullpups (7-5) within 14-7 in the first quarter, but other than a safety of their own they did not score again until Perryman caught a 43-yard pass from Theron Dutra in the fourth quarter.
In the Mustangs’ only other trip to the finals, top-seeded East Bakersfield beat No. 2 Tulare Western 30-22 for the Division II championship in December 2004.
Ridgeview 46, El Diamante 14 – The sixth-seeded Wolf Pack signaled early that they were headed back to their fifth straight section final, as Jamar Moya scored on a pair of 30-plus-yard touchdown runs in the first quarter while the defense held the Miners to minus-9 yards in pitching a first-half shutout.
Two-time defending D-II champ Ridgeview (7-5), helped by three El Diamante fumbles, racked up 243 yards of offense in taking a 26-0 halftime lead en route to rolling into next week’s final at top-seeded Sanger. The Wolf Pack lost in the D-III final in 2011, were D-III champs in 2012 and runner-up as the sixth seed in that division in 2013 before being promoted under the section’s competitive-equity-based realignment.
Moya added his third touchdown run on the third play of the fourth quarter. El Diamante’s DeVonte Freeman countered with a 47-yard run as Ridgeview substituted liberally, but by then it was 33-7 with 4:45 to play. Wolf Pack freshman Alijah Alexander-Williams had touchdown runs of 1 and 45 yards in the second and fourth quarters, respectively.
The seventh-seeded Miners (6-6) saw their late-season resurgence halted, having won 3 of 4 to close the regular season and beating No. 2 Garces 29-28 in the quarterfinals.
Mendota 50, Sierra 14 – Marquez Navarro’s 18-yard run opened the scoring in the first quarter, Navarro added a 55-yard scoring dash and Junior Cardenas threw for four touchdowns as the top-seeded Aztecs (12-0) cruised to their fifth section final berth in six seasons.
The fourth-seeded Chieftains (7-6) had a chance to seize momentum in the second quarter, recovering the ensuing onside kick after their only score – a 63-yard pass from Cole Meininger to Tristan Wilson – cut the deficit to 14-7. But an interception ended that threat and on the next play Navarro broke off his long TD.
Two of Cardenas’ scoring passes went to Fabian Jasso, including a 57-yarder early in the third quarter to make it 28-7. Cardenas completed 12 of 14 attempts for 287 yards. Jasso had seven catches for 181.
Firebaugh 37, Yosemite 20 – The third-seeded Eagles (11-2) earned another shot at West Sierra League rival Mendota behind four touchdown passes from Noey Garcia while beating the upstart Badgers, who were back in the playoffs for first time since 2011 and reached the semifinals for the first time since 2008.
Garcia threw touchdowns to Tyler Palmer, Andrew Rodriguez, Oscar Revis and Brian Lopez, whose interception at the Firebaugh 35-yard line with roughly 6 minutes left with the Eagles up 17 points essentially sealed the outcome.
It was (almost) all Mendota in the Oct. 14 regular-season meeting. The Eagles jumped to a 14-0 lead, then didn’t score again until the fourth quarter of a 58-20 victory for the Aztecs.
Tenth-seeded Yosemite, which received three touchdown passes from Tristan Eames to Cannon Eames, finished 9-4.
Strathmore 26, Riverdale 20 – Joseph Garcia rushed for three touchdowns and Nick Salas threw a 24-yard go-ahead touchdown to Amando Rodriguez as the top-seeded Spartans held off the No. 4 Cowboys and remain undefeated headed into next week's championship.
Garcia rushed for two first-half scores, but each was answered by Mitchell Maggini touchdown passes to Gabriel Garza as Riverdale (8-4) took a 14-12 lead at halftime.
After Salas' TD pass made it 19-14 in the third quarter, Garcia made it 26-14 with his third touchdown of the night in the fourth.
Riverdale pulled back within a possession as Adam Sierra connected with Ray Vindiola for a touchdown, but Strathmore (12-0) recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock.
Sierra Pacific-Hanford 40, Kennedy-Delano 21 – Miguel Wharton rushed for three touchdowns and the No. 2-seeded Golden Bears pulled away from the No. 3 Thunderbirds at Neighbor Bowl to advance to the first title game in the program's six-year history.
After trading scores to start the game, Sierra Pacific (8-4) took control of the game with four unanswered touchdowns spanning the second and fourth quarters. Will Springer threw two touchdown passes to Hayden Costa during the 27-point outburst – including a 69-yard hookup that put Sierra Pacific up 19-14 at halftime – and Wharton added his second and third touchdowns of the night.
The Bears’ Phillips Jackson returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, but two-time defending division champ Kennedy (6-6) answered with a scoring run by Patrick Orque to tie it. Wharton's first touchdown run put Sierra Pacific back in front to close the opening quarter, but Devon Lee’s touchdown run gave Kennedy a short-lived lead at 14-13.
This roundup is compiled by reports from staff, area schools and the Bakersfield Californian. Coaches: Include your team’s score and highlights by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.