The start had an eerie feel for Central High, with a visiting Bakersfield Drillers team coming into Koligian Stadium and once again owning the lead.
It was just a year ago that Bakersfield upset Central and denied the Grizzlies of their first Central Section championship.
But that year of growth, particularly from Grizzlies quarterback Trent Tompkins, proved to help Central combat early adversity in Friday’s rematch.
The top-seeded Grizzlies shook off an early big-play touchdown and received four touchdowns from quarterback Trent Tompkins, including a deep scoring strike in the final minutes, to hold off the fifth-seeded Drillers 35-27 in the semifinals of the D-I playoffs.
Central’s final touchdown – Tompkins’ 68-yard touchdown to Avery Boyd with 3:59 remaining – turned out to be the cushion score needed to keep Bakersfield at bay.
Last season, Bakersfield beat Central 21-14 in the D-I championship at Central as Tompkins completed just 15 of 29 passes and threw two interceptions.
Central (11-1) still is seeking its first section crown and returns to the D-I final for the second consecutive season, this time facing No. 2 Buchanan (10-2).
The Grizzlies beat the Bears 28-27 during the regular season thanks to a Tompkins last-second touchdown.
On Friday, Tompkins found Manuel Oliver-Davis for a 37-yard touchdown, connected with Jeremiah Hunter for 9- and 8-yard touchdowns, and threw the scoring strike to Boyd that had placed Central ahead 35-19.