The Central High football team has a season-long motto: Unfinished business.
It’s a constant reminder for the Grizzlies who fell short of a Central Section Division I championship last season – at home, no less – in a 21-14 loss to Bakersfield.
“It’s a motto since the beginning of spring practice,” Central junior quarterback Trent Tompkins said. “Right when we hit the field, everything has been unfinished business in the weight room to on the field.”
Central plays host to Buchanan on Friday night, one of four section football championship games this week. Also scheduled is San Joaquin Memorial at Tulare Western in D-III, Central Valley Christian at Golden West in D-IV and Firebaugh at Caruthers in D-V.
Also Friday night, D-VI champion Strathmore goes to Hilmar of the Sac-Joaquin Section in a North Region Division 6AA play-in game.
The other Friday night winners plus D-II champion Tulare Union (which wrapped up its title last week in a shortened bracket) will learn their regional fate Sunday afternoon when the California Interscholastic Federation announces pairings.
Central is in the midst of a rematch run through the playoffs.
The Grizzlies beat Bullard for the second time this season, 35-7 in the quarterfinals. Then Central (11-1) exacted revenge on Bakersfield in last week’s 35-27 semifinal win.
Now the Grizzlies and Buchanan (10-2) meet. On Oct. 6, Central won 28-27 on Trent Tompkins’ 23-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Torrez in the waning seconds.
Kickoff Friday is set for 7 p.m. at Deran Koligian Stadium.
Central – Top-seeded Central is seeking its first section title in the 87-year history of the program, according to section historian Bob Barnett, while Buchanan has one when Bears coach Matt Giordano helped his 2000 team to a title as a player.
Last season, Central had won 11 straight and led Bakersfield 7-0 at halftime before falling in the title game. Tompkins threw two interceptions – one that led to a Drillers touchdown for a 21-14 lead late in the fourth quarter.
“The whole offseason was just really a reminder of not winning,” Tompkins said. “That ache in your heart of not winning the first Valley championship for Central has been around me every single workout, every single throw has been weighing on me.
“I just learned not to force the ball. Learn to take what the defense gives me and just be patient.”
Torrez, the senior wide receiver who caught the game-winner against Buchanan in October, said his team learned valuable lessons both in last season’s loss and in this year’s big game against Buchanan.
“Everyone has to do their job and trust each other,” he said. “Just play with confidence and have fun. We have to clean up those mistakes in the first game.”
Grizzlies coach Kyle Biggs is 22-3 in two seasons at Central, where the program really found its legs this decade under the late coach Justin Garza, who died in February after a six-year battle with cancer. Garza, who is honored at Deran Koligian Stadium with a memorial unveiled at the season-opener, coached the Grizzlies 2012-15, leading Central to a D-I runner-up finish in his first season and a co-Tri-River Athletic Conference title in 2013.
Biggs came to Central from Fowler, where he went 16-7 in two seasons.
Buchanan – The third-seeded Bears are winners of five straight, including a 30-28 victory over No. 2 Clovis West in the section semifinals.
“They are great team, very well-coached,” Grizzlies coach Kyle Biggs said. “Play very physical and fly to the ball on defense. We just want to play our game, do our job and do the little things right. We will be dialed in and ready for a great game on Friday night.”
Giordano (2 seasons, 17-7) said of the October meeting, “There was a lot of learning.”
His Bears “gotta buy into the things they learned and hopefully play well Friday night,” Giordano said. “Our kids are thankful and excited to be in the game. We know we have a very tough opponent in Central. They’re a very good team and we got to make sure we prepare well all week and have our ‘A’ game Friday night.”
Here’s a look at Friday’s other championship games (records courtesy Bob Barnett):
D-II: Memorial at Tulare Western
Top-seeded Tulare Western hosts No. 2 Memorial at Bob Mathias Stadium.
The Mustangs (11-1) defeated Tehachapi 38-7 to advance to the title game, while the Panthers (10-2) rolled to a 49-7 victory over Bakersfield Christian.
Last season, the Mustangs advanced to the D-III title game and lost to Bakersfield Christian 53-19.
Memorial – “It’s a very good matchup between two teams that have been grinding for this moment over the last few years,” said coach Anthony Goston (14 seasons, 105-63). “I respect how hard Tulare Western plays and what they do to put their guys in position to have success. I have been preaching to my players how important it is to take advantage of the opportunity because being in this position is very difficult and should not be taken for granted.”
Tulare Western – Coach Ryan Rocha (5 seasons, 43-17) calls 2017 the “Redemption Tour. We have a really good senior group this year. There’s a dozen of them that played on varsity since their sophomore year. They got a lot of wins and tough losses under their belt, and experience. It’s about their moment right now.”
Last meeting – Memorial defeated Tulare Western 35-26 in the 2015 section semifinals before falling to Hanford 42-28 in the D-III championship.
Section titles – Memorial six (1953, 1972, 1974 Sequoia Division, 1991, 1994 Sequoia Large, 2003 Sequoia Small), Tulare Western none.
D-IV: CVC at Golden West
It is an all Visalia-area school title game at Groppetti Stadium between No. 2 Central Valley Christian and top seed Golden West.
The Trailblazers (10-2) dispatched No. 4 Kerman 31-19. The Cavaliers (10-2) routed No. 6 North Bakersfield 57-16.
Golden West suffered heartbreak last season in the playoffs when Chowchilla scored on a wild final play for a 26-24 semifinal victory.
Golden West – Coach Paul Preheim (7 seasons, 36-40) said of last year’s semifinal loss, “We thought about that a ton. We got part 1 done and we’re in the (championship) game and have to handle our business. This team has worked very hard. To lose in the final seconds (last season) … they don’t want that to happen again. The people coming back really want this really bad.”
Central Valley Christian – Coach Mason Hughes (9 seasons, 53-47) said he’s focusing on the Trailblazers’ skill players. “They’re really fast and disciplined. It’s going to be a great game. Our kids are ready to play and so are they. It’s been really exciting and it’s a big deal for the Visalia schools.”
Last meeting – Golden West beat CVC 42-24 in last year’s quarterfinals.
Section titles – Golden West none, CVC four (1999, 2003 Sierra Division, 2004, 2005 Division V).
D-V: Firebaugh at Caruthers
Top-seeded Caruthers had little trouble against the second-seeded Eagles in a 42-7 non-league victory on Sept. 22.
Firebaugh (10-2) hasn’t given up more than 25 points since. In contrast, Caruthers (11-0) is averaging 46.9 points per game.
Firebaugh – Coach Dejon Kelly is 21-5 in two seasons and is in his second straight D-V final. Last year, Firebaugh lost to Mendota 50-22 in the D-V final. “There’s a lot of players that have been there before,” Kelly said. “We have to live in the moment and don’t be nervous because we’ve been in this situation before. So far, the kids have responded to that. We can learn from that experience” reaching last year’s final.
Caruthers – Coach Brandon Ward (3 seasons, 25-9) said the Blue Raiders are taking the undefeated season in stride. “It’s business as usual. They’re really excited as we all are. We go in each and every week with our goal is to prepare and get things ready to go and go 1-0. Obviously, there’s a big prize at the end of this week. We have our plan and our routine and we’re not changing anything up and do anything special. We knew we had a special group and you never know how that is going to pan out. When we beat Firebaugh (earlier this year) the coaching staff looked at each other and said, ‘OK, we’re pretty good.’”
Section titles – Caruthers five (1974, 1979, 1990, 1995 Sierra Division, 2006 Division V), Firebaugh one (1994 Sierra Division).
The High School Sports Network will webcast the title games. The price is $9.95 through the NFHS Network.
Central Section playoffs
All finals scheduled for 7 p.m.
Dec. 1 championship
No. 3 Buchanan at No. 1 Central
No. 1 Tulare Union 49, No. 2 Dinuba 21
Dec. 1 championship
No. 2 Memorial vs. No. 1 Tulare Western (Bob Mathias Stadium)
Dec. 1 championship
No. 2 Central Valley Christian at No. 1 Golden West
Dec. 1 championship
No. 3 Firebaugh at No. 1 Caruthers
No. 1 Strathmore 42, No. 2 Rosamond 32
No. 1 Fresno Christian 28, No. 2 Trona 0
6AA CIF North Regional Play-in
Strathmore at Hilmar, Friday, 7:30 p.m.