Central High conquered a huge football hurdle last week, now it faces another.
The Grizzlies (12-1) will travel to face Folsom (14-0) in a state Division 1-AA North bowl game at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The winner advances to the state championship in Sacramento against the South winner between Helix-La Mesa (12-1) and Oaks Christian-Westlake Village (12-2).
Central is coming off a 29-7 victory over Buchanan for the school’s first section title, spanning 87 years.
Now, Central faces a Folsom program that has won six Sac-Joaquin Section championships since 2010 and is making its fifth NorCal title appearance since 2012.
The Central-Folsom matchup is one of six regionals involving Central Section schools. Because the California Interscholastic Federation uses the Central Section as a “flex” to square up the bowl lineup, central San Joaquin Valley schools have a wide variety of opponents.
San Joaquin Memorial gets the longest haul, heading to Southwest-El Centro on Saturday for a 6 p.m. game. Caruthers is going south, too, to play Orange on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Three Tulare County schools are hosting games Friday at 7:30 p.m.: Serra-San Mateo at Tulare Union, Big Bear at Golden West and St. Patrick-St. Vincent-Vallejo at Strathmore.
Central has the most-vaunted opponent. Each of the Bulldogs’ teams that advanced to a NorCal final have come in with a 14-0 record. This year, Folsom steamrolled its section playoffs outscoring opponents 209-65, including a 50-21 victory over St. Mary’s-Stockton 50-21 for the title.
“We want to slow them down as much as we can,” Central coach Kyle Biggs said. “Keep them from making big plays, we know they are going to complete passes, but we need to make the tackle and not let them get yards after the catch.”
Folsom has produced many college stars, most notably current Washington quarterback Jake Browning. This year’s quarterback, junior Kaiden Bennett, is catching attention with a gaudy season stat line: 220 of 326 passing for 3,802 yards and 49 touchdowns against nine interceptions.
Central has already been on the big regional stage this season, losing 49-30 to De La Salle-Concord in a competitive game. De La Salle is playing next week for the state open championship.
Grizzlies senior safety Jaden Williams says the De La Salle loss helped prepare Central for this week’s challenge. “It showed we can hang with the best. Play with the best and no matter who it is, we’re ready to play.”
Senior middle linebacker Jacob Hollins says: “De La Salle helped us realize how physical and competitive a top-tier program is.”
Folsom coach Kris Richardson took note of the De La Salle game, too, telling The Sacramento Bee: “That’s an athletic, talented, really good team, and Fresno football is the real deal, so this will be a great game.”
Tulare Union back in action
Tulare Union was off last week after defeating Dinuba 49-21 in the section Division II title game Nov. 24.
Now the Tribe (13-0) enters the state Division 2-AA playoffs against a Serra-San Mateo team that squeaked past Saint Francis-Mountain View 31-30 in the Central Coast D-II championship. The Padres (11-2) have won 10 straight after losing in Week 3 to Pittsburgh 35-28.
“This is like gravy on top,” Tulare coach Darren Bennett says. “It would be nice to win and go on. It’s been a successful season for us and them.
“There’s no reason to stress out about this game and all you can do is go out and play the best you can and see what happens.”
Memorial meets undefeated team
Southwest-El Centro (13-0) has outscored opponents 561-115, but had its closest game last week in beating Sante Fe Christian 35-28 for the San Diego Section D-III championship and a home game in the state 4-A bracket.
Memorial is coming off a 45-31 win over Tulare Western in the section D-III final.
“The team we play is very methodical,” Memorial coach Anthony Goston says. “They do what they do and they have won many games doing it their way. We match up very well, and if we play our style of football we should be successful.”
Triple-option coming to Visalia
After a season-opening loss to Aquinas-San Bernardino, Big Bear has won 13 straight including a 37-23 victory over Santa Maria for the Southern Section D-12 championship.
Golden West defeated Central Valley Christian 27-21 in overtime in the section D-IV championship.
The teams meet at Groppetti Community Stadium on the Golden West campus in Visalia in a state Division 5-AA semifinal.
“Big Bear runs a triple option offense much like Air Force and Navy,” Golden West coach Paul Preheim says. “Their offense is very disciplined. They will find how you are playing each phase of the option and then attack your technique. We need to play very disciplined.”
Bracket full of Valley teams
The Central Section’s smallest remaining schools are both in Division 6-AA with the prospect of an all-Valley final – if they get past this week’s regionals.
St. Patrick-St. Vincent-Vallejo visits Strathmore again after beating the host Spartans 29-28 last year for the state title. Now they’re both in the North bracket and Strathmore (14-0 after winning a play-in game last week) is looking to avenge the defeat to the Bruins (13-3).
Strathmore coach Jeromy Blackwell says this week’s team slogan is “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.”
“These guys won a league championship and a Valley championship and celebrated, only because they were supposed to,” Blackwell says of his Spartans. “It was like they have unfinished business, Or maybe they are football junkies looking for the next big rush that can only be found with the next big win.”
Caruthers (12-0) drives past the Highway 99 turnoff to Strathmore on its way south to play Orange (12-2) at El Modena High, Orange’s home field. Orange was top-seeded in the Southern Section Division 13 and beat Silver Valley 30-20 in the final. Orange has an enrollment of about 2,000 compared with Caruthers’ 575.
Caruthers is coming off an exciting 49-42 win over Firebaugh for the section D-V championship.
CIF STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
De La Salle (11-1) vs. Mater Dei (14-0) at Hornet Stadium, Sacramento State, Dec. 16, 8 p.m.
North: Central (12-1) at Folsom (14-0), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
South: Helix (12-1) at Oaks Christian (12-2), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
North: Pittsburg (18-2) at Granite Bay (12-2), Saturday, 6 p.m.
South: Paraclete (13-1) at Narbonne (10-3), Saturday, 6 p.m.
North: Serra (11-2) vs. Tulare Union (13-0) at Bob Mathias Stadium, Friday, 7:30 p.m.
South: Cajon (13-1) at Rancho Verde (12-2), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
North: St. Francis, Mountain View (9-4) at Manteca (12-2), Saturday, 6 p.m.
South: Aquinas (14-0) vs. Grace Brethren (12-2) at Moorpark College, Saturday, 6 p.m.
North: Marin Catholic (12-0) at Shasta (11-1), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
South: Quartz Hill (13-1) vs. Bishop Diego (13-1) at Santa Barbara City College, Friday, 7:30 p.m.
North: Sutter (12-1) at Half Moon Bay (13-0), Saturday, 6 p.m.
South: Steele Canyon (10-4) at El Modena (12-2), Saturday, 6 p.m.
North: Placer (12-1) at Salinas (11-2), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
South: Crenshaw (10-3) at El Camino (8-5), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
North: Milpitas (12-1) at Campolindo (10-4), Saturday, 6 p.m.
South: San Joaquin Memorial (11-2) at Southwest EC (13-0), Saturday, 6 p.m.
North: McClymonds (12-0) at East Nicolaus (13-0), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
South: Big Bear (13-1) vs. Golden West (11-2) at Visalia Community Stadium, Friday, 7:30 p.m.
North: Bear River (10-3) at Fortuna (12-2), Saturday, 6 p.m.
South: Monte Vista (8-5) vs. Katella (13-1) at Western HS, Saturday, 6 p.m.
North: St. Patrick-St. Vincent (11-1) at Strathmore (14-0), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
South: Caruthers (12-0) vs. Orange (12-2) at El Modena HS, Friday, 7:30 p.m.
North: Galileo (9-2) at Rio Vista (9-3), Saturday, 6 p.m.
South: Huntington Park (11-3) vs. Vincent Memorial (11-2) at Calexico HS, Saturday, 6 p.m.