There’s nothing subtle about Matt Johnson’s message as coach of Edison High’s football program, the one that last won a Central Section large-schools title 39 years ago.
For all the school’s talented legacy that includes Tim McDonald, Ricky Manning and Khari McGee, there’s the harsh reality that the Tigers have won but two Division II championships since beating Bullard to complete a 13-0 season for the section Yosemite Division crown in 1975.
So here’s Edison, 9-1 and top seeded in the D-I playoffs entering a quarterfinal game with Centennnial on Friday night at Sunnyside Stadium, and Johnson’s grabbing history by the throat, applying a firm squeeze and releasing a Tigers roar for all the section to hear: “The one thing we talk about here every day — every day — we aspire to be the Bakersfield Drillers. And to do that we’ve got to hang titles, and not D-II. They’ve got to be D-I and put this thing to bed.”
That would be a gut-punching reputation that Johnson —a former eight-year deputy assistant to McDonald, the school’s former coach and All-America player — knows all too well: “That the Tigers will implode, that they’re not disciplined, that they can’t win the big show. That’s my mission, to the day I die, to fight everyone’s opinion of who the Tigers are. That’s the ghost we’re chasing, no doubt about it.”
The Bakersfield scoreboard is, well, off the chart.
Section titles: Drillers, state-record 36; Tigers 5. And that counts the D-II crowns in 2002 and ’09, Yosemite Division (large schools) championships in 1969 and ’75 and something undefined in 1946, when Edison and Taft were crowned kings, according to section historian Bob Barnett.
Bakersfield, the D-I defending champion on both the section and state bowl levels, looms large once again in the opposite bracket of the Tigers.
The third-seeded Drillers (8-2) will host No. 11 Buchanan (3-8), in a forward lean after humbling No. 6 Bullard 35-29 in the first round. The Bakersfield-Bears winner will play the best of No. 7 Clovis West (6-5) and No. 2 Liberty-Bakersfield (8-2), which won the Southwest Yosemite League at 5-0, one game better than the Drillers.
The Edison-Centennial winner will meet No. 5 Clovis (7-4) or No. 4 Clovis North (7-3) in next week’s semis.
Among the D-I quarterfinalists, Edison has defeated Bakersfield (15-14), Buchanan (13-7), Clovis North (21-20) and Clovis West (42-12).
The Tigers have offensive skill unmatched in the section with quarterback Hunter Swearingen, running back Khai Williams, wide receivers A.J. Greeley, Tyler Horton, Kamron Lewis and others. And defense is actually their strength, featuring linemen Xavier Hamilton and Leevel Tatum, linebacker Vance Sams and deep backs Greeley and Horton.
But the kicking game, consistent with history, is a mystery.
And, speaking of history: “I see a group of young men who understand the gravity of the playoffs,” says Johnson, “and against what everyone else is talking about.”
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Returning to familiar turf has obviously agreed with former section coaches Mike Parsons and Tim Murphy.
Parsons, flushed out of Clovis West after last season and a 22-28, four-year record with the Golden Eagles, has private school Modesto Christian and its 190 students 10-1 and thundering in the Sac-Joaquin D-VI playoffs, where the Crusaders are seeded second. Parsons had gone 63-15 with a state title at Modesto Christian before going to CW.
Murphy, after going 82-39 with two section titles and six TRAC championships in 10 years at Clovis East, is 34-4 in three seasons with Clayton Valley Charter of Concord. It was in Concord that he had launched his career successfully at Ygnacio Valley before going to Clovis East.
Clayton Valley, top seeded in the North Coast Section D-II, is 11-0 and averaging 55 points and 463 yards (395 rushing) with Murphy’s signature double-wing attack.
OWENS OUT FOR CW
Clovis West junior wide receiver/defensive back Darian Owens, arguably the top recruit in the section, will not play at Liberty-Bakersfield, and it’s not because of injury, says Eagles Athletic Director Matt Loggins: “It’s a team policy issue.”
Owens has told The Bee he has been offered scholarships by Cal, Oregon, UCLA, USC,Washington and Oklahoma.
CN: DANIEL BACK, SIMONS, TOO
Clovis North defensive tackle Jacob Daniel, a USC commit, will play Friday in only his second game of the season following a hyperextension of his left knee, says Broncos coach Tim Simons. The 6-4, 310-pounder also had ACL knee surgery in the offseason.
Simons, in his second go-round with Clovis North after his induction into the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001, opposes for the second time Clovis, where he delivered 220 wins, five section titles and 11 league championships in 24 seasons from 1976-99.
Simons’ Broncos, with their first senior class, lost 24-21 to Clovis in their inaugural duel in 2010.
“As far as the historical aspect for me coaching against the Cougars, it’s hard for me to comment,” Simons says. “I have great respect for what they’re doing right now, that’s for sure. They have an excellent team, coaching staff and program. But it’s difficult for me to talk about it publicly.”