At the opportune time, the Central High football team manufactured the momentum it needed.
Shando Lopez’s fumble recovery led to Quali Conley’s 2-yard touchdown run and the top-seeded Grizzlies never looked back to beat No. 3 Liberty-Bakersfield 58-34 Friday.
After going 87 years without a title, the Grizzlies now have won two straight Central Section Division I championships.
“When they tell you it’s harder to repeat than to win the first one, they’re not lying,” Central coach Kyle Biggs said. “We put everything we had every week, we prepare and practice hard. To these kids’ credit, they just didn’t want their season to end and want to keep playing, and our goal is to win state and we got one step closer to that.”
Central will find out who it will play in the Northern California Regionals when matchups are announced on Dec. 2. Last year, the Grizzlies lost to Folsom in regionals.
To no surprise, Trent Tompkins did everything he could to help preserve another victory, notching five touchdown passes and completing 21 of 34 for 410 yards, setting another section record for most passing yards in a single season with 4,490 yards, passing ex-Bakersfield Christian quarterback Braden Wingle, according to section historian Bob Barnett.
“Amazing feeling,” Tompkins. “I’m so proud of my guys. We came out and played great. It’s amazing. I think last year meant more, but this one I feel this was so good because it’s a new team, a senior year ... words can’t even explain it. It’s a great moment.”
The visiting Patriots, who knocked off No. 2 Buchanan in a semifinal, led 34-25 after scoring on the opening drive of the second half.
But Conley’s back-to-back touchdowns helped triggered the come-from-behind victory - the second touchdown giving Central a 38-34 lead.
“It was a team effort,” Conley said. “The team did a good job - offense and defense. We’re just a better second-half team than anybody else. (That fumble) recovery was big. The offense got on the field and went down and scored and everybody was pumped up and we started going.”
Conley called this title bigger than the first one “because we never did back-to-back before” after appearing in the section title game in each of the past three seasons.
Grizzlies wide receiver Manuel Oliver-Davis, who had three touchdown receptions in the second half, echoed his coach’s goal to win state and called the fumble recovery “a game-changing moment.”
“We had to handle our business out here,” he said. “We expected to be out here tonight. It’s what we practice for and came out to do. We just knew our season was on the line - go big or go home.”
When Ricky Correia caused the fumble, Lopez saw the ball on the turf and “I just had to jump on it.”
“I thanked him,” Lopez said. “It wasn’t all me. As we got the fumble recovery I was like, ‘All right, go all out every down.’”
Even Tompkins thought that when the Grizzlies got the turnover, it was going to get his team going.
“I wasn’t worried the whole game,” he said. “Very confident because it was my third Valley game ... not cocky, but just really confident in our play.”