STRATHMORE — If there was ever a game in which the Spartans lived up to their name, this was it.
The Strathmore High football team may have been the undefeated No. 2 seed at 11-0, but it was clear the Spartans were playing up in class against No. 7 seeded Bakersfield Christian in the Valley Division III quarterfinals on Friday at Spartan Stadium.
Bakersfield Christian earned a hard fought 29-19 win against a gutsy Spartan team after SHS took a 19-15 lead early in the third quarter. Because of the new format of the CIF Central Section playoffs in which the seedings were based on MaxPreps rankings, the Spartans were “rewarded” for their success against bigger schools this year by effectively being moved up two divisions. So the Spartans found themselves having to face a team like Bakersfield Christian in the playoffs.
And SHS had to do it without its star running back Carlos Moreno, who was out with a knee injury. But several Spartans were able to step up in Moreno's absence, including quarterback Jaylen Oats and receivers Manuel Andrade and Cael Alkire.
Jacob Poole also took advantage of his chance to shine as given the chance to receive a lot more playing time, he broke off a 68-yard run the first time he touched the ball.
SHS trailed 15-13 at halftime but Strathmore's defense forced a three and out on the Eagles opening possession of the second half and SHS was in business after Andrade made one of his several athletic plays in the game when he beat two defenders to make a 32-yard reception off of a deflection. That set up Oats' 5-yard scoring pass to Andrade. Strathmore failed on the two-point conversion and led 19-15.
But then Bakersfield Christian struck back on a 50-yard pass from Braden Waterman to Dylan Johnson. That set up an 11-yard scoring run by Nathan Perez to give the Eagles a 22-19 lead.
Bakersfield Christian scored on its next drive on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Waterman to Johnson to take a 29-19 lead. Strathmore fought to the end, keeping the Eagles out of the end zone when they drove to the Spartan 2-yard line in the fourth quarter.
Adrian Sierra opened the game for SHS by returning the opening kickoff from his own 15 53 yards to the Eagles 32. But the Spartans couldn't mount any attack and turned the ball over to the Eagles on downs. Bakersfield Christian marched down the field and on fourth and goal at the SHS three, Waterman found Koda Cleveland on a 3-yard scoring pass to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead.
Strathmore, tough, came back to mount a drive on its ensuing possession with Oats scrambling on 15 and 16 yard runs. But the drive stalled at the Eagles 9.
Andrade, though, stripped the ball from an Eagles receiver and Sebastian Gonzalez was there to recover the fumble, giving SHS the ball back at the Eagles 7. On the ensuing play, though, Oats was sacked for an eight yard loss.
But on fourth and goal from the 13, Oats under pressure threw one up into the end zone and even though he was tripped and was falling down, Andrade was able to make the catch in a crowd to tie the game 7-7.
Bakersfield Christian was able to mount a drive on the ensuing possession but the Strathmore defense held and the drive stalled at the Spartan 29. That's when on the next play, Poole broke free on his 68-yard run. On the next play he ran for 10 yards on his second carry to give SHS a first and goal at the 3. That set up Oats 4-yard scoring run to give SHS a 13-7 lead.
Perez looked like he was going to run the ball into the end zone on the Eagles ensuing drive, but Strathmore stripped away the ball again and Gonzalez recovered his second fumble at the SHS 2. But on the next play Strathmore was tackled in the end zone for a safety, making the score 13-9.
The Eagles took the ensuing kickoff and David Bonales scored on a 1-yard run to give Bakersfield Christian a 15-13 lead late in the first half.
Strathmore wasn't content to go into the halftime locker room down by two points and Oats completed a 34-yard pass to Alkire to jump start the Spartans drive. Strathmore made it all the way down to the 1-yard line with 12 seconds left, but with the clock running Oats was forced to throw the ball up for gabs in the end zone and the pass was intercepted.
Waterman completed 17-of-22 passes for 200 yards. Perez gained 128 yards on 18 carries. For Strathmore Oats completed 9-of-20 passes for 159 yards. Andrade caught four passes for 82 yards and Alkire caught four passes four 80-yards. Poole gained 90 yards on eight carries.
In other playoff action on Friday Monache lost at Independence 42-20 and Lindsay lost at Taft 26-14.