Only in the new world of the CIF Central Section playoffs could the Strathmore High football team be an undefeated No. 2 seed playing at home — and be the the clear underdog.
But Strathmore coach Jeromy Blackwell also maintains no one should ever sell his team short. So Blackwell believes his 11-0 Spartans has what it takes to take on Bakersfield Christian. Strathmore will host the Eagles in the Division III quarterfinals at 7 p.m. today at Spartan Stadium.
In other playoff action, Monache the No. 14 seed in Division IV, will travel to face No. 6 seed Independence in the quarterfinals while No. 8 seed Lindsay will travel to face No. 1 seed Taft in the Division IV quarterfinals. Kickoff for those games is also 7 p.m. today.
BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN (8-3) AT STRATHMORE (11-0), 7 P.M. TODAY
Because of its success against bigger schools, Strathmore was effectively moved up two divisions in the new playoff format based on MaxPreps rankings. The Spartans have been “rewarded” with a matchup against Bakersfield Christian, the No. 7 seed, which is coming off a 50-6 blowout of No. 10 seed Stockdale in the first round of the playoffs last week.
Strathmore advanced to the quarterfinals with a 21-14 win over Reedley. The Eagles losses this season have come to Central Valley Christian, Division III's No. 1 seed, 30-24, Valley powerhouse Memorial 49-7 and Tulare Union 17-7.
And of course the Spartans will be without star running back Carlos Moreno, who suffered a fractured kneecap in last week's win over Reedley. “The elephant in the room is Carlos is down,” Blackwell said.
But SHS has plenty of weapons to fill the void in running backs Adrian Sierra and Jacob Poole, who should receive more playing time in Moreno's absence.
There's also quarterback Jaylen Oats, who is a dual threat as a runner and passer, who has two outstanding targets in Manuel Andrade and Cael Alkire.
“It creates an opportunity for Adrian Sierra, Jacob Poole, Oats and our passing game,” Blackwell said. He added “they will have to shine as bright” as Moreno. “They will.”
And there's also blocking back Bernie Navarro. “Bernie's probably the most physical fullback we've had since I've been here,” Blackwell said.
Bakersfield Christian is a prolific passing team with the combination of quarterback Braden Waterman and receiver Bryson Waterman. But Blackwell said a key to the game will actually be to stop the Eagles' running game. “We can't give up the big chunk plays,” Blackwell said.
Blackwell said a key to beating Reedley was not giving up any big plays to the Pirates. While Reedley star running back Ryan Warkentin gained 132 yards on 28 carries, they were hard-earned yards and Warkentin never had any really big runs.
Last week's game with Reedley was also a physical one and Blackwell said that should help his team going into today's matchup. “Reedley was probably the most physical team that we played,” he said.
And as always special teams could be a key and Blackwell said he likes how his team matches up as far as his team's special teams are concerned.
Blackwell said Moreno will be out for 3 to 6 weeks. “If we can carry on... Maybe he can make a comeback,” Blackwell said.
MONACHE (5-6) AT INDEPENDENCE (5-6), 7 P.M. TODAY
Independence began the season 0-6 against a brutal schedule but is riding a five-game winning streak and is coming off a 41-7 blowout of No. 11 seed Fowler in the first round of the playoffs last week.
Quarterback Laden Denmark is a dual threat for Independence as he's completed 61 percent of his passes (63-for-103) for 752 yards and six touchdowns and has rushed for 737 yards and nine touchdowns on 126 carries.
Independence has a balanced attack as Evan Peaker has rushed for 1,307 yards and 14 TDS on 197 carries, averaging 6.6 yards a carry.
Monache also has a balanced attack led by quarterback Brysn Hornsby, who Monache coach Shane Focke said had his best game last week against Exeter. The No. 14 seeded Marauders dominated to upset the No. 3 seed Monarchs 25-8.
Monache also received an outstanding effort from running back David Leyva. Among the highlights on defense was Josiah Espinoza, who had a huge game with four interceptions.
Mark Cullwel also caught a touchdown pass from Hornsby to give Monache a 25-0 lead. Among other top targets for Hornsby is tight end Andrew Martinez.
LINDSAY (4-7) AT TAFT (4-4), 7 P.M. TODAY
Taft has had a shortened season due to COVID issues and received a first round bye last week. Lindsay advanced to the quarterfinals with a 13-6 win over Kern Valley.
Quarterback Jackson Berry is another dual threat for Taft as he's thrown for 434 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 526 yards and 11 scores on 63 carries, averaging 8.3 yards a carry.
Lindsay continues to be led by receivers Diego Salas (44 receptions for 538 yards) and Richard Diaz (32 catches for 509 yards).