CARSON — The old joke goes “How to you get to Carnegie Hall?”
Well, all 10 teams playing in this weekend’s CIF State Bowls have had more than their share of practice, but the final steps in getting to the StubHub Center this weekend probably had 10 variations.
At this point, keep in mind that the fans of Enterprise High, which defeated Manteca to earn a Division 2 bowl berth, had to negotiate a one-way trip of 556 miles – the longest trek in bowl history – to reach today’s game.
It makes Central Catholic’s 330-mile drive south look like a drive to the corner market.
The Raiders have become expert at this trip, since this was their third bowl appearance, and they did it much like a college team would attack a bowl game.
Central Catholic was sent off by bus at 7 a.m. Thursday, with a three-day minute-by-minute itinerary in hand that included five meals, plus a post-game pizza party, a Thursday afternoon walkthrough at Los Angeles Southwest College, a mass, and very little down time.
It’s the planned-to-the-second marching orders of a program well-versed in how to attack this unique football event.
Bakersfield Christian, playing in its first bowl game, took the exact opposite tack. It’s playing this game as a commuter, having left campus for the 128-mile drive exactly six hours before Friday’s 4 p.m. kickoff.
You’d think BCHS was traveling to a South Sequoia League game against Wasco for all the extra trappings involved.
“I thought about going up Thursday and staying the night, but I’m a firm believer in making everything seem normal before this game,” Bakersfield Christian coach Jerald Pierucci said. “It’s just a two-hour drive for us and I like the idea of the kids sleeping in their own beds the night before the game.”
• THE FAKE STUFF IS GONE – For the last two bowl seasons, artificial turf has been installed over the natural surface at the Home Depot Center, since renamed the StubHub Center.
In 2010, heavy rains greased the skids for the mudder-friendly teams – including Escalon – to splash their way to titles, destroying the home soccer pitch of the L.A. Galaxy in the process.
In 2011 and 12, an interlocking panel system of fake turf was put down for the games, and it got rave reviews from the teams who played on it – including soccer teams, who generally prefer the real stuff.
But the two-year contractual run of the turf has passed, with the company responsible for the installation is selling the portable surface. A very fast natural surface remains – at least until the year after rain falls on these games.
These bowl games will be at StubHub again in 2014, then will alternate between north and south sites starting in 2015.
• THE CARR FACTOR – In 2008, Bakersfield Christian went 12-1, won a section title and was hoping to hear its named called for a berth in its first state bowl.
But something stood in the way of the Eagles’ getting the call. Fifteen students.
Bakersfield Christian’s enrollment that year was 514, making it 15 students too large to be considered for the Division 4 bid (which went to St. Margaret’s of San Juan Capistrano) and instead was passed over by Ventura’s St. Bonaventure for the Division 3 bid.
It’s too bad, because it would have given the state’s prep football fans a look at Bakersfield Christian’s senior quarterback, Derek Carr.
“We’ve always put the 2008 team on a pedestal,” Pierucci said “We won the Valley championship and would have won that Division 4 game. Our only loss that season was to Oaks Christian.”
Carr, who will be playing his final college game today when Fresno State takes on USC in the Las Vegas Bowl, put up incredible numbers in his one season at Bakersfield Christian after transferring from Clements High in Sugar Land, Texas.
As a senior, Carr completed 280 of 413 passes for 4,067 yards and 46 touchdowns. Those school records for yards and scores were broken by this year’s starter Brandon Jones, who finished Friday’s game with 4,360 yards and 54 touchdowns, albeit in two more games than Carr played.
The real story here is how close Carr has remained to the Eagles.
“He keeps in close touch with the program and was here earlier this season to talk to the team,” Pierucci said. “Derek was on our sidelines during last year’s section title game.
“In the offseason, we went to the Fresno State passing tournament and he stayed with us the whole time, talking with the kids. He was there specifically to watch and to be involved with us.”
• SWEET 16? – A story in Thursday’s Modesto Bee discussed the physical and mental strain on the players and coaches involved in high school football seasons that stretch out to 15 or 16 games.
Friday’s game made Central Catholic the first program in state history to play 32 games over a two-year span.
Sac-Joaquin Section commissioner Pete Saco, who was the architect of the state bowl games, responded to a request to comment for the story, but did so too late for publication.
Here’s what he had to say:
“When I took the proposal to the (section) board before we took it to the state we had a long discussion about the length of the season,” Saco said. “At that time, the maximum number of games was 15 (the regional bowl round was added in 2012,) and in my mind, if we started playing football for the first time right now, we’d set the regular season at nine games, which is what most states play.
“The topic of length of season has come up, but the high-powered programs, the ones who play the most games, like this set-up.
“We’re the latest state in the country to finish our basketball playoffs and California (along with Texas) have the latest football playoffs. I understand the issues that are raised by this, and they’re all valid questions. But what we’re dealing with here are two issues. The first is the extra games and the second is the kids who want to play winter sports after football. We’ve had discussions about both, but not in-depth.”
Saco went on to say that he’s never received a complaint about the length of the season from any CIF member school, and added that the membership has the power to address the length-of-season issue if it so desires.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2150. Follow him @modestobeek.