There is a reason why football teams in the Tri-River Athletic Conference refer to the first few weeks of the season as “pre-season.”
In their minds, despite the marquee games and thrills that the non-conference schedule occasionally brings, the season does not start until league play starts.
On Friday, Oct. 1, all six TRAC teams will face each other. League play starts, the season starts, and a host of intriguing matchups will follow.
Clovis, Central prepare for rematch
6:30 p.m., Koligian Stadium
The three-time defending Central Section champion Central Grizzlies will host the Clovis Cougars on Friday, six months after they played in a memorable back-and-forth battle at Lamonica Stadium.
Clovis led 21-0 in the first quarter of that warm spring night on March 18, and it seemed like there would be a changing of the guard. Clovis delivered the first punch when Jaden Carrillo returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. However, Central launched the finishing blow with 24 seconds left in the game, as quarterback D.J Stevenson rolled to his left and lofted a 41-yard touchdown pass to a falling Marquise Greene.
Central defeated Clovis, 35-31, in an intense, emotional season opener. Many starters return on both sides, including Clovis quarterback Nate Johnson, who missed most of the March game to cramps.
Running back Tristan Risley became the focal point of the Cougars’ offense when Johnson went down, and he gashed the Grizzlies for two rushing scores.
Central returned the favor with over 300 rushing yards against Clovis. The Grizzlies miss two of their big rushing contributors from last season — Stevenson graduated and running back Aidan Fortenberry transferred.
Yet new Clovis West transfer quarterback Dayton Tafoya has the Central offense rolling through four games. The Grizzlies (4-0) are averaging 45.3 points per game, and Tafoya has passed for 784 yards and 12 touchdowns against six interceptions. His top wide receiver this year is LaDanian Streets, a 6-foot junior who leads the team with 284 receiving yards and four touchdown receptions.
Clovis’ defense has been solid this season, delivering two shutouts against Ridgeview and Whitney-Rocklin. An uneven performance against Bullard in which Clovis surrendered 35 points and multiple big-yardage plays raised questions about whether the Cougars can stop the high-powered offenses in the TRAC. Clovis (4-1) can silence those doubts with a return to its early-season form Friday.
Clovis North, Clovis East meet amid resurgent starts to the season
6:30 p.m., Lamonica Stadium
Clovis East’s 4-1 start is its best since 2006, and Clovis North’s 3-2 start is a breath of fresh air after a 0-3 spring season.
The two teams will meet Friday, looking to keep their hot starts to the season alive, but they approach league play from different places.
The Timberwolves are coming off a loss to Sanger in a game they led 10-0 at halftime. Freshman quarterback Ty Miller displayed his burgeoning talent with a 10-yard rushing touchdown and long completions to his top wide receiver Maddox Merlo, but overall, Clovis East struggled to move the ball in a 14-10 defeat.
Miller will be the X-factor for Clovis East against Clovis North. If the dual-threat quarterback gets in an early rhythm and establishes rapport with Merlo, it could mean a big day for the Timberwolves’ offense.
It won’t come easy against the Broncos, though. Clovis North kept a talented San Joaquin Memorial team to seven points in the first half of the season opener. The Broncos lost that game, 20-0, and dropped a road game to state No. 24 Edison-Huntington Beach the next week. Since then, they have reeled off three wins in a row. The defense played solid football during that stretch, but the other side of the ball is turning heads too.
Clovis North found its identity in the running game. Paul Sharp, McKay Madsen, and Co. spearheaded a rushing attack that scored 48 points against El Diamante and 33 points against Edison-Fresno.
If the Broncos run wild over the Timberwolves, they could stretch their winning streak to four games. The game will be close and physical, with both teams like each other in talent level and rankings; Clovis North is ranked No. 10 in the section according to CalPreps and Clovis East is No. 12.
It would be no surprise if the game is low-scoring, but it likely won’t be 7-6, the final score when Clovis East won in March.
Buchanan and Clovis West meet in TRAC opener
6:30 p.m., Veterans Memorial Stadium
For the second straight season, Buchanan and Clovis West open TRAC play against each other. The Bears (4-1) dominated local opponents during the non-conference slate, outscoring Edison, Bullard, Kingsburg, and Paso Robles by a combined 153-21.
Buchanan also lined up against one of the most talented teams in the state of California, Los Alamitos, and traded blows with the Griffins until the clock ran out on a 34-31 loss.
The defending TRAC champion Bears look like the current favorites to win the conference again, but their title defense starts against a re-energized Clovis West (3-2).
The Golden Eagles defeated Edison, Bullard, and Damonte Ranch of Reno, each time using a mix of playmakers from different classes to get the job done. Sophomore wide receiver/cornerback Marshel Sanders has made highlight plays throughout the season, and his junior brother Markel sealed the Bullard win with an interception returned for a touchdown.
Sophomore wide receivers Jordan Pierro and Landon Wright appear to be favorite targets of quarterbacks Ryan Markarian and Tyler Patrick, both of whom interchange behind center and run the offense equally well. Give senior Trey Carr space on a kickoff or punt return and he’ll take it to the house — he has two return touchdowns so far. In addition, there are multiple senior starters on defense who helped Clovis West to its solid start.
The Buchanan Bears have routed several teams this season, but given the resurgence of the Golden Eagles under first-year head coach Eric Brown, a win to start TRAC play won’t come easy Friday.
Then again, when it comes to the TRAC, is any win ever easy?