It was somewhat uncertain how the Mission Prep football team would match up with Bakersfield Christian on Friday night.
On one hand, the Royals, the No. 8 seed in the CIF-Central Section Division V playoffs, entered with four more wins than the ninth-seeded Eagles. But on the other, many of Bakersfield Christian’s losses came to small-school powers from the Division III and IV ranks, and the Eagles had 12 more players than Mission Prep — many of them bigger than their counterparts.
Ultimately, though, the first-round matchup turned out like most other Mission Prep games this year: the Royals’ opportunistic defense collected turnovers, and Kevin Laird did just about anything he wanted offensively.
It resulted in a 13-8 Mission Prep win on a rain-soaked field.
“It’s great for us,” Royals linebacker John Sansone said. “To get this win means a lot.”
The Royals advanced to visit top-seeded Corcoran, which had a bye, in the quarterfinals. It will be a rematch of a playoff game last year, which Corcoran won 49-10.
“We’re going to go to their place and try to make up for last year,” Sansone said. “We can’t look back now.”
Laird, an all-San Luis Obispo County receiver last year, took over as the Royals’ full-time quarterback at midseason. He had both of the Royals’ touchdowns Friday.
He opened the scoring by breaking free down the right sideline, zig-zagging around would-be tacklers for a 61-yard touchdown run with 3:51 remaining in the opening quarter.
“It was designed to go to the left, but I saw a break to the right, I took it and went all the way,” Laird said.
Then Mission Prep (8-3) reached into its bag of tricks. Early in the fourth, the Royals split Laird out wide, and backup signal-caller Jedd Hasay launched a 57-yard bomb to Laird to push the lead to 13-0 with 11:01 remaining in regulation.
“That was designed to catch them off-guard,” Laird said. “It was basically a sneak attack, and we got them with it.”
Laird, who also saw looks at receiver on a fake punt and on a hook-and-ladder, ran for 160 yards and the score on 20 carries, was 7-of-15 passing for 60 yards with an interception and caught two passes for 86 yards and the touchdown.
Bakersfield Christian (3-8) threw a scare into the Royals late, as quarterback James Haupte got in the end zone on a 6-yard run with 3:03 remaining before the Eagles punched in a two-point conversion and then recovered an onside kick. The Eagles’ lone score was set up by a Mission Prep fumble inside the red zone.
“We made some mistakes, but so did they,” Mission Prep coach Brady Lock said. “It was a wet night, and stuff like that happens.”
Mission Prep’s defense, however, held down the stretch, forcing a turnover on downs that effectively ended the game. It was a fitting end to the contest, as the Royals’ secondary troubled Haupte for the duration, forcing him into a 4-of-17, 36-yard, one-interception night.
Bakersfield Christian lost three fumbles, as well, as both teams at times struggled to hold on to the ball in the drizzly conditions.
“From the start, our defense controlled it,” said Laird, who also plays safety and entered the game leading the entire Central Section in interceptions with 10. “You could see early in the game with the fumbles that the rain was going to have a big role.”
Sansone had an interception and a fumble recovery before the break.
Mission Prep, which started the year 2-3 before winning the East Sierra League title outright with a 5-0 finish, held Bakersfield Christian to just 200 yards total.
“I’m just glad that we’ve persevered,” Lock said. “This team has never hung its head all year.”