“Rivalry Week,” which culminates with rival schools facing off in football games, has come to mean different things to different teams.
First off, every team wants to beat their rival. It’s just that teams are in different stages of their season.
Some have already clinched postseason berths and are wrapping up the regular season, while others are battling for a playoff spot. Some teams are simply looking for bragging rights, others are looking to finish the season on a high note, while others get a rejuvenated experience.
Count South City and El Camino in that last category. For the first time in years, both teams are enjoying successful seasons, which has South City head coach Frank Moro reminiscing about the good ol’ days. He hopes that “The Bell Game” can recapture the glamor and pageantry of times gone by.
“The kids are thinking about it. Even last week, teachers were talking about making signs and going (to the game),” Moro said of the 2 pm kickoff at Clifford Field on the South City campus Saturday.
“There is definitely some (renewed) interest.”
This is Moro’s second go-around with the Warriors’ varsity football team. When he stepped down following the 2014 season, “The Bell Game” was one of the premiere games on the Peninsula.
“We used to have a parade. The team would walk in with ‘The Bell’ (trophy) and the band would follow behind them. You used to get the whole city fired up,” Moro said. “But we haven’t had stuff like that (recently). That’s one of the reasons I came back — to renew the interest (in football) and have the school have a little fun.”
While El Camino has won the last three meetings to even out the rivalry a bit with South City, the San Mateo football team is looked at in the longest losing streak in the nearly 100 years of the “Little Big Game” against Burlingame. The Bearcats last beat the Panthers in 2009 and while this year’s squad has arguably its best chance to snap that streak, San Mateo head coach Jeff Scheller is still wary facing Burlingame at 11 am Saturday in Burlingame.
San Mateo has already qualified for the CCS playoffs based on winning the Ocean Division championship. Win or lose, Burlingame probably has enough points to qualify for the postseason, as well, which makes “The Little Big Game” all about bragging rights.
And as much as Scheller tries to use the old cliché of treating it like any other game, he knows there is more to it than that.
“I know individually, I’ve talked to some of the guys, this is something that is really important to them, but no one is talking about that,” Scheller said.
Scheller believes that the pressure of winning back “The Paw” is greater because it’s been so long since the Bearcats have had the perpetual trophy in the school’s trophy case. He said whenever he runs into San Mateo alumni on the streets, all anyone asks is how the Bearcats did against Burlingame.
But to Scheller, how the team did against Burlingame is no different than how the Bearcats did against any other team on the schedule. But the fact San Mateo has already clinched a playoff spot takes some of the pressure off the game against the Panthers.
“We’re trying to win every game,” Scheller said. “We came up to the Ocean (Division) because we wanted to challenge our program. But when we’re in a division closer to Burlingame, it makes the game more competitive.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum is “The Battle of the Fleas,” the rivalry between the Aragon and Hillsdale. For 22 years, from 1992 to 2013, there was a question if the game was actually a rivalry as the Dons won every matchup for more than two decades.
Hillsdale, however, has won the last four meetings in a row, the longest Knights’ winning streak in the series since they won five in a row from 1969 to 1973.
There is a little extra incentive for both teams this season, as both need to win to shore up their postseason prospects. Despite going 0-5 in Bay Division play this season, the Dons, at 3-6, are right on the cusp of the playoffs, with some prognosticators indicating they are already in.
Hillsdale, at 5-4, definitely needs a win to make the Central Coast Section tournament.
“There is no guarantee (that if we win, we’re in),” said Hillsdale head coach Mike Parodi. “There is a guarantee that if we lose, we ain’t going.
“If we win, we’re fans of six or seven other teams.”
To put in simpler terms — the Knights need to win and then get some help.
“It’s like that old saying, ‘So you’re saying there is a chance,’” Parodi said.
With the added incentive, on top of an already emotional game, Parodi tries not to put too much on the players’ plate. But he knows there is a lot riding on the “Fleas.”
“It’s a Friday night. It’s the last guaranteed Friday night we get, so make the most of it. Have the most fun as you can and please try to win,” Parodi said of the message he’s conveyed to the team.
“This could be it (the end of the season). Let’s make sure it’s not it. You could look at it and say this is a playoff game.”
Some teams, however, are simply wrapping up the regular season as they wait for the start of CCS play. Menlo-Atherton and Woodside abandoned their rivalry after the 2018 season, after playing each other 62 times since 1959. Woodside last won in the series in 2009.
“When I first took over varsity (prior to the 2014 season), our MA games were very competitive. As the year went by, the divide steadily increased and turned into a huge chasm,” Woodside head coach Justin Andrews said. “It had gotten to the point where MA is gearing up for the playoffs … while we’re struggling to get 11 bodies on the field.
“You look at M-A’s schedule, they’re going to play the best in the Bay Area and they end with us. I don’t think it was fair for either of our programs.”
Woodside, which won the PAL Lake Division and qualified for CCS for the first time since that 2009 season, will take on a winless Gunn team in a non-league season finale. MA will get one more test before the playoffs when the Bears face off against PAL De Anza Division champ Los Gatos.
Woodside, however, does get the rivalry experience. It just happens earlier in the season.
“That game (against Sequoia), since my first day here, that was the game,” Andrew said of the rivalry with the Ravens, two schools separated by only a couple of thousands.
“We know Sequoia has a rivalry with Carlmont. We don’t want to interfere with that,” Andrews continued. “So, basically Rob (Poulos, Sequoia head coach) and I… we make sure to schedule each other if we’re not in the same division.
“My understanding is, the Sequoia game has been such a big thing, anyway. While MA was the traditional rivalry, it never seemed to have the same weight with the players and the community.”
Meanwhile, there was a battle for bragging rights in the town of Atherton, with MA, Menlo School and Sacred Heart Prep all facing off in PAL Bay Division action this season. SHP has wrapped up the Atherton championship, having beaten both MA and Menlo this season.
And while MA and Los Gatos is a major game in CCS, Andrews is just happy his team gets to end the season with a game they have a chance of winning.
It’s nice to have a game at the end of the season where we can be competitive,” Andrews said.