Year one – all Gilroy High. Year two – all Christopher High. Year three? Take your pick.
The Mustangs and Cougars invade the turf inside Garcia-Elder Sports Complex for the third annual Severance Bowl “Battle for the Bell” tonight, where all bets are off and numbers are tossed right out the window.
“It doesn’t matter what the records are. One of us could be undefeated and it would still mean everything,” said first-year Gilroy High head coach Brian Boyd, who was on the GHS sideline as an assistant for the first two playings of the crosstown clash. “Win or lose this game, they will never forget it.”
Neither team is undefeated. That possibility was wiped out Week 1. Both teams have struggled against bigger, stronger and deeper schools in the Monterey Bay League’s Gabilan Division. The Mustangs are 2-7. The Cougars are 1-8.
So what, says just about everyone involved.
“I don’t think it changes the feel,” said GHS senior lineman Jonathan Aguilar. “I think the intensity will be high, higher maybe. Both teams have been keeping an eye on each other, and since both teams have been doing the same, whoever takes this game will be the ones to be able to say they had the better season.”
Those are Christopher senior lineman Tomas Zamora’s sentiments, too.
“It makes it that much more competitive. We just want to end with a bang, you know, winning the game and putting our losses aside. We didn’t have the season that we wanted and a win would mean everything to us,” said Zamora, who is one of a dozen or so players from both schools to have played in technically the first football game between GHS and CHS – a freshman squad encounter in October of 2009.
“This week of practice is always the hardest one,” Zamora added. “We are just focused on beating Gilroy High. That’s our main concern.”
The two schools’ paths have paralleled the other this season. Both the Mustangs and Cougars were thrown off course by injuries and the like, leaving Boyd and CHS head coach Tim Pierleoni to devise alternate plans.
The journeys of each are also common in the effort delivered Friday nights – effort that hasn’t yielded victories, but instead mutual respect. And with that, this year’s matchup tows with it an extra sense of camaraderie, despite the battle lines that are drawn.
“I truly believe throughout the offseason and during the season, the two teams have been more connected with their struggles,” Pierleoni said. “That has made them a little closer. There is a little more brotherhood than there has been in the past. Which is great. But it’s still a rivalry and it’s going to be a great game.”
The two teams gathered for the annual pre-Bowl meal at CHS on Wednesday night. Other than the food, which really is the main attraction, players and coaches spoke about the importance of playing out the rivalry with dignity.
“These kids know all those kids over there,” Boyd said. “I’ve coached some of them in Pop Warner. Coach Pierleoni and coach (Craig) Martin have been very good to me since I took over. So, do I have friendships over there, do I care about those kids over there? Yes. But come Friday night, they are on one side and we are on the other. That’s where the line is drawn. All that ends.”
At stake is the 137-year-old Severance Bell, which has been proudly displayed in the CHS Administration building for the last year after the Cougars 63-34 triumph. GHS has claim to the first Severance Bowl victory – a 40-17 result in 2010.
“We have been looking forward to this game since the beginning of this season. We are focused. It has to be done. It will erase all of our mistakes during the season. It’s what we are pushing for,” said junior Jose Salazar, who is expected to start at quarterback for GHS. “It means a lot. The kids at school tell me they want to ring the bell. I want this win. It would mean a lot to the seniors.”
Though connected by hardships, the two are still divided by loyalty to its own school and pushed apart further by the desire for the same reward. “Want” has been the word floated around the most at practices this week. The Mustangs and Cougars want to win, and want to win big. Nobody wants to lose. Players have voiced their predictions all week, most banking on their team prevailing by multiple touchdowns. But Boyd and Pierleoni said that turnovers – the thorn in the side of both teams this season – will play a major role in deciding the destiny of their respective teams.
“I think we matchup well. I think whoever doesn’t turn the ball over is going to come out on top,” Boyd said. “The boys want to bring the bell back here. We have had it now they have it and its time to get it back.”
Said Pierleoni, “The turnover battle will be huge. Whoever wins that probably has the leg up. They are working their rear ends off just like we are. They are thinking the same way. They know what to expect, as we do. I’m excited.”
Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. but fans are encouraged to arrive early. A GHS Senior Night ceremony is scheduled as well as a special guest that will make its way to the field.
“Now that this is the third year and we have both won it once, now things look pretty even up to me, I think it’s going to be a dog fight to the very end. It’s a special game. It will be that way, hopefully, forever, no matter what your record is, who you’ve played or where you’re at at that moment,” Pierleoni said. “This game will always be the one that can make or break your season.”
• GHS sophomore lineman Darius Alexander-Jones: I want to perform better for the crowd and play 120-percent. I try not to talk to much trash and let it play out on the field and see what happens on Friday night. A win will turn the losing season into a winning one. We need to come out hard and fast and hit them early. We need to shut them down early and get a lead.
• GHS senior running back Jared York: Honestly, I just think, with the way this season has been, it’s all we have been looking forward to all year. It’s what we have been striving for and I think that everyone is going to go out and give it their all.
• CHS senior quarterback Joel Jimenez: I think all year you wait for this game. It is easy to get jacked up for it. You know everybody. We see them over the weekends and check in on how they are doing. You have to come to play. It’s a rivalry. You dont have to worry about the last nine games. You have to just suit up and play. Everybody will be watching.
• CHS senior lineman Tomas Zamora: We have come together as a team. We have learned from our mistakes and we have to trust in each other.
Offensive stars – Christopher High: Rayshon Mills – WR/RB – 52 catches, 561 yards two TDs; 52 carries, 291 yards, five TDs; Gilroy High: Brendan Holler – WR – 26 catches, 530 yards, eight TDs
Defensive studs – Christopher High: Jacob Moen – LB – 149 tackels; Gilroy High: Joe Madolora – LB – (no stats available)
Wild card – Christopher High: QB – Matt Adamkiewicz; Gilroy High: K/CB – Alex Vega