Gilroy v Christopher: A battle for Gilroy, for the Bell, for the Division

Ethan Crawford celebrates an interception against Live Oak.

They’ve played the game for seven seasons and it’s always been important, if for no one else than the two teams playing and for the community they played it in.
The Severance Bell is bragging rights, its school pride.
This year, the winner of the Bell could be the winner of the Division.
For the first time in Bell Game history, both teams enter the contest undefeated. Gilroy sits at 5-0, 1-0 after defeating Alisal in the Pacific Division opener two weeks ago.
Christopher sits at 6-0, 2-0 after defeating Pajaro Valley and North Monterey County the last two weeks.
The Mustangs are coming off a bye week.
Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. at Christopher.
“They’re extremely excited. We had a great practice (Monday) and they worked super hard,” said Christopher coach Tim Pierleoni. “We know it’s been there and we talked about not looking ahead, but we finally got to that point.”
Gilroy is in the same boat, but they’ve had longer to think about this game because they had a bye week heading into the Bell Game.
“These guys are anxious,” said Gilroy coach Jubenal Rodriguez. “I almost wish we didn’t have bye, but it was a great to recover from the banging get some extra studying done.”
The night could be one of the biggest games in the history of Gilroy football.
Pierleoni said he’s been around Gilroy football since the late 70s and can only think of two games that might be on the same level: When Gilroy played for a CCS title and when Gilroy beat North Salinas on a 47-yard field goal when Pierleoni played for the Mustangs.
“Gilroy has tremendous players. They deserve a lot of credit,” Pierleoni said. “This town needs to know the kind of young men who are here playing ball. How excited this town should be with the ability of the football players here.”
Rodriguez said this is a game that should get fans and alumni eager to show up to watch.
“Looking at as a fan and not someone involved with it, it’s great for the community. It’s definitely something to be proud of,” Rodriguez said. “If you’re from Gilroy, if you’re a Christopher alum or a Gilroy alum you should be excited especially with the magnitude of what is on the line.”
Just once before, back in 2014, did the Bell Game actually decide a league championship. When Christopher defeated Gilroy in the last game of that season, the Cougars clinched a perfect run in the Pacific Division and edged out Monte Vista Christian for the title.
But this year, all bets are off.
Forget about the fact that Christopher has rung the bell for six years in a row.
Gilroy has not been as good as it is now. Last year was the Mustangs’ first winning season since 2008, which was the last time they were undefeated this late in the season.
Even last year when the Mustangs lost, it was in the season opener and they went on to have one of those special seasons that turned into a CCS semi-finals appearance.
And with Joseph Barnes back for another year and Jon Jon Castro back and Christian Rodriguez added to the mix along with a slew of standouts on both sides of the ball.
Christopher is not too shabby either.
Led by junior quarterback Ben Sanford, the Cougars have been on a redemption tour after two straight seasons of going 2-8 overall.
The Cougars have outscored opponents by an average of 27 points. The only reason that number isn’t higher is because Christopher needed double overtime and a missed PAT to defeat Live Oak in Week 2.
Sanford has thrown for 1,102 yards in just four games.
“He’s a great system manager. He manages the game well and makes throws accurately,” Rodriguez said. “He’s definitely a good player. If we expect to win, we have to slow him down.”
Receivers Jason Scirigione, Cooper Aloha and Joseph Cupp are allowing Sanford to have a diverse set of targets, each catching the ball more than 25 times this season and racking up at least 235 yards.
Add runningback Tyler Davis into the mix and Christopher has a potent offensive lineup for Gilroy to deal with. Perhaps the best lineup since the Mustangs took down Live Oak in Week 3.
The game will likely be decided by who can get its defense off the field quickest and who controls the line of scrimmage.
“The team that wins is team that makes the least amount of mistakes and executes more plays,” Rodriguez said. “The line of scrimmage is going to be everything. We’re going to find out early how game is going to go.”
Gilroy’s line has been its bread and butter so far this season and it’s proven to be stout in late game situations, with all except one of its games needing a second-half push to come away victorious.
The Mustangs have been phenomenal all this season in making second half adjustments that turn close games into routs.
“Every week I look forward to it,” Pierleoni said when asked about the chess match he’s about to play against Gilroy’s coaches. “There are some really good coaches we’ve play against. All those guys are extremely well coached and I’ve seen on film and Gilroy has done an extremely good job making adjustments and making key plays after halftime to win games.”
That will be put to the test as Christopher has put the pedal down in five of its six wins this season.
It was only against Live Oak’s defense that the Cougars struggled to get going offensively to put a game away early.
For Gilroy, it has been grinding teams down with a combination of Barnes and Rodriguez. especially in Gilroy’s game against Alisal where Rodriguez went for more than 120 yards to join Barnes who had just under 150.
“People play football for long tome and still will not play in game of this magnitude,” Rodriguez said. “The kids are very fortunate to experience this type of game that they’re going to experience.”