The Santa Maria High School Saints football team won't be alone when they take the field Saturday night for the Southern Section Division 12 championship game against the Big Bear Bears.
On Friday afternoon, hundreds of Santa Maria High School students flooded the Ralph Baldiviez Stadium for a pep rally commemorating fall-season athletes and supporting the Saints in their championship berth.
"All our staff is excited because we realize the magnitude of the game," said Adrian Salazar, activities director at Santa Maria High School. "Some students are very excited, but others are not so much. I think we've experienced enough winning in the last few years that the kids have come to expect them to win."
Their first title match since 1988, Salazar said the news of the Saints' season has resonated throughout the community. The Saints have played in the championship game four times overall, but Saturday's game marks the first time they will host it.
As of Friday afternoon, the Santa Maria High School business office had sold more than 1,300 tickets to Saturday night's game.
"I saw alumni and members of the community come on to campus during the day to buy the tickets," he said. "The community is really behind us."
Senior Saishe Kahae and junior Joanna Rivera shouted and cheered from the stands Friday, as coach Dan Ellington revved up the crowd and introduced his "soon-to-be champion" Saints. A pair of self-professed Saints superfans, the duo have followed the team's season since their loss to crosstown rival Pioneer Valley in late September.
"I wasn't surprised that they won, but was pretty excited," Rivera said.
"I was proud," Kahae added. "I have a lot of close friends on the team who have waited all season for this to happen. Now that it's here, it's pretty exciting."
Oscar and Carlos Rodriguez, one of three sets of twins in the Saints' lineup, said they were anxiously awaiting tomorrow night's game.
"It's the first time we've gone to the CIF championship in three decades," Oscar said. "It put a lot of pressure on the team, but the school and community have been very supportive."
"They're happy for us and believe we can do it," Carlos added. "Walking home after practice, I hear people screaming and cheering us on, telling us they hope we get them."
While he said he has enjoyed the attention and support, Jonathan Ramos, a key wide receiver, said the team still has to fight to stay alive.
"It felt great knowing we would be in the championship this week, but our work isn't done," he said. "We've had a lot of support from students and staff — it's one of the reasons we keep pushing."