There will be so much on the line when the local football teams meet on the field Friday night.
Even though it is only the second week of the league season, the outcomes will go a long way toward a team reaching its goal of making the CIF Southern Section playoffs — or not.
With only four games in the Los Padres and PAC 5 leagues and three in the Northern League, every game is crucial for teams to win a spot in the postseason.
One of this week's key match-ups pits the Pioneer Valley Panthers against the St. Joseph Knights in a Los Padres League battle. And you can watch all of the action live, on Santamariatimes.com starting with our pre-game at 6:45 p.m.
“It’s their homecoming game and the stands are going to be packed,” said Pioneer Valley head coach John Ruiz during Wednesday afternoon’s practice. “When you’re the visitor, it’s never a friendly environment and the crowd will be even louder than usual. It’s going to be a big challenge but I think our kids are up to it.”
The crowd won’t be the biggest challenge.
The Panthers (3-3, 0-1 LPL) have to face a Knights (4-3, 1-0) offense that has racked up 147 points in its last two games — a 70-7 victory over San Luis Obispo and a 77-10 win over Cabrillo.
“It’s really simple,” said Ruiz, “our offense has to click so that we keep their offense off the field.”
That’s easier said than done.
St. Joseph quarterback Dino Maldonado has already passed for more than 2,000 yards (2,007) and 22 touchdowns in the Knights’ first six games. He’s completed 137 of 191 passes, with five interceptions, for an impressive 71.7 completion percentage.
Maldonado has several speedy wide receivers capable of catching deep balls.
Nate Guzman is Maldonado’s favorite target, hitting him 45 times for 604 yards and four touchdowns — the longest a 72-yard strike.
But that’s only third-best among the Knights’ deep threats.
Mason Biely has an 86-yard TD catch on his resume, Joseph Miller has a 72-yard TD catch and Mike Ramirez caught one for 56 yards.
Joe Doud, Marc Rubalcaba, Justin Wong and Jayden Vargas have also caught Maldonado TD passes giving the Knights a formidable receiving corps.
“You can’t forget about our running game,” said St. Joseph’s interim head coach Jim Chvala during Wednesday’s practice. “Jayden is a 1,000-yard rusher and Devin Guggia has more than 200 yards on the year.”
Special teams have also come through for the Knights. Guzman had an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown in last week’s game.
St. Joseph freshman kicker Brock Marcois has hit 21 straight point-after kicks in his last two games.
The Panthers also have a talented offense led by quarterback Mathew Garcia.
While Pioneer Valley’s season stats are unavailable, Garcia has led the Panthers to wins over Santa Maria, Nipomo and San Luis Obispo.
The Panthers are hoping to rebound after a loss last week at Lompoc.
“Mathew is doing great. He is coming off a little injury that he suffered in the Lompoc game so I pulled him early as a precaution but he should be good to go Friday night,” said Ruiz. “Wide receiver Kenneth Hoobery caught a 39-yard touchdown pass from Garcia early in last week’s game and we’re counting on him to have another big game and (running back) Emmanuel Alcantar has to have a good game. We really need to control the ball so our offensive line has to do a good job.
"With games like this, it comes down to execution and who’s going to step up to the challenge.”
Pioneer Valley kicker Edgar Zacarias has hit several big field goals this season including a 36-yard shot in last week’s game.
On defense, the Knights feature many of the same names.
“Biely, Wong and Miller are among our top players that play on both sides of the ball,” said Chvala. “That’s why we use so many receivers. We rotate them on offense. That’s where they can get a breather. It helps keep them fresh.”
“Our defense has a big task ahead of it,” said Ruiz. “Hoobery, Alcantar and Mick Reyes will have to step up in the defensive backfield and our linebackers have to be successful. Maldonado is doing a great job running their offense. They can come at you from so many directions. We just have to keep them off the field.”
“Pioneer Valley is a very good team. They’re well coached and have some really good athletes,” said Chvala. “Every year Pioneer Valley beats a team or two that people think they shouldn’t be able to beat. We don’t want to be one of those teams.”
The game is this week’s Santa Maria Times high school football Game of the Week. Join Sports Editor Joe Bailey for all action on our live webcast at santamariatimes.com. The pregame show begins at 6:45 p.m.