There’s nothing better in football than a good, old-fashioned backyard brawl.
And there’ll be one Friday night at Righetti High School when the Warriors host the Pioneer Valley Panthers in the 12th edition of the Battle for the Helmet.
It’s the final time seniors for each school will face off — most of them have been playing with or against each other since they began playing youth football when they were 8 or 9 years old.
Bragging rights are on the line and, for Righetti, there is still an outside shot at getting an at-large bid to the upcoming CIF Southern Section playoffs.
“This luncheon is a great opportunity for us to get together,” said Righetti head coach Ed Herrmann during the annual Battle for the Helmet luncheon Wednesday at Cool Hand Luke’s Restaurant. “Even though all these kids will be lining up across the line from each other, they will be friends for the rest of their lives.”
The teams showed up in style.
Pioneer Valley players all sported matching teal, gray and black argyle sweaters while Righetti’s wore matching purple dress shirts with purple ties.
“It’s a great rivalry,” said Pioneer Valley head coach John Ruiz. “The helmet holds great symbolism for us — one side is our teal, the other is Righetti’s purple. We won it last year. It was a great victory; it was good for the kids. And we want to keep the helmet in Santa Maria.”
The only thing missing from the luncheon was the helmet.
It has been entrusted to Pioneer Valley assistant principal Greg Dickinson — The former Righetti head football coach who moved over to Pioneer Valley to become the Panthers' first head football coach. When he was asked where the helmet was, Dickinson said, "I'm sorry — I forgot it." A response that brought laughs and groans from the crowd.
In what was likely the best game of the series, the 2016 game went into overtime before the Panthers prevailed 20-14. That win gave Pioneer Valley a 6-5 edge over Righetti since the series kicked off during the 2006 season.
“We want to win back the helmet,” said Herrmann. “It’s a fun game because it’s against a crosstown rival, there are playoff implications and a chance to even up our record. There’s a special pride that goes along with winning the helmet on Senior Night.”
It used to be a PAC 7 League game but, since realignment, it’s now a non-league game.
Both teams enter Friday night’s regular season finale at 4-5. Both have completed their league seasons with Pioneer Valley going 1-3 in the Los Padres League and Righetti finishing up at 2-2 in the PAC 5.
“This means everything. It’s my last game at Righetti. We’ve all put in so much work this season and I’d really like to go out with a win,” said Righetti defensive lineman Chad Zimmer. “I’ve grown up with pretty much all these guys. I think Friday night’s game will come down to heart — who wants the win more. They’re a good team, we’ve just got to be ready.”
A Warriors win keeps them in the hunt for the playoffs — it’s an outside shot but the Warriors still have hopes of an at-large invitation.
“There are playoff implications and we have the chance to even our record,” said Herrmann. “We’re still trying to check off items on our list of goals for this season and getting to 5-5 is on the list. Coming from last year’s 1-9 season to 5-5 is a testament to how hard our team, especially our seniors, has worked. I’d really like the seniors to go out with a win.”
The teams match up pretty well.
Righetti quarterback Brandon Giddings and Pioneer Valley quarterback Mathew Garcia are dual-threats — each can run or pass very well.
“Mat has been doing a great job for us. He gives us a shot at winning every game,” said Ruiz. “I tell the boys it’s how you practice. If you practice well, you’ll play well and we’ve had a good week of practice. But Righetti has an explosive offense, too, and a pretty stout defense as well. It’s going to be a good battle.”
The Warriors spread the ball around among several running backs including Damien Robles, Derek Imel, Isaiah Gayfield and Dylan White.
Giddings also has a number of receivers he likes to target: Julian Leon, Jalen Davis, Christian Lee and Caleb Thomas.
For the Panthers, Emmanuel Alcantar and Adrian Garcia are the featured backs with Michael Bourbon, Jaden Reyes and Kenneth Hoobery are three of Garcia’s favorite targets.
“It’s my third time playing in this game,” said Mathew Garcia. “It’s not just another football game — it’s Righetti. Just like when we play Santa Maria, this is for bragging rights for the rest of our lives. I just wish it was game day already. We’ve had enough practice — we’re ready.
“This game means a lot to me. It’s the last time playing with my friends before I leave Pioneer Valley High School. I’ve played against a lot of these guys since youth football. Our plan is to keep the Helmet and go out on a winning note.”
A half dozen players joined their coaches, athletic directors, and school and district officials at Wednesday’s luncheon.
Coach Ruiz brought Mathew Garcia, Bourbon, Reyes, Hoobery, Steven Fuerte and Juan Guzman.
“We’re evenly matched. We’re both 4-5 going in,” said Ruiz. “It’s going to be a good battle. We’ll see who can get to 5-5 and make it and OK season. I wish both of our records were a little bit better but it is what it is.”
Coach Herrmann was joined by White, Zimmer, Jurell Reed, Anthony Rodriguez, Isaiah Roland and Jan Gutierrez.
“We’re prepared for a good battle. Johnny’s going to have his guys ready. I think this will be tight for all four quarters and go down to the wire again,” said Herrmann. “We’re all excited about the game. I think it will be a packed house — a fun night. I would really like to see our seniors go out a winner.”