San Mateo coach Jeff Scheller admitted he used to enjoy all the festivities leading up to the Little Big Game against Burlingame.
Now, he just wants Saturday to get here already.
“Distraction. If I had to use one word, distraction,” Scheller said, explaining what the final Friday before the showdown with the Panthers is like. “I used to really enjoy all this stuff. Now I’m finding it harder and harder to keep the guys focused.”
Burlingame coach John Philipopoulos is in the same boat.
“It’s been crazy. All the kids are really wound up at school,” Philipopoulos said. “It’s hectic, but it’s fun.”
Because of the frenzy of activities that culminated Friday with energized pep rallies at both schools, Scheller said he didn’t even hold practice Friday, instead going extra long Thursday, knowing his team will be so geeked up with Friday’s pep rally and all the final touches that he decided not to even try to get the team to focus on a Friday afternoon practice.
“You don’t ever have to get these guys up for the Little Big Game,” Scheller said.
Saturday is the 86th annual meeting between San Mateo and Burlingame with the Panthers holding a 49-32-4 advantage.
The Panthers have dominated the series over the last 12 years, having won 10 times. San Mateo’s last win was in 2009.
Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. in San Mateo.
For Scheller, the losing is getting old.
“It’s getting frustrating for me. I’ve been here for eight years. I won in 2009 and should have won the next year, too … but that’s the way it is,” Scheller said.
Don’t expect Philipopoulos to have any sympathy for his colleague. Burlingame will go into this game believing it has lost 10 of the last 12 games.
“I’m not foolish enough to think we’re going to roll in there and they’re just going to roll over for us,” Philipopoulos said.
Unlike previous years, however, this could be the year when the two teams mirror each other, especially on the offensive sides. A lot has been made about Burlingame’s three-headed rushing attack — and rightly so. Manase Palu, Keone Keahi and Robby Baumgarten give the Panthers a triumvirate virtually unmatched by anyone in the Peninsula Athletic League.
“Those running backs are really good and they’re fluid,” Scheller said. “They execute well.”
At the beginning of the season, San Mateo was poised to rely on the solid — but slim — shoulders of running back Line Latu, but an injury midway through the season took away the Bearcats’ biggest threat.
Instead of shutting down the offense, Scheller had two other backs step up in Watson Filikitonga and Finau Hafoka, who have combined for nearly 1,000 yards this season.
“They have two or three outstanding running backs who are downhill runners,” Philipopoulos said. “You watch tape of them and all you see are guys bouncing off of them.”
With Latu expected to return Saturday, suddenly the Bearcats have their own trio of backs with which Burlingame must contend.
Scheller believes having Latu go down might have actually been the best thing for his team.
“If [Latu] is in, my play calling is different and they (Filikitonga and Hafoka) don’t get a lot of carries,” Scheller said.
In a game like the Little Big Game, both teams are looking for any advantage they can. Scheller is playing up the David versus Goliath angle for his team, as well as the fact all the pressure is on Burlingame, which is looking to finish off the regular season with a perfect 10-0 record.
“The way we’re looking at it, we have nothing to lose. Going undefeated is pretty hard,” Scheller said. “We could surprise some people.”
Scheller is hoping Burlingame’s dearth of nail-biting games could come into play. He hopes if his Bearcats can keep it close, they can pull it out late.
“There hasn’t been one game where we’ve been able to kick back,” Scheller said. “Run-wise, they have a more effective three guys because they’ve played more games, but they haven’t had to play full games. We’ve been in a lot of games in the first half. It’s the second half that has killed us.”
Philipopoulos, meanwhile, hopes his team really understands the magnitude of the Little Big Game. He drove home the point to the team after practice Friday about preparing for Saturday the right way.
“I don’t think any of my guys are foolish enough to do anything silly (Friday night),” Philipopoulos said. “But even staying up until 1 a.m. playing video games is not smart. Go to dinner, eat right, get home at decent hour. Make sure you’re dialed (in Saturday morning).
“The kids don’t realize how big the moment is until the moment is gone. I want them to enjoy the experience.”