“I think the rivalry games are great for the school, great for the community. [Alumni and the community] still care the same way they used to.”
So said Burlingame head football coach John Philipopoulos, who prepares for his 19th showdown with San Mateo.
The “Little Big Game,” being played for the 92nd time, may be the granddaddy of San Mateo County rivalries, but there will be excitement up and down Peninsula as most every school in the Peninsula Athletic League will use the 10th — and final — week of the regular season to play their rival, many of which have been played for 50-plus years.
In North County, “The Battle of the Strip” pits Mills against Capuchino. The two San Mateo schools on Alameda de las Pulgas — Hillsdale and Aragon — will compete in “The Battle of the Fleas.” Sequoia and Carlmont will vie for the “Terremere Trophy,” while Atherton neighbors Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo School will battle for bragging rights in the “Valpo Bowl.” On the coast, Half Moon Bay and Terra Nova will knock heads in “The Skull Game,” while South City’s two squads, El Camino at South City, face off in “The Bell Game.”
But has the shine worn off the rivalry games? There is one rivalry matchup, Menlo-Atherton and Woodside, that was scrapped this season because of the disparity of programs. M-A is the two-time defending PAL Bay Division and reigning state champion. Woodside has to forfeit a game earlier this season for safety reasons. M-A and Woodside have played each other since 1959, a series the Wildcats actually lead, 32-28, despite the Bears’ nine-year winning streak.
But the question of the importance of rivalry games depends on which side of the ledger one sits. So if Philipopoulos seems less than ecstatic, you certainly can’t blame him. When you’ve been on the winning end of 16 of the last 18 games against the Bearcats, there is no real urgency on the rivalry front.
However, if you’re his San Mateo counterpart, Jeff Scheller, there is absolute urgency to win this game. The Bearcats haven’t beaten the Panthers since a Hail Mary was answered in 2009. Since then, Burlingame has won close games and blowouts — but at the end of the day, the Panthers have won 20 of the last 22 in the series.
“[There is] always a talk (with the team), ‘Are you the year? Are you the team (to beat Burlingame)?’” Scheller said.
This year is as good a chance as any in the last decade the Bearcats can knock off the Panthers. San Mateo comes in with an 8-1 record and has already beaten Hillsdale and Aragon.
“This is probably the best team they’ve had since the last time they beat us, 2009,” Philipopoulos said.
But if the hype surrounding the game isn’t enough to get the Panthers’ juices going, there is always the fact they need to win to finish the season with a 5-5 record, which gives them a shot to make the playoffs.
“If we win, I think we’re in (to the CCS playoffs),” Philipopoulos said.
But it takes this drama for a rivalry to flourish and it’s this kind of competitiveness up and down the Peninsula that should make this one of the more exciting Rivalry Weeks in recent years. Hillsdale, which had lost 22 straight to Aragon before beating the Dons in 2014, beat Aragon again last year, 14-13, and are a heavy favorite going into Friday night’s game. Capuchino has beaten Mills five straight times, but the Vikings have been resurgent under first-year coach Kevin Thorson. Carlmont beat Sequoia in 2018 for the first time since 2011, while El Camino snapped a 14-year losing streak to South City with a 41-15 win last year.
This year, all these teams seem relatively equal, which should make for some exciting football.
“I’ve seen it all,” said Capuchino head coach Jay Oca, who is participating in his third rivalry series. A Westmoor graduate, his rival was Jefferson for, what he remembered as, “The Trophy.” He went on to coach in “The Bell Game” at South City and is now with the Mustangs.
“I’ve seen it where one (team) has a super great record and one doesn’t (and the game is competitive),” Oca continued. “But you kinda have to toss out records and toss out what happened the last nine weeks. Everybody plays well [during] Rivalry Week.”
If nothing else, close games among rivals can only help boost a school and its community spirit and in a day and age when high school athletics is losing out to a lot of different outlets, exciting football game can be nothing but positive.
“I’m happy San Mateo is doing well. This is good for the rivalry. This is good for high school football. It’s good for the PAL,” Philipopoulos said. “The resurgence of Mills … we need this. In the bigger picture, it’s so much better for high school sports.”
The Skull Game
Half Moon Bay (9-0 overall) at Terra Nova (6-3), 7:30 p.m.
Terra Nova leads the series 34-18-5 — but if you factor in HMB’s win over the Tigers in the 2017 CCS playoffs, that number is 34-19-5. … Terra Nova beat HMB for the third time in four years in 2018, 28-15. … The Cougars crushed Carlmont last week, 56-7. … The Tigers took down King’s Academy, 35-16.
Sacred Heart Prep (6-3 overall) vs Menlo School (3-6) at Sequoia High School, 7 p.m.
SHP leads the series 9-7. … SHP beat Menlo for the seventh time in eight seasons in 2018, 53-15. … The Gators were upset by Burlingame last week, 21-14. … The Knights were skewered by Sequoia, 34-21.
Battle of the Fleas
Aragon (1-8 overall) at Hillsdale (6-3), 7 p.m.
Aragon leads series 36-18-3. … Hillsdale snapped a three-year losing streak by beating Aragon 14-13 in 2018. … The Dons forfeited their game to Menlo-Atherton last week. … The Knights fell to San Mateo, 20-10.
Sequoia (4-5 overall) at Carlmont (3-6), 7 p.m.
Sequoia leads the series 33-31-1. … Carlmont snapped a six-year losing streak with a 14-7 win over Sequoia in 2018. … The Ravens flew away with a 34-21 win over Menlo School last week. … The Scots were squashed by Half Moon Bay, 56-7.
Battle of the Strip
Mills (8-1 overall) at Capuchino (4-5), 7 p.m.
Capuchino leads the series 39-21-0. … Capuchino has won the last five meetings, including a 39-14 win over Mills in 2018. … The Vikings beat El Camino 28-7 last week. … The Mustangs were tamed by Jefferson, 20-6.
Little Big Game
Burlingame (4-5 overall) at San Mateo (8-1), 11 a.m.
Burlingame leads the series 56-32-4. … Burlingame beat San Mateo for the ninth year in a row in 2018, 38-7. … The Bearcats are coming off a 20-10 win over Hillsdale. … The Panthers knocked off Sacred Heart Prep 21-14.
The Bell Game
South City (0-9 overall) at El Camino (1-8), 1 p.m.
South City leads the series 47-10. … El Camino snapped a 14-year losing streak in 2018, beating South City 41-15. … The Warriors were whipped by Woodside last week, 54-0. … The Colts were cut down by Mills, 28-7.