On Friday, Nov. 4, a significant section of the North Valley will be occupied from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
San Fernando and Sylmar will lock horns, arms, shoulder pads, helmets and cleats in their annual football feud that this year will be played at San Fernando High.
If you plan to go to the game, which determines the 2016 Valley Mission League champion, either buy your tickets early at the schools or plan to arrive very early. The stands are typically filled up before halftime — of the junior varsity game.
Once the game ends, it will be reviewed, rehashed, rerun and regurgitated endlessly until the next one next year. If something truly amazing happens, be it a game-breaking run or a game-saving tackle, the play moves into local legend status.
“The best thing about this game — this week — is the rivalry. Because everybody’s pumped, everybody’s talking about it,” Sylmar Coach John Brazil said. “The worse thing is losing. You don’t want to lose to your rival because you’ve got to hear about it for a whole year, and it takes guys time to get over it.”
Adds San Fernando Coach Robert Garcia,” there’s no week like Sylmar Week. To me it’s one of the best San Fernando Valley games. The one thing you can’t be is overly excited for the game. I’ve been telling the guys, ‘don’t let the moment get the best of you.”
But a “Cone of Silence” is covering both teams this week.
Brazil did not want any “bulletin board” material, i.e. disparaging remarks or boasts coming from his players. He put the Spartans on lockdown as far as using Facebook, Twitter or other social media outlets. The silence began after Sylmar’s victory over Canoga Park.
Wide receiver and defensive back Ruben Perez had no problem with Brazil’s decree.
“We’re not gonna take them for granted even though we’ve won the last couple of times,” said Perez, 18, a senior. “We’ know they’re out to get us. But we want to stay league champs, and hopefully make it far in the playoffs.”
Garcia was just as firm with San Fernando. Linebacker Alex Gonzalez, 17, a senior, said the coach told the players if he found out someone has posted “something stupid,” that person would not play on Friday.
“The one thing that really changes this week is intensity,” Gonzalez said. “It’s more than just a game….it saves us from talking smack. You’ve got to be smart, you can’t beat yourself.”
Still, this game, battle, war, — use any confrontational euphemism you can think of, they all apply — doesn’t need any artificial motivation or imagined slights to have both teams going after each other at 100 miles per hour.
But there are a couple of caveats to ponder.
The Tigers (9-0, 5-0) are shooting for their first perfect regular season since 2013. (Their loss to South Gate on Sept. 16 was changed after South Gate had to forfeit.) That year they went on to win a second consecutive City Section Division II championship.
“We’re doing better than a lot of people expected us,” Garcia said. “These guys come out every week to work, no excuses. I have a young team that’s very motivated.”
The young standouts include sophomore running back Kyle Bryant, 15, who said the 2016 Tigers are a closer group than last year’s team.
“We play together,” Bryant said. “That’s something we lacked last year, when we played more as individuals. We thought we were better than one another. This year we all have the same mindset and same goals.”
The last time San Fernando beat Sylmar was in 2013. And the loss last year was particularly loathsome for the Tigers — a 63-7 thrashing at Sylmar. And the Spartans would have scored 70 points if they had connected on a long pass in the next to last play of the game.
Sylmar (6-3, 5-0), has won the last two league championships, and 19 straight league games. The last Valley Mission loss was to San Fernando in 2013. Even though the Spartans began the year 1-3, Brazil said the team is playing its best football at the right time.
“There were [nonleague] games we felt we should have won. But mistakes cost us,” he said.” We had a whole new group of players who had to learn how to play and be depended on, and trust each other.”
One of the Spartans who had some growing pains was quarterback Angel Vizcarra, who had the unenviable job of replacing Clarence Williams, Jr., one of the best players in Sylmar history.
“I had to work hard and learn a lot of different things I didn’t expect to [have to] learn,” said Vizcarra, 17 a senior. “I felt I played my best against Canoga Park. This week I’m just focused on getting my job done on the field, not talking big. Because action speaks louder than words.”
Less noticeable but just as important is the impact the game could have in the City Section Division I playoff bracket, which will be revealed on Saturday, Nov. 5. If the Tigers win, they could possibly secure a first round home game. If the Spartans win they, too, might get a first round home game.
In this case, that is a nice extra. What means the most to both teams is getting a “W” on Friday.
Then watch the hashtags fly.