High school football is a special time in a young man’s life. One of the greatest aspects of high school football is a good rivalry. The San Francisco Bay Area has seen its share of some great rivalries including Bellarmine-Saint Francis, Bellarmine-Valley Christian, Saint Francis-Los Gatos and Los Gatos-Palo Alto. Each of these rivalries are unique and each have added to the history of the CCS and the San Francisco Bay Area. These are their stories.
The rivalry between the Bellarmine College Preparatory Bells and the Saint Francis High School Lancers is one of the oldest rivalries in the WCAL and is one of the most legendary rivalries in the Bay Area. Beginning on Halloween night, 1958, these two schools have waged a fierce rivalry.
In the beginning, the Lancers were just starting their football program and stood little chance against traditional league power Bellarmine, losing the first nine games. Saint Francis finally defeated Bellarmine in 1967 and from there the rest is legendary.
By the early 1980’s, the rivalry truly became intense. In 1981, Bellarmine featured four future NFL players: David Diaz-Infante, Erik Howard, Randy Kirk and Jim Wahler. It was one of the greatest seasons in Bellarmine history. Bellarmine defeated Saint Francis 17-8 in the regular season matchup and then defeated the Lancers in the CCS Semifinal 17-7. The Bells would end the season undefeated and state champions.
The following year, before a crowd of 13,000 at Buck Shaw Stadium, Saint Francis avenged their season sweep from a year before, defeating the Bells 17-3. Saint Francis continued their winning ways the following year and were undefeated going into their matchup with an unbeaten Bellarmine. The Lancers defeated the Bells in a 9-6 defensive struggle in front of 8,000 at Saint Francis. The Lancers finished the season undefeated and as the top rated team in the state.
Mike Janda took over for Walt Arnold as Bellarmine’s coach in 1984 and remained in that role for the next three decades. Bellarmine avenged the previous two years by defeating Saint Francis 10-8 in front of 9,000 at Buck Shaw Stadium. For the rest of the decade and onto the next, both schools traded wins and losses while each competed for the league championship. Amazingly, each year from 1975 through 1999 either Bellarmine or Saint Francis won the WCAL championship. Through the years in front of thousands, the teams fought to the finish from generation to generation. The rivalry became an intense family atmosphere with fathers, sons and brothers taking on the challenge of defeating their hated rivals.
In 1996, Saint Francis began the season 0-6, including a loss to Bellarmine. In the rematch in the playoffs, the Lancers defeated the Bells 29-14 in front of a crowd of 8,000 at San Jose City College in the semifinal. The Lancers ended the season as CCS champions in Mike Mitchell’s first year as head coach, having taken over for longtime coach Ron Calcagno at the beginning of the season. When the streak concluded in 1999, the two programs had established themselves as the powerhouses of the league.
Since the beginning of the millennium, Bellarmine has won a majority of their matchups. They were especially dominating in the first decade, winning eight out of ten games against the Lancers. The teams faced each other in the 2009 CCS championship game with Bellarmine winning 27-22. It was Mike Mitchell’s final game as the Lancer’s coach and the next year Nick Navarro took over the reigns.
Since 2016, the Lancers have gotten better as the Bells have gotten worse. But times are changing and with Mike Janda retiring after the 2019 season, the rivalry has entered a new chapter.
In terms of rivalry, this is a relatively new one. For years, Valley Christian’s coach Mike Machado had been planning to get into the WCAL and in 2002, he had achieved his dream. The Bellarmine graduate was determined to establish himself in his old league with his own team. Valley Christian’s first year in the WCAL was a blissful one and the Warriors immediately won the league championship. After defeating Bellarmine in both the regular season and in the CCS championship game that year, the Warriors became a powerhouse program very early in their rivalry.
Bellarmine avenged their 2002 losses by defeating the Warriors in 2003. The next two years were tough for the Bells as they were barely a .500 team and only made the playoffs once in that span. The Warriors were in the midst of winning four straight CCS championships and three WCAL titles and were clearly the better team in both 2004 and 2005.
By 2007 the tide had turned as the Bells had built a tremendous team filled with talented juniors. Players such as running back Usua Amanam, offensive lineman Kevin Danser, linebacker Michael Clay and quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels highlighted a stellar graduating class of 2009. That 2007 team also featured sophomore running back/defensive back Kyle Olugbode, the first of three brothers to haunt the Warriors for the next decade. Bellarmine defeated Valley Christian 20-14 in 2007, the beginning of a four game slide in the series for the Warriors.
The following year was arguably the greatest of the rivalry. Both rosters were loaded with talent and front-loaded with extremely talented running backs. Bellarmine featured four tremendous running backs with Amanam, Kyle and Kristoffer Olugbode and fullback Michael Clay. Valley Christian featured running backs Cameron Marshall, Daniel Johnson, Anthony Olivares and a little known freshman who would prove to be the greatest of them all, Byron Marshall.
Their first meeting in 2008 took place in front of an estimated crowd of 6,000 on Valley Christian’s Skyway campus, overlooking Silicon Valley. It was a game that featured all the pomp and glamour that any good high school football rivalry has to offer; from San Jose mayor Chuck Reed conducting the coin flip to NFL great John Elway attending the matchup to watch his nephew, Bell linebacker/tight end Joe Sever. Bellarmine got on the board first and stayed comfortably ahead for most of the game. In the middle of the fourth quarter Bellarmine led by 11 when Carta-Samuels threw an interception to Cameron Marshall. Marshall took it to the endzone to bring the Warriors within a score from going ahead and the entire home stand rocked with anticipation. The air was thick with an intensity which could never be described, only felt. Disturbed by the recent turnover, Bellarmine elected to give the ball to their best player, Usua Amanam. The strategy worked and the Bells went away with a 27-16 victory.
The two schools met again in the CCS championship game at San Jose City College in front of 8,000. From the first series, it became apparent that Valley Christian was not quite ready, having been emotionally drained the previous week with a huge win over previously unbeaten Oak Grove. Bellarmine ran away with the CCS championship, winning 21-0 with Amanam rushing for more than 270 yards and three touchdowns, capping his night with a scintillating 94-yard touchdown run.
The following year, Bellarmine destroyed a young Warrior team 54-24. However, that score was deceptive as Bellarmine had returned an interception back for a touchdown and had scored two touchdowns off of the game’s first two kick returns. The Bells had only outgained the Warriors by five yards. Valley Christian was returning many of their starters in 2010 and they set out to defeat Bellarmine for the first time since 2006. In front of a crowd of 5,000 at Valley Christian, the Warriors won 20-7 with Byron Marshall -now a junior- blocking a field goal right before the half to give the Warriors the momentum they needed to defeat their nemesis.
The next two years were rough for Valley as they struggled to reach .500 and were outmanned by the Bells. Bellarmine featured one of their best teams of the millennium in 2011 with dual-threat quarterback Travis McHugh leading the charge. The Warriors lost their 2011 contest 48-6 and Bellarmine went on to lose in the state championship game.
The following year, Valley featured one of the league’s worst defenses but one of its best rushing attacks, led by running backs Ryan Severson and Kirk Johnson. Going into their 2012 matchup, Valley was a heavy underdog against a Bellarmine team which had yet to lose a league game in two years. The game was surprisingly close with both teams running up and down the field at will. Ryan Severson finished the game with 277 of the Warrior’s 363 rushing yards and added two touchdowns of his own. Despite Valley Christian’s best efforts, Bellarmine prevailed 38-35.
By the following year, the tide had changed and the Warriors won the next two meetings. Led by the Johnson brothers (Kirk and younger brother Collin), the Warriors seemed unstoppable against the Bells, but Bellarmine had been quietly finding its quarterback. By the 2014 CCS semifinal, Bellarmine was ready to upset the league champions. Bellarmine jumped to a 14-3 halftime lead but by the fourth quarter, Valley Christian had gained the momentum and the lead. Down 18-14, Bellarmine faced fourth down but a penalty against the Warriors gave the Bells a fresh set of downs. Bells quarterback Troy Martig ran a quarterback draw to perfection and took off down the middle of the Warrior defense for an exhilarating 58-yard game winning touchdown, giving the Bells a 21-18 victory. Bellarmine would go on to lose to Sacred Heart Prep in the CCS championship the next week.
Bellarmine kept up their momentum the following year and defeated Valley Christian in a highly anticipated game at San Jose City College 24-21, with Martig again breaking the Warrior’s hearts; this time by throwing a last minute touchdown. Since then, the tide has turned with Valley Christian winning each game beginning in 2016. With Mike Janda retiring following the 2019 season, the schools begin a new chapter in their rivalry.
Saint Francis-Los Gatos
Saint Francis and Los Gatos High Schools have been in the upper tier of the Central Coast Section for decades. Between them, they have won 32 CCS championships since the playoffs began in 1972. Though they are not always in the same division, they have battled numerous times in the regular season and in the playoffs They have shared some incredibly memorable moments in the playoffs, moments which still hold a special place in the lore of the CCS championship game. In effect, this rivalry is more of a race to have the most CCS championships. As a result, each of these schools has become a pillar of the CCS playoffs.
Saint Francis began their run of dominance in 1977, defeating North Salinas 6-3 for their first CCS championship. The following year, the Lancers lost to Oak Grove at San Jose State 52-7. After Saint Francis won their second CCS crown in 1979, the Central Coast Section playoffs split into three divisions, forever changing the outlook of the playoffs.
Saint Francis defeated Seaside in 1982, Oak Grove in 1983 and Bellarmine in 1984 for their third, fourth and fifth championships to begin a dynasty in the decade. In the semifinals of 1984, the Lancers defeated the Los Gatos Wildcats. Los Gatos was led by coach Charlie Wedemeyer who had ALS. Emboldened with the knowledge that 1985 would probably be his last year as their coach, the Wildcats set out to win their first CCS championship. They faced off against the undefeated Lancers and the CCS player of the year Eric Scharrenberg in the CCS championship game. Amazingly, Los Gatos blocked an attempted game-winning field goal to defeat Saint Francis 14-12 and win one for their inspirational coach.
Neither school won another CCS title until the Wildcats did in 1988, defeating Leland 14-10 for their second CCS title. Both Saint Francis and Los Gatos won the CCS championship in 1989, with the Lancers winning in their sixth Division I-4A and Los Gatos winning their third in Division I-3A.
In 1990, Saint Francis lost to Bellarmine in the CCS championship 27-20, but what followed was their greatest streak. The Lancers won the CCS championship every year from 1991 until 1996. During that time, Los Gatos won titles in 1991 and 1995. Saint Francis’ great streak ended with a 1997 loss to Oak Grove in the championship game. During the same weekend, Los Gatos picked up their sixth CCS championship, defeating Archbishop Mitty 28-14 in Division III.
In 1998, Saint Francis defeated Oak Grove in the championship, their 14th title. In 2000 and 2001, Los Gatos went 26-0 and was led by future NFL players Trent Edwards and Jared Allen. In 2002, the two schools clashed in the CCS championship for the first time since 1985. They battled to a 21-21 tie, forever linked as the 2002 CCS co-champions.
The next two years were frustrating for the programs as each made the championship game, in the top division, only to lose. In 2005, Los Gatos reverted back to Division III and defeated Palo Alto for the CCS championship. Neither school won the section title in 2006 or 2007 but Los Gatos had a quarterback who would bring them back to their past glory. Quarterback Nick Hirschman led the Wildcats to back-to-back CCS championships in 2008 and 2009.
Neither school won the CCS title in 2010 but in 2011, Los Gatos defeated Pioneer for another championship, their 13th title. The schools met in the 2012 title game, with Saint Francis defeating the Wildcats 17-0 for their 16th championship. Los Gatos gained a measure of revenge a year later by defeating the Lancers in the CCS championship 31-14.
Saint Francis defeated Mitty in the Division II CCS championship game in 2014 for their 17th championship. In 2015, 2017 and 2018 Saint Francis lost the CCS championship. Los Gatos won their 15th CCS championship in 2019 against Oak Grove.
Los Gatos-Palo Alto
In the beginning, these two teams were rivals with other teams but over time, both of those rivals descended into mediocrity. Los Gatos once had a fierce rivalry with Saratoga but eventually Los Gatos began to compete for many more championships than Saratoga could ever hope for and eventually, Los Gatos went on such a long win streak against the Falcons that the rivalry became virtually non-existent. Likewise, Palo Alto and Gunn’s rivalry became diluted when the schools went in different directions with Palo Alto competing for the championships that Gunn High School never could.
Los Gatos and Palo Alto needed a rival and they found each other, but it would take some time for their rivalry to truly take hold. Like a crock pot, this rivalry stewed within itself for years before emerging as a delicious matchup fans look forward to year after year.
The schools had competed for the league crown for years but had never faced each other in the CCS championship game until 2008. The week of the game, tragedy struck the Wildcats when senior defensive lineman Michael Halpin died from heart failure. The team pressed on and a few days later were battling the Vikings for the championship. Los Gatos were behind 14-6 at halftime but came back to defeat Palo Alto 29-23 in an emotional victory.
Two years later, Los Gatos lost to the Vikings 42-0 as Palo Alto went on to win the state championship and earn a #13 national ranking. Los Gatos avenged the embarrassment of 2010 by defeating Palo Alto 17-14 in 2011. The schools swapped victories the next two years until Los Gatos gained the upper hand beginning in 2013, beginning a five year streak of dominance over their nemesis.
Palo Alto broke the streak in 2018, defeating the Wildcats 35-10 before defeating them again in the playoffs 35-21. The rivalry became so heated during the 2018 season that students from both schools were banned from attending any athletic competition between the schools for the rest of the school year. Los Gatos gained a measure of revenge in 2019, defeating the Vikings 29-22. The rivalry continues to this day and is scheduled to resume on April 16, 2021 in a COVID-19 marred football schedule.