This looks awfully familiar on the eve of Lompoc versus Santa Ynez: Both teams are entering the contest 7-0 – just like last year.
The Braves, however, rolled past the Pirates 48-3 in front of the Santa Ynez home crowd one year ago. Then nearly four weeks later, the 8-2 Pirates learned they would be staying home for the playoffs – with that Lompoc loss as a significant blemish on their 2016-17 resume.
And that October game versus LHS stays fresh in the minds of some of those Pirate players and the head coach who were involved in that 45-point debacle.
“I haven’t had too many sleepless nights, but I definitely have been dreaming about it,” says quarterback Dustin Gregg, who backed up quarterback Mike McCoy in last year’s contest and finished with eight tackles from his free safety spot. “I’m waking up in the middle of the night just having thoughts about the game just knowing it’s going to be a big one, that it’s going to be tough and we’re going to have to play our best game.”
Added the head coach Josh McClurg: “This is the biggest game of the year. We’re at the end of preparation week and we’re ready to get going, get suited up and see where the chips lay.”
Both Northern Santa Barbara County heavyweights will converge on the Huyck Stadium turf to write the next chapter of their annual rivalry, as the top teams in the Lee Central Coast Newspapers’ rankings will clash at 7 p.m. with Fox Sports television cameras also inside Huyck.
The Pirates have had just one week to prepare for the Braves while LHS has taken a two-week approach. However, Gregg believes his team has turned up the focus.
“We’re fired up. This has been our most focused week of practice throughout the year and now it’s about keeping the energy and enthusiasm up,” Gregg said.
While McClurg sees a higher level of preparation for his team, he believes this is nothing new on the cross streets of Highway 246 and Refugio Road.
“I’m confident in our guys’ ability to prepare each week,” McClurg said. “They treat each week as a championship week. Whether if this is week one or week seven, our guys approach each week and each team the same. So I’m confident in their abilities to approach each week the same.”
While the Pirates have prepared for this contest underneath 80-degree temperatures, the Braves continue to take the business-like approach inside Huyck Stadium. Plus after coming off of a bye week, Jones wants to make sure his players aren’t slow to regain their footing.
“For us, the rest is great but hopefully, it doesn’t turn into rust,” Jones said. “We’ve got to come out ready to play. We’re healthy at the right time and historically we’ve come off of bye weeks and we’ve come out OK.”
There will be several key matchups in this contest that will determine which individual is the alpha on the football field. Two players who are bound to cross paths on both sides of the ball are Shemar Savage and Gabe Prendergast. On one end, Prendergast knows Savage will try to cover him. On the flip side, the 6-foot-3 Pirate is aware he has the daunting task of trying to slow down the Braves’ top receiver option on defense.
“It’s an honor. He’s a great matchup and it’s going to be a great matchup,” Prendergast said before Thursday’s practice.
That won’t be the only key battle. Toa Taua will be crossing paths with one of his former eighth grade teammates in Travis Vreeland at linebacker.
“Travis is cool. I like the way he plays,” Taua said. “He’s a great guy. I love the way he plays. He’s physical.”
Santa Ynez isn’t just aiming to knock off LCCN’s No. 1 ranked team, but also end a losing streak against the Braves that began the moment Jones took over as head coach. The Pirates haven’t beaten the Braves since 2009, plus the last time Lompoc and Santa Ynez engaged in a close battle was in 2011 when the Braves escaped with the 23-15 road win. In the last two meetings, the Pirates haven’t scored more than three points versus the Braves.
McClurg, though, knows he and his team will have the backing of their community come Friday night.
“People are rooting for us, they know it’s a tough game and they know we’re the underdogs. But everyone is rooting for us in Santa Ynez.”
As for Jones, he’s aware that while his LHS teams have had the upper hand over the Pirates under his watch, this will be a more seasoned SYHS football team that will enter the Braves’ home den.
“Josh has been doing the defense for years. They’re sound and they play good assignment football,” Jones said.
Note: Video interviews on both teams can be seen on the Santa Maria Times website.