The 2019 edition of the Righetti-Santa Maria football rivalry will take place at 7 p.m. Friday at Santa Maria's Ralph Baldiviez Stadium.
Once again the squads will open their respective campaigns against each other. The series has been rather one-sided in favor of Righetti in recent years, and last year Tony Payne started his head coaching career at Righetti with a 56-9 rout of Santa Maria at Righetti.
To avoid a similar result this time, veteran Santa Maria coach Dan Ellington figures his defense will need to contain what Ellington believes will be a more balanced Righetti offense this time around.
Can we get some stability?
Two thirds of what Payne called his "three-headed monster of a running attack," in 2018, that is with backs Adan Solis, Isaiah Gayfield and Kidasi Nepa, graduated. Besides, the Warriors bid a fond farewell to Solis, their leading rusher in 2018, who was among the June Righetti graduates.
"Their quarterback last year (Logan Mortensen) threw more when he was in there," said Ellington. "We think they'll be more balanced."
The left-handed Mortensen was a reliable deep passer for the Warriors until he went down with a collarbone injury in Righetti's league opener. The Warriors did ride their running attack to a berth in the CIF Central Section Division 2 championship game last year, and the elusive Nepa, a junior team captain this year, is back.
Mortensen, a senior team captain this year, looked sharp in seven-on-seven games during the summer. One of his receivers, Jake Steels, had a particularly big seven-on-seven summer.
Payne thinks his group will be ready to go.
"Yesterday was probably our best practice this year," Righetti's second-year coach said.
Santa Maria scrimmaged last week. Righetti did not. The Saints struggled as their receivers dropped a lot of passes and their defense had trouble containing the opposing offenses, those of Laguna Hills and Cabrillo, during the three-way scrimmage.
New year, another new league.
Still, Ellington didn't seem to think the scrimmage was anywhere near an indication of where his team is at. For starters, the Saints rested their best back of 2018, Sammy Herrera. Ellington has said Herrera should be ready to go Friday night.
Besides, "Scrimmages are pretty vanilla," said Ellington. "You don't show a lot of what you've got (as far as offensive and defensive schemes). I don't put a lot of stock in (scrimmages)."
The hard running of Martin Diaz was a bright spot for Santa Maria during the scrimmage. Diaz bulled in on a tackle-busting 10-yard run for the last score of the game.
"He's our third back," said Ellington. "(That scoring play) was pretty typical of him. He's just a hard-running kid."
Payne said, "I always know that Santa Maria is going to be well-coached. They have coaches who care about the kids and put in a lot of time with these guys.
"I know they brought up a lot of guys, which was very smart. We're looking forward to playing against a tough defense and a fast offense."
There's little question that Lompoc is the premier program on the Central Coast. But the Braves have had back-to-back early exits in the postseason, getting knocked out in the first round last year and in the second round in 2017.
Righetti's coach said, "This is the most exciting part, when you find out how much better you'll be after putting in so much hard work during the off-season."
John Beck and Gabe Espinoza will make their coaching debuts with their new teams Friday. Beck's Pioneer Valley team will play at Oxnard at 7 p.m. Espinoza's Orcutt Academy eight-man squad will play at Fulton Van Nuys at 4 p.m.
Though they have new head coaching jobs, neither Beck nor Espinoza is a first-year head coach. Beck was the Redlands Arrowhead Christian coach for five years, and he took the Eagles to a divisional title game in 2014. Espinoza was the Santa Maria head coach for two years.
Lompoc has been the most consistently successful football program in the area the past several years. The Braves, under veteran coach Andrew Jones, will open at home against Simi Valley at 7 p.m. Friday night. St. Joseph will open at home against the Visalia Central Valley Christian squad it routed 42-6 to open the 2018 season. The teams' game this year figures to be closer.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Nipomo and Santa Ynez have had a closely contested rivalry. Those teams will go against each other at 7 p.m. Friday night at Santa Ynez in another season opener.
Cabrillo has a Saturday game, at 7 p.m. at Huyck Stadium in Lompoc against Bishop Diego.