The Pirates and Knights have been here before.
A win and they’re in the football playoffs, leaving the loser in limbo.
The Santa Ynez Pirates (8-1 overall) visit the St. Joseph Knights (5-4 overall) Friday night in the final game of the regular season.
Both teams sit at 2-1 in the Los Padres League, tied for second place behind Lompoc (9-0, 3-0), which will wrap up an undefeated LPL season with a win over Cabrillo Friday.
With the LPL being a five-team league, the CIF-SS only guarantees they’ll invite the top two to the postseason party.
The winner of Friday’s game will get an automatic invitation. The loser will have to wait until Sunday to find out if they’ll get an at-large playoff spot.
The Pirates have suffered the heartbreak of the CIF-SS postseason process for the last two years.
Last year, they went 8-2 overall but 2-2 in the LPL, losing their final two games to Lompoc and St. Joseph, and were not invited to the party as there were no at-large bids in Division 12.
Two years ago, Santa Ynez went 7-3, but only 1-3 in league, and was left out of the playoff mix.
With its postseason prospects on the line, Santa Ynez head coach Josh McClurg says the game is not about getting revenge for last year’s 51-17 loss at Santa Ynez High’s stadium.
“It’s the Los Padres League. All three of us – Lompoc, St. Joseph and us – are always battling each other for the league championship and playoff spots,” McClurg said during Tuesday’s practice. “St. Joseph is a phenomenal team. They’ve got a great quarterback, wide receiver and running back. We’re not looking at the past. We’re focused on Friday night’s game.”
“I have no doubt they’d like to return the favor,” said St. Joseph’s interim head coach Jim Chvala during Wednesday’s practice at Jay Will Stadium. “But it’s our senior night. Our coaches all hope that gives our guys added motivation.”
Senior quarterback Dustin Gregg leads the high flying Pirates offense.
Gregg has thrown for 2,434 yards on the season, going 133 for 202 – a 65.8 completion percentage – and is averaging better than 270 yards a game. He’s thrown 35 touchdown passes against only three interceptions.
“We have to stop their passing,” said Chvala. “They’ve got a great quarterback, good coaches and that No. 9 (Gabe Prendergast) is a talented receiver.”
Gregg’s favorite target is the senior Prendergast who has caught 51 passes for 1,046 yards and 14 touchdowns.
But Prendergast isn’t Gregg’s only target. Santa Ynez has nine players who have caught Gregg passes this season with Jasper Kadlec (38 catches for 544 yards) and Travis Vreeland (23 grabs for 469 yards) each on the receiving end of seven Gregg TD throws.
The Pirates also come at you with their ground game.
This season 15 different players have carried the ball.
Cash Transeth leads the pack with 60 carries and 320 yards with eight touchdowns.
Gregg is next with 59 quarterback runs, 258 yards and four touchdowns.
Prendergast has also been used as a running back, mostly on sweeps, and has gained 195 yards, scoring two rushing touchdowns.
And McClurg likes to keep the opposing defense on its toes by mixing in a trick play somewhere in the game.
“I’m sure they’ll have a trick play or two for us – they always do,” said Chvala. “Last year they had a tight end lie down on the ground, get up, get the ball and run around our backside for a touchdown. They are very good at those trick plays. We just have to play sound defense.”
“Both teams will have a wrinkle or two in their game plan cthat hopefully the other team hasn’t planned for,” said McClurg. “You hope you can catch the defense off guard and go for a big gain. But this late in the season, you know what you’re going to do, you pretty much know what they’re going to do.”
St. Joseph has its own 2,400-yard passer.
Senior quarterback Dino Maldonado has thrown for 2,401 yards, completing 170 of 244 attempts – a 69.7 completion percentage – with 25 touchdowns against eight interceptions.
“Dino is having a great season,” said Chvala. “He’s having great practices this week, the whole team is and you play as you practice.”
Senior Nate Guzman is Maldonado’s favorite target, hauling in 58 passes for 731 yards and five touchdowns.
Senior Joseph Miller leads the team with 10 touchdown catches on 31 receptions that gained a total of 595 yards.
Seniors Mike Ramirez (34 catches, 413 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Justin Wong (15 catches, 227 yards, 1 TD) are also among the Knights’ team of talented receivers.
The Knights mix in an impressive rushing attack led by senior Jayden Vargas, who’s run for 1,238 yards on 145 carries – a better than 137 yards a game average – and 13 touchdowns.
Devin Guggia (253 yards) and Maldonado (241 yards) can also break through opposing defenses.
“I think that whoever makes the fewest mistakes, plays with the most confidence will win this one,” said Chvala.
“Fewest mistakes – I agree that’s the key,” said McClurg. “The team that makes the fewest mistakes will probably win.”
“We’re in the same position we were in last year,” said Chvala. “Josh has done a great job over there. I’m sure he’ll have his team ready. Both teams are ready for this one.”
The battle for the playoffs will be broadcast live on the Times’ website. The pregame show at www.santamariatimes.com/fridayfootball begins at 6:45 p.m. with kickoff set for 7 p.m.