There’s nothing like the crisp air of a late autumn Friday night and a football championship on the line to enliven a traditional gridiron rivalry.
So opening the season in sweltering temperatures on a Saturday evening against the cross-town foe seems, well, not quite the elements that make up a traditional rivalry.
At least that’s the way Santa Fe High School football coach Ray Holladay looks at it.
“It’s a big rivalry for the community,” he said. “But I guess, in my opinion, it’s not a true rivalry. We’re in different classes, in different districts. A lot of the players who are now at St. Mike’s, their parents graduated from Santa Fe High. In a true rivalry, you really don’t have that. Texas parents would never send their kids to Texas A&M.”
What’s more, Holladay added, rivalries don’t get discontinued, as this one did, and they’re certainly not played on the season’s opening weekend.
Opening the season facing each other is actually a first, said St. Mike’s coach Joey Fernandez.
And to him, that does nothing to lessen the intensity of the clash.
“It’s kind of exciting because it’s the first time it’s ever been the opening game in the series,” he said. “It’s a very exciting time for the team and the community. I think it’s going to be a great game between two rival schools.”
Holladay would just as soon there wasn’t so much hoopla surrounding the game as he has his hands full trying to get his squad ready to open the season.
“For us, it’s game one on the schedule,” he said. “It’s a non-conference game. It’s a game that we want to win, but it’s not like a district game. It’s not really a game that’s going to help us get into the playoffs. It’s a game where we want to be better than last week in our scrimmage.”
The Class 4A Horsemen, however, are looking forward to the challenge of facing the 6A Demons.
“It’s a tough billing,” Fernandez said. “I know our kids have been working hard. I know we have a lot of question marks. But what better way to start a season than with a game like Santa Fe? They’re going to be intense and motivated to play. It’s one of those games that could go either way.”
While city bragging rights will be on the line, Holladay said he’s tried to get his players to put all of that aside.
“We’ve really tried, the five years that I’ve been here, to get the kids to understand that it’s the next game on the schedule,” he said. “It’s just the next game on the schedule. I would like to think the last four years, Capital has been more of a quote unquote rival because it’s been the last game on the schedule and we were in the same district.”
Fernandez, however, has been pumping his players up about the game.
“It’s always has been an intense rivalry,” he said. “Since Capital opened in 1989, it’s diminished a little bit but still, for bragging rights for the city, I still see Santa Fe-St. Michael’s as the big rivalry game. It’s one of the biggest in the state.”
All of that stuff quickly goes away when the pads start popping, Fernandez said.
“They run a disciplined offense,” he said of the Demons. “They have a good quarterback and a couple of good skill positions that we have to be aware of. Their front line is always physical. They’re going to be bigger than us. So we have to hold our ground a little. Offensively, (they) scare me a little bit and, defensively, they’re real aggressive. They come out and hit. They’re physical. I’m not sure we’re ready for that kind of stuff yet.”
That type of play is what Holladay is hoping for from his squad.
“The biggest thing I want to see, and we’ve talked about this in the past, I want to be the aggressors,” he said. “We’ve been the nail for the past five years and we’ve been the nail against a very good football the past five years. We know they’re gong to be well coached, they’re going to be excited for the game. They’re going to be focused.
“I’m hoping, after two district titles and two playoff appearances, that we can handle the pressure of a Demons and Horsemen game, that we can go out there and throw some haymakers, we just don’t take them.”