Whether the teams are in contention for a league title or not, the Big Game always brings out the best in the players who participate in it.
In Friday night’s 53rd edition of the Santa Barbara-San Marcos football rivalry at Santa Barbara’s Peabody Stadium, the men who lead the teams hope to have everyone playing at their bests.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
Santa Barbara enters the game with records of 5-2 overall and 0-1 in Channel League. San Marcos is 1-7, 0-2.
Doug Caines of Santa Barbara and Anthony Linebaugh of San Marcos will be making their Big Game head coaching debuts.
Caines is no stranger to the Big Game. He played in it as a center for the Dons in 2000.
Santa Barbara, which has won the last two, leads the series 29-23.
Linebaugh is new to this city rivalry, but he’s not a rookie to coaching in cross-town games.
“I have coached in several rivalry games,” he said. “In Stockton, the big game takes place between Lincoln High School and St. Mary’s. There are several high schools in Stockton but those two are always head and shoulders above the rest. It gets pretty crazy. Even the frosh game is almost a sellout.”
He recalled an incident when he had a middle school student who was not doing well in his class, and the kid happened to be the son of the offensive coordinator at St. Mary’s. Linebaugh was the head JV coach at Lincoln.
“The dad calls me and asks if his son’s grade had anything to do with the fact that I coached at Lincoln,” Linebaugh said.
Before coming to San Marcos, Linebaugh coached at Liberty Ranch High, a new school in Galt. In its rivalry game with the old school, Galt High, “We got thumped 50-14 in 2010, our first year as a varsity program,” he said. “Then we tuned the tables and won 65-0 last year. The game was termed the ‘Dairy Bowl’ since there are several in the area and the winning high school wins the right to have this chrome-plated milk jug for a year. The fans are wild. There is a lot of tension because the teams are so close and the kids all know each other.”
The Dons and Royals play for a Big Game Trophy — and there’s that cow statue above the old McConnell’s Creamery on Milpas Street, near Santa Barbara High, where San Marcos students have been known to paint it blue and red.
Linebaugh said crosstown football games are like no other.
“When you have event that really charges the community, that makes it special,” he said. “It’s truly like a holiday — Thanksgiving, Christmas, something special that comes once a year.”
From his experience of playing in the Big Game, Caines said part of his job as coach will be easing the pressures on the players.
“There is a lot of drama, especially being a home game,” he said. “There’s a lot of electricity and there’s the fact we’re doing relatively well. What I can bring to the table is some sense of normalcy and how to deal with distractions.”
He added: “As a Don, this is the game that, no matter which team is doing better, is for the pride of the town. As a player, the nerves are flying. You know the game will be on TV in front of your whole town. I was lucky enough to be the KEYT player of the game in my game, as a center. That game has never left me as the football memories fade to new ones. This is the game we talk about for the rest of our lives.”
Caines said his team was bothered by its performance in its last outing, a 27-17 loss to Buena in the Channel League opener.
The Dons have had an extra week to think about that defeat and prepare for the Big Game. He said the combination will have his players extra motivated on Friday.
“We got to come out and do what we do,” Caines said. “If we do that, we can be successful. This is an emotional game that we must get up for but not be too emotionally distracted. This is a tough game where we can’t be flat or overly exuberant; we must stay even-keeled yet aggressive.”
Linebaugh’s Royals gave Buena a tough battle last week in a 27-14 loss. But the coach said his team can play better.
“I have and continue to believe that my team has not played their best football to this point,” he said. “With only two games left, the team is running out of time to show everyone how good we can be. I can’t think of a better time to play our best game of the season than this Friday night.”
Other events worth checking out:
High school girls volleyball: Santa Barbara (4-2 Channel League) at San Marcos (4-2), 6 p.m. — This is an important game as both teams are in contention for the league title. Santa Barbara won the first meeting, but San Marcos was without 6-1 middle attacker and UCSB commit Kristen Berlo, who was sidelined with a sprained ankle. Berlo is back and will play a key role in the match.
High school football: Nordhoff (7-0, 2-0) at Carpinteria (4-3, 0-1), 7:30 p.m. — The Warriors host the No. 1-ranked team in the CIF-SS Northwest Division in this Tri-Valley League clash. They’ll need to play solid defense because Nordhoff has a very balanced attack, averaging 189 yards rushing and 203 yards passing.
College men’s soccer: Cal Poly at UCSB, 8 p.m. – The Central Coast rivals have drawn some of the biggest crowds in the history of college soccer. This is a critical game for both teams as they try to overtake Sacramento State and UC Davis in the Big West Northern Division. The game will be nationally televised on the Fox Soccer Channel.
College men’s water polo: UCLA at UCSB, Noon – The Gauchos look to rebound from last weekend’s conference-opening loss to Stanford at home. Two weeks ago, they defeated the Bruins in the semifinals of the SoCal Invitational.