(KYMA, KECY) - On September 17th, only one point separated the Holtville Vikings and the Calexico Bulldogs football teams.
The 29-28 final in Holtville swayed in favor of the Vikings who led the entire game and held on until the final whistle to push them to 5-0 on the year. Since then the Vikings finished the regular season at 8-2 and earned themselves a first round bye in the playoffs.
The Calexico Bulldogs on the other hand, have had their ups and downs but finished with a 5-5 record which was enough for the 6th seed in the same bracket.
Now, we get a rematch worth waiting for. A rematch for the right to advance to the semi-finals of the San Diego CIF Division Five playoffs.
The playoffs is a familiar spot for Holtville, who now enters their third straight time hosting a playoff game in the second round (2018, 2019, 2021). Despite heavy senior leadership this year, it is still an inexperienced group. The only player on the roster with playoff experience is Quarterback Spencer Hilfiker who was on the 2019 squad.
For Calexico, they lost in the first round in 2018 and have not won a playoff game since 2016. On top of that, the program has not won a home playoff game since 1982.
So the stage is set for an intense game and both coaches have their teams ready to go into battle, knowing what is at stake.
“If someone would’ve told me ‘hey you’re going to lose the first game but you’re going to end up playing them in the second round of the playoffs, would you take it?’" said Calexico Head Coach Fernando Solano. "Now that’s a hard decision to take but I go ‘we’re in a very good spot right now and at the end of the day, this is the game that counts.”
“This is what we signed up for and I think that’s what the kids understand," said Holtville Head Coach Jason Turner. "This is what we signed up for, to play in November. We get to play in November. Let’s make the very, very best of it.”
As a team that focuses on running the football, Holtville knows that they will have to outrun a Calexico team that also has proven to have a lethal rushing attack this year, as well.
“The recipe is going to be to keep it simple. Keep it on the ground and don’t get too flashy. Maybe put up a couple more passes in the air but our best defense is a good offense," said Jason Turner. "We absolutely expect them to run the ball just like we do. And then probably whoever has the ball last probably has the best chance of winning this game.”
Another key for Jason Turner's Vikings is going to be the preparation against a team they have already played, which could be an advantage.
"You live and your learn and you adapt throughout the season, so that game five against Calexico versus what you'll see tomorrow is the personnel will be a bit different and our defense is much more improved," said Coach Turner. "We anticipated Calexico would beat Maranatha as they did. So we did have a day or two of refreshing the scout book on them."
While the Vikings are fresh and prepared coming off of a first round bye, Calexico has some momentum coming off an emotional first round home playoff win.
This time around, the Bulldogs are fighting for revenge and pride.
In their first meeting with Holtville, they never led the game one time despite only falling short in the one-point thriller.
So according to Coach Fernando Solano, the point of emphasis for is to not dig themselves by falling behind early. They want to take the Vikings out of their element and jump ahead early by forcing the Vikings to punt and keep their offense off the field.
So far this week, Coach Solano has not had to push that on his team. They already know and the urgency is there.
“The urgency has been coming from them. They’ve been the vocal leaders. I haven’t had to do much as far as getting them up for practice because the energy has been there," Solano said. "My job is kind of putting things in perspective as far as them playing loose. They have nothing to lose. And playing with that type of attitude."
For both sides, this game means a lot. It not only means a lot to the players and coaches, but to the communities as well.
Holtville is trying to get over the hump of getting through this round and through the semi-finals which they have failed to do in their last three tries.
"We're right about where we could ever ask to be with this team. I'm very proud of them," said Coach Turner. "They're a very coachable team and I think we're peaking at the right time for this matchup."
For Calexico, win or lose, this year has been a turning point for the program. After several years of losing, Coach Solano has rallied the troops and getting to the semi-finals would mean a lot to the whole city.
"It means a lot. I can feel it. I can feel it from the school and the community wanting to win this game," said Solano. "I've had people come up to me telling me how proud they are of the boys playing hard...I've heard it from people I don't even know. It's all about getting to that next game."
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. PT at Birger Field in Holtville on Friday night.