A storied game that dates back to the 70s between two communities for The Battle of the Helmet will be revived this Friday as the Bel Air Highlanders (0-1) and the Eastwood Troopers (0-1) square off in their annual rivalry matchup.
Both coaches understand how important this game is to the community and what an impact it makes on the community.
“This game is always a lot of fun,” said Troopers head coach Julio Lopez. “There’s so much history behind this rivalry game. This game is about the community living out the history. There’s the traveling trophy, everyone comes out and a lot of people are really passionate about this game. It’s a packed house and everyone excited. I know this game is a lot of fun.”
Lopez and his squad are coming off a close loss to Midland Christian last week. Lopez believed that the Troopers started off too slow and had to play catch-up in their 41-31 loss.
Eastwood allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown on the opening kick, followed by a three-and-out and another quick touchdown for Midland Christian. As the Troopers were starting to build a drive, Midland Christian intercepted a pass, which set up another touchdown. Eastwood was down 21-0 to start the second quarter.
Through the last three quarters, the Troopers outscored Midland Christian 31-20, but it wasn’t enough to pull through with the win.
“We fell short last week and sort of found our identity,” he said. “We had a sophomore quarterback out there and got to see him grow. It was a bad start and it’s just a matter of execution.”
After some opening nerves were shaken off, sophomore quarterback Chris Castaneda impressed for his varsity debut with 389 total yards through the air and a pair of touchdowns. However, the young quarterback had two interceptions in his debut game.
The offense was able to do damage on the ground, as junior tailback Noah Rios rushed 22 times for 119 yards. Also, Eastwood’s Robert Minjarez and Freddy Contreras combined for 272 yards of receiving.
Lopez understands that in order to win this game against Bel Air his team must start quick, unlike their first game.
“We have to start fast,” he said. “We didn’t do that last game and going into this week we will try to get on the board quick. The team last week should be given a lot of credit because they’re a great team. We have to score quick. If we don’t, if we make simple mistakes and allow them to stay with us, that’s how they could stay in the game. Anything can happen in a rivalry game.”
Similarly, Highlanders head coach Tony Cervantes recognizes the extent of the rivalry and is positive with his team’s responsive behavior during the week of practice.
“The kids are working really hard and have a good attitude,” Cervantes said. “We’ve been looking over film and learned a lot of great things and where we can improve.”
Bel Air was challenged last week, taking on top 5A team El Paso Chapin, but put up a promising battle against them. Although Chapin came out victorious 42-34, the Highlanders came out with a lot of positives.
Bel Air’s standout linebacker Patrick Hernandez will be a definite threat against the high-volume Eastwood offense. Last week, Hernandez led the team with 19 total tackles in their own game.
Offensively, senior quarterback Isaac Ybarra put up strong numbers for the Highlanders in the loss. He threw for 132 yards, rushed for 119 yards and put up a pair of touchdowns.
“He’s a great leader and he keeps his composure really well,” Cervantes said. “If he does that in this game, we’ll be okay.”
Cervantes believes that the keys to beating Eastwood are controlling the ball and threatening the Troopers through the air.
“We have to have ball security and not turn the ball over in this game,” he said. “We need to establish a balanced attack on offense and throw the ball effectively. We need to make big stops on defense on money downs.”
And, Cervantes relates this rivalry game to a playoff matchup.
“It’s been around since the 70s,” he said. “Both neighborhoods, both communities get fired up for this game. It becomes like a playoff atmosphere.”
Kickoff between the two is set for 7 p.m. MST at Highlander Stadium on Friday.
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