Mountain football will be at its best Friday night when the Calaveras Redskins host the Sonora Wildcats in a battle of foothill superiority.
It's not quite a rivalry yet according to both head coaches, but when the Wildcats join the Mother Lode League in 2014, the two schools are going to clash yearly and battle for championships.
"I wouldn't say it's a rivalry, but it's headed that way," said Wildcat head coach Bryan Craig. "They're well-coached, Jason (Weatherby), Doug (Clark), all those guys do a great job over there. Those kids know us, we go to camp together, we do 7-on-7 together, we don't live that far apart. It's gonna be a good game. We wanna beat them as bad as they wanna beat us. It's kind of like mountain rights right here."
But in the 2013 edition of the Cats-Skins series, Sonora is desperate for a victory and the Redskins are bent on not letting them have it on their field. Sonora has suffered defeat in its first two games, albeit to Division I schools Turlock and Paradise, while the Redskins own a victory and a loss.
With the Wildcats beginning the tough Valley Oak League slate next week, Friday becomes important for Sonora in the race for postseason. Whether Sonora is 2-0 or 0-2, coach Weatherby knows his Redskins are in for a battle.
"I don't know if there is ever a good time to play Sonora," Weatherby said. "With them being 0-2 it really gives them a sense of urgency to win the game. It's not as if they lost either one of those games huge. They were in the Paradise game late into the fourth quarter, and they lost to Turlock by three, and Turlock beat Oakdale. So we really need to step it up this week."
"We had to remind the kids that we're 0-2 because practice this week has been pretty good so far," Craig said. "But we want to keep in mind that we're 0-2 and that we need to go out there and fix things and make the playoffs at the end of the year."
After two straight weeks on the road to begin the season, the Redskins will enjoy the friendly confines of Frank Meyer Field, which is just one of four home games this season. And they are fired up.
"Ever since Pop Warner we have lost to Sonora," said Redskin senior Blake Ehlers. "We have a lot of anger and excitement going in to this game."
"Sonora is a great team," said senior Redskin star Mike Seawell. "They are going to be a tough opponent, but we are really excited for our first home game."
Seawell is going to be one player Sonora watches very closely. The quick, shifty running back/receiver has rushed for 254 yards on just 17 totes and also has 108 receiving yards on four catches. The 5-8, 165-pounder isn't the biggest athlete on the field, but with his speed and elusiveness, he's a handful to tackle.
"He's a great athlete," Craig said. "He does it all for them. Watching film, they get the ball to him anyway they can and he does great things with it, just a great all-purpose back. He's not a big guy, but he's a tough guy and he's a guy we have to focus on. We're definitely gonna know where he is at all times. Our coaching staff, the kids on the sideline, maybe even our fans are gonna know where he is."
The Redskins will focus on stopping Wildcat fullback K.C. Brandsted who has rushed for 310 yards in two games and has been a load to bring down, frequently dragging tacklers yards at a time. The senior rusher is averaging over 10 yards per attempt.
"I have to be low and quick," said senior Redskin nose tackle John Boyes. "I must keep my eyes up, my head up, and look out for that fullback."
Focus too much on Brandsted and Wildcat quarterback Andrew Nessi, who has been reading the triple option to almost perfection through two games, will pull the ball and force the Skins to stop him. Stop Nessi and the Skins will have to worry about the pitch to a slotback. It's a tough offense to prepare for in one week.
"We need to wrap up and just make a tackle," said senior lineman Derek Rittenhouse. "We can't go for the big hit every time and can't arm tackle. You gotta wrap up and drive with your legs. That's the only way you are going to be successful against a big, powerful running team like Sonora."
Fans attending the game may not want to show up late, for fear of missing the action. Both teams are run first, run second, run third and, after that, they'll go back to the run.
For the past three seasons the Cats have had bragging rights over the Skins, beating them twice at Dunlavy Field and once in San Andreas.
For Ehlers and his fellow seniors, this is their last chance to beat the Wildcats.
"They are definitely not going to be easy to stop," Ehlers said. "Play low, and play hard. We have to step it up if we want to win. And it would mean the world to beat Sonora."
Guy Dossi contributed to this article.