By Zach Cavanagh
San Juan Hills and Tesoro have always been league rivals with both teams competing in the Coast View Conference.
The rivalry goes deeper as the schools’ zones within the Capistrano Unified School District wrap around each other.
Tesoro’s zone encompasses Rancho Mission Viejo and extends to the intersection of Ortega Highway and Antonio Parkway. However, San Juan Hills’ zone includes the southern half of Ladera Ranch, which means some San Juan Hills students have to drive through Tesoro’s zone to get to school and vice versa.
This proximity, overlap and familiarity led both sides to up the ante with this year’s football game and take the rivalry to the next level.
San Juan Hills and Tesoro will compete in their first “Battle for the Bell” on Friday, Sept. 20 at Tesoro High School.
Looking forward to a great game with @TesoroFootball this Friday. The inaugural Battle for the Bell. Should be a lot of fun. Good luck to both teams. @tesorofootball1 @ocvarsityguy @ocvarsity @SteveFryer @SouthOCsports @sjhhsathletics @sjhhsfootball @sjhstampede @Smalley_Jen pic.twitter.com/HY782XlU9V
— SJHHS Booster Club (@sjhhsboosters) September 16, 2019
“Parents, program supporters on both sides that thought since we’re so close,” San Juan Hills coach Rob Frith said, “and kids live in both communities, families know each other. Booster parents thought we could play for something.”
That something is the aforementioned bell.
It isn’t an old mission bell or a bell with any historical significance, yet. Frith said it will gain history as the rivalry grows. Booster parents purchased a bell, and it will be unveiled for the inaugural game.
“It feels like it adds a new level to the rivalry,” Frith said.
The rivalry has been extremely competitive with the teams splitting the last four meetings. Last season, San Juan Hills edged out Tesoro by a point in one of the most hard-fought 7-6 games observers had seen.
“I would definitely say Tesoro is one of our biggest rivals, if not the biggest,” San Juan Hills senior Joey Hobert said at Orange County Public School Media Day in August. “They’re across town, most of us live within a couple miles of each other. We’re friends, but on the field, we all want to kill each other.”
At that media day, Tesoro players also called San Juan Hills their biggest rival, and the Titans were the only team to stay until the end for the Stallions’ panel.
While the first Battle for the Bell brings excitement, it is also a little bittersweet, as longtime Tesoro coach Matt Poston will not be on the sidelines. Poston underwent open-heart surgery this week in Los Angeles to take care of an aortic aneurysm.
“Matt’s my friend,” Frith said. “I was really upset first when I heard he had a condition and had to have the surgery. For me and Matt, its more than football.”
Frith said he texted with Poston on Friday and that the Tesoro coach is in good spirits.
“You always want them (Tesoro) at full strength,” Frith said, “but I’m sure their kids will play inspired tonight.”
It’ll be another challenge for the Stallions as they bounce back from a tough road loss last Friday against Edison.
The Stallions led 17-0 before the Chargers came back to win, 24-17.
“Football you only get to play once a week,” Frith said. “Take that whole week digest and move forward. They know they’re playing tough schools. They know our schedule is legit. We want to be playoff ready when we get to league.”
San Juan Hills, ranked No. 6 in CIF-SS Division 4, is battle tested.
The Stallions opened with a loss to Orange Lutheran of the Trinity League, scored a win over local rival San Juan Hills and blew out South Hills of West Covina before the Edison game. South Hills is ranked No. 9 in Division 4, Edison is No. 8 in Division 3 and Tesoro is No. 5 in Division 3.
“We want opportunities like this,” Frith said. “Every game is playing heavyweights.”
Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is a California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports.