In its brief history, the Crosstown Clash has been packed with intrigue.
The Los Banos and Pacheco football teams have been playoff contenders the last three years, creating exciting story lines and a number of wild upsets. Throw in the fact that both fan bases seem to have a genuine animosity toward one another simmering just beneath the surface, and it generally makes for some excellent drama. The 2016 version should be no different.
Pacheco (5-4, 3-1 WAC) enters the sixth annual Clash one win shy of securing its place in the postseason; a Panthers victory would earn them an automatic berth into the playoffs. Los Banos (6-3, 3-1 WAC) can pad its résumé for a possible home playoff opener.
A share of the conference title is also at stake if first-place Central Valley (8-1, 4-0) is upset by visiting Ceres (4-5, 2-2) on Friday.
“It’s always nice when you have something to play for going into your rivalry game,” Pacheco coach David Snapp said. “The kids are always excited for this one, but they understand that we still control our own playoff fate. Win and we’re in is pretty straightforward.
“We came into the season with different expectations, but making the playoffs is always the ultimate goal. This is our opportunity.”
Los Banos leads the series 3-2, but Pacheco won 41-30 last year – something Tigers coach Dustin Caropreso said his players haven’t forgotten.
“I think the kids are focused up and ready,” Caropreso said. “They didn’t like how last year’s game went, and I think they’re going to come in with a chip on their shoulders.
“It should be a great game. It’s always a great atmosphere and both teams have something to play for. With the schedule that we’ve had, a win should give us a good shot at hosting a playoff game.”
The squads’ contrasting strengths and weaknesses deepens an already captivating matchup.
Los Banos has relied on its defense throughout the season, yielding under 20 points and about 200 yards per game. With three outbursts of 500-plus yards in their last four games, Caropreso hopes the offense has found a rhythm.
“I think our defense is on par with Central Valley’s,” Caropreso said. “Their front four is fantastic, but man for man, I think we’re right there with them. With Pacheco you have to be very assignment based. If you start peeking in the backfield or trying to do more than your job is when teams get in trouble against them.
“Offensively, I assume they’re going to stuff the box and try to take our run game away. We’ve shown we can throw the ball around the last four weeks, so hopefully that threat gives them a little bit of pause.”
Pacheco has been far and away the WAC’s most potent offensive machine, averaging 42 points and over 400 yards per game. The Panthers’ problem has been stopping people, surrendering 39 points per game. Defending the pass has been a particular plight, yielding games of 466, 399 and 280 yards.
“We believe that we can move the ball against anyone,” Snapp said. “The only one we’ve struggled with is Central Valley (in a 37-16 loss), and if we don’t turn the ball over five times, I think that’s a very different outcome. The goal for the week is 4 yards per carry and to shorten the number of possessions they get.
“The worst thing that could happen is to give them a bunch of possessions and let that big offensive line get the chance to wear on us. We’ve proven we can grind out games. We want to keep their offense and our defense off of the field for as long as possible.”