Many are calling Saturday night’s San Joaquin Memorial-Tulare Union high school football playoff the Valley Bowl and have pointed to this matchup all season.
Each team brings a 13-0 record and back-to-back Central Section championships into the CIF Northern California Division 2-A final at 6 p.m. Saturday at Bob Mathias Stadium.
They’re meeting for the first time since 2004, stadium public address announcer Harry Kargenian said. Memorial won that game 34-24 on a Black Friday afternoon in the section playoffs.
That’s a long time to foster a rivalry, but one began brewing last season when Tulare Union rolled to the section D-II title while San Joaquin Memorial was knocking off Tulare Western to win D-III. This season, Tulare Union and Memorial stayed in their respective divisions and rolled, making the regional the only place for a showdown.
“The entire Valley has been waiting for this like for two years,” Memorial senior quarterback Alec Trujillo said. “A little bit bragging rights here and there. I’ve got nothing but respect for all those guys over there.”
In 2017, both teams were ousted in the regional finals. Serra-San Mateo defeated host Tulare Union 76-43 in NorCal D-2AA and Memorial fell 31-28 to Southwest El Centro in SoCal D-4A.
Saturday’s winner advances to face Lawndale in the state championship game Dec. 15, 4 p.m. at Cerritos College.
Also Saturday, Central Valley Christian plays at Pleasant Valley-Chico for the state 4-AA championship. Strathmore has a bye before playing Dec. 15 in the state 6-AA final.
Memorial and Tulare Union bring a lot of star power, particularly Trujillo and Tribe quarterback Nathan Lamb who have each passed for more than 10,000 yards in their career, according to section historian Bob Barnett.
Tulare Union senior wide receiver/cornerback Randy Jordan Jr., who’s committed to Fresno State, is ready to get going.
“It’s bragging rights,” he said. “I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s going to be a big game. It’s going to be a matter of who outsmarts one another and does their job every time. Our defense will have to come and play.”
Jordan said, “it will be a battle of the offenses” and he expects it to be a shootout.
The Panthers have two deep threats in wide receivers Jalen McMillan and Josh Kelly.
“The schools are undefeated … state regional championship. Who wouldn’t want to see it?” McMillan said.
“We wanted this game,” Kelly said. “I’m pretty sure they wanted this game. Now that we got it, we have to go out there and show out.”
Tulare Union senior running back/defensive back David Dailey said the message from coach Darren Bennett this week is to “outwork them.”
“It’s the game most people in the Valley wanted to see,” Dailey said. “I believe people in the state wanted it, too. We never really got to play each other. They have a lot of (college-caliber) D-I guys and we have D-I guys … it’s just a matter of who goes out there and works harder.”
Prep playoffs in the Valley
Tickets: $12, $8 for children, students with ASB cards and seniors
Saturday: San Joaquin Memorial (13-0) at Tulare Union (13-0), 6 p.m. at Bob Mathias Stadium, Tulare Avenue just west of Highway 99