The Righetti football team is going where no other Warriors have been before.
On Friday, the team will face off versus Tulare Union in the CIF-Central Section Division 2 championship game.
It marks the first ever title game appearance for a program that dates back to 1963.
“Just to know that we’ve gone this far and done this well, it’s fantastic,” said senior quarterback Brandon Giddings. “It’s an amazing feeling, especially because I’m a senior and it’s never been done before. It’s just a great feeling!”
Righetti earned the championship appearance with back-to-back victories in its first ever trip to the Central Section post-season.
After earning a first-round playoff bye, Righetti beat Frontier (Bakersfield) 33-16 in the second round.
One week later, in just the third semifinal appearance in program history, Righetti shutout Stockdale (Bakersfield) to earn the school its first-ever football title game.
“It’s definitely an incredible feeling and to be the last team on the Central Coast is amazing,” said senior lineman Caleb Thomas.
It’s quite a turnaround for a program that won just nine games in the three seasons prior to this one.
Last year, the Warriors finished 5-6, a significant step forward following a 1-9 season in 2016 and a 3-7 mark in 2015.
At the heart of the remarkable change has been new leadership.
After working last season as an assistant,1995 graduate Tony Payne took over as head coach.
The move has paid instant dividends for the program. Payne, however, is quick to spread the credit around the team.
“A lot of people are telling me nice things, but I tell them, the reason that we’re having the greatest season in the history of our school is because these guys are the best players in the history of our school,” said Payne.
The Warriors are led by a standout core of captains, including Giddings, Thomas, Isaiah Gayfield, Avery Fondern, Cristian Mondol, Ben Morearty and Anthony Porcho.
“We knew that we had a very special group of athletes,” Payne said. “We knew if we were going to recreate this culture, these players were going to be the ones that led us to the promised land.”
Players credit their off-season commitment to their reversal of fortunes.
“We’ve worked hard all season,” said Porcho. “This is the 15th week that we’ve played. Season says we’ve been working for three months, but we’ve been working for six months since all the way from January even and what we’ve done before this season has made us so good as a team.”
One final game separates the Warriors and the coveted CIF crown.
On Friday, they’ll face top-seeded Tulare Union in historic Bob Mathias Stadium in Tulare.
The Tribe (12-0) have won 25 consecutive Central Section games dating back to 2016.
“They are the truth,” said Payne. “They are super fast. The most athletic team that we’ve seen so far. They’re undefeated. It’s no accident.”
“They are a great team,” Thomas said. “They continue to prove it throughout CIF. They pass for something like 300 yards a game. We run for something like 300 yards a game and I feel like if our defense can come and play, we have a good shot at winning the CIF championship.”
Righetti is playing for more than just the first CIF football championship in school history.
No Santa Maria Valley high school (Righetti, Santa Maria, Pioneer Valley, St. Joseph) has ever won an 11-man football CIF title.
Should the Warriors beat Tulare Union, that would give them a special place in local sports history.
“First championship ever here, right?” Porcho said. “Out of all these schools, it would mean a lot honestly. It would change the program, turn the program around, leave a legacy, it would start and be amazing.”
“A win would put us on the map,” said Payne. “This is how we want to enter the Central Section. A CIF victory would bring some closure to a wonderful season.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Friday Football Focus will provide coverage of the game and have highlights and postgame reaction on KCOY 12 Central Coast News and KEYT NewsChannel 3 at 11:15 p.m.