By Kate Oczypok
There was excitement in the early autumn air among the two local Inland Catholic high schools last month. On Sept. 24, Riverside Notre Dame High School and San Bernardino Aquinas High School faced off in the annual “Holy War” rivalry, a football game that the two communities did not get to play last year due to the pandemic.
The winner of the matchup gets to take home a shield as a trophy. This year, Aquinas bested Notre Dame 53-0.
“This game is just so important to our community,” said Dr. Chris Barrows, President of Aquinas High School. “It’s so exciting to play the game against Notre Dame; it’s a longstanding history going back to 1958.”
The two schools have played almost every year since then. This year, Aquinas was the home team, and they were eager to show off their new scoreboard.
“I think with people being inside the last year and a half, the game has even more of a sense of excitement,” Barrows said. “It’s an awesome thing to be a part of.”
Notre Dame High School Principal RaeAnna Ashton was grateful to come together for the friendly rivalry. “The students create a fun week to showcase our Titan spirit and we all enjoy the community we have built to support our athletes,” she said.
Aquinas head football coach Jordan Brusig is also an alum of the school (and of the football program). He said his students had the “best week of practice” the week before the big game. While he feels bad for the students who never got to play in the rivalry due to COVID last year, he knows they were cheering on the sidelines.
“Every year the game gets bigger, especially with the power of social media and the size of our school growing,” Brusig said. “This rivalry is like another homecoming week.”
“I’m excited to see our guys go out and perform on Friday,” Brusig added, speaking before the game.
Notre Dame’s head football coach Carnell Hunt echoed Brusig’s sentiment. “We are excited to just compete in the tradition of the Holy War,” he said. “It’s about the boys and we want them to enjoy it.”
Aquinas football players said they were eager to play in this year’s Holy War. “Seniors last year didn’t get to have a game last year, so this one’s for them,” said senior Jordan Taasi.
Aquinas teammate Dre Robles is a transfer from Notre Dame. Being able to play football means a lot to him. “It’s great to carry on the tradition and bring the shield home where it’s supposed to be,” he added.
“I’m excited to go up against Aquinas in the Holy War,” said Notre Dame senior Benjamin Valencia, speaking before the game. “I am ready to go out there and play Titan football.”
Aquinas cheerleader Mailani Romo said she was very excited for the school’s first Holy War home game in four years. “It’s the biggest game of the year, it gets everyone pumped for the rest of the season,” she said. “It definitely gives us a lot of pride; we make posters and get everyone hyped.”
Romo encouraged everyone who goes to a Holy War game to get dressed up and “get rowdy.”
Fellow Aquinas student Gabbi Guest helps run the student section. She said she was looking forward to the game, especially given that her class had previously only experienced one Holy War during their freshman year. “Aquinas is like family; when one of us gets a win, everyone does,” she said.
Notre Dame senior Hailey Brown said the Holy War is the one time they come together as a family to show school spirit. “It’s about setting up for a pep rally at 5:30 in the morning just to lose your voice and get your class hyped,” she said. “It’s about staying until 11 p.m. talking about how much fun we had – the Holy War is the definition of high school tradition at its finest and a big part of the Notre Dame culture.”
Sarah Cox, a fellow Notre Dame senior and athletic training student, said she was excited to celebrate her last Holy War “going all out in green and gold” to support the football team.
The Aquinas-Notre Dame football rivalry had Aquinas victorious in the first ever matchup over 60 years ago. However, Notre Dame holds the most series wins, with 35 versus Aquinas’s 21. There has been one tie.
Kate Oczypok is a Catholic freelance writer living near Washington, D.C.