The last week of the high school football regular season means one thing for San Mateo County football teams:
It's rivalry week.
Burlingame will play San Mateo in the Little Big Game, Terra Nova and Half Moon Bay will square off in the Skull Game, South San Francisco will meet El Camino in the Bell Game.
The list goes on.
In Santa Clara County, meanwhile, the final week isn't nearly as traditional.
When leagues based on competitive strength rather than geography emerged two decades ago, they contributed to the demise of traditional rivalries in many sports throughout the county.
These power leagues dominate the Santa Clara County high school sports landscape to the extent that the Big Bone Game between Lincoln and San Jose on Thanksgiving Day is about the only end-of-season football rivalry game left on the calendar.
But in San Mateo County, traditional rivalries have remained important enough that the Peninsula Athletic League arranges its division schedules so that rivals can continue to play every year on the final weekend before the playoffs.
The oldest of the rivalry matchups is the Little Big Game, a tradition between San Mateo and Burlingame that dates to 1927. The teams' game Saturday at Burlingame (kickoff is 11 a.m.) will be the 85th in the series. Burlingame, which has won 13 of 15 since San Mateo coaching icon Buz Williams retired after the 1996 season, leads overall 48-32. Four games have ended in ties.
The fun Saturday begins early as the San Mateo band will march the mile and a half or so between the schools, accompanied by a police escort.
"It's a huge deal for the community," San Mateo coach Jeff Scheller said. "It's going to be fun. We're lucky to be part of it.''
Burlingame, a Bay Division member, clinched a berth in the Central Coast Section playoffs last week with a 31-24 win over Aragon. This will be the last game of the season for San Mateo, a Lake Division member.
"It's impossible to diminish the stature of this game," Burlingame coach John Philipopoulos said. "We've had games where one or both teams were lagging, we've had games with league championships on the line. It doesn't matter. The games are always full of drama and action packed."
Last season, Burlingame was on its way to the CCS playoffs and San Mateo came in 1-8. But the Bearcats nearly pulled off the upset, losing 33-28 when a last-second pass into the end zone fell incomplete.
"The lights, the stage, 4,000-5,000 coming to watch you play," Scheller said. "I remember last year looking up and seeing all these people standing in the ramps, huddled along the fence. We want to win it and get the Paw back."
The Paw trophy goes to the winner of the game between Panthers and Bearcats.
Other notable rivalry games include the Bell Game with South San Francisco at El Camino (Saturday at 2 p.m.) and the Skull Game with Terra Nova at Half Moon Bay (Friday, 7 p.m.). Rivals Capuchino at Mills, whose game is sometimes dubbed the Battle of the Strip, will meet Saturday at 2 p.m.
"It's always a special game," Capuchino coach Adam Hyndman said.
Seniors from both teams will be feted at a Rotary Club luncheon.
"I played at Cap," Hyndman said. "I still have that competitive urge inside me to beat Mills. The kids feel it. The coaches don't have to do much motivating."
Also set up for the final weekend of the regular season are games between neighboring schools Aragon and Hillsdale, Carlmont and Sequoia, Woodside and Menlo-Atherton and Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo School.