Over the past nine years, the football programs at Novato and Foothill Highs have been staples among the North Coast Section's elite. During that span, there have been just two years where one of the teams has not won an NCS title, and over the past seven years they have combined to go 138-30-2.

For Novato coach Travis Brackett, Foothill was the type of program he wanted to build Novato into. So, after winning NCS titles in 2002 and 2005, a home-and-home series with the Falcons was scheduled.

"Foothill has a strong history of being a good football program and in order to get better we have to play the best," Brackett said.

After splitting their first two meetings, Novato and Foothill renewed the series for another two games, beginning today at 7:30 p.m. at Foothill.

"It was two good games between us so we decided to set up another home-and-home," said Foothill co-coach John Mannion.

The first meeting with the East Bay Athletic League power was an eye-opener for Novato as Foothill's stout defense and physical offense resulted in a 21-3 Foothill win. The loss likely cost the Hornets a shot a state bowl berth as they went unbeaten the rest of the way, allowing only three more touchdowns while outscoring their opponents 545-24 en route to their second straight NCS 2A title.

Novato rode that momentum into last year's rematch with the Falcons and exacted some revenge in the form of a 25-22 win in the season's first week. The Hornets went on to go undefeated before losing in the California Interscholastic Federation Division II state bowl game. The title game loss ended a 25-game winning streak that began the week after losing to Foothill in 2006.

"It was a great experience to be able to represent Northern California," Brackett said. "The environment was great and we got to play a very good team (Oceanside-San Diego)."

Back from that team are 29 players, including 14 starters, but the Hornets began the year with a 22-13 loss to state power Valley Christian-San Jose last week.

Foothill is coming off a 6-5 season but will benefit from the return of coach Matt Sweeney, who guided the Falcons to 11 league and four section titles in 21 years as head coach before stepping aside before last season began.