Despite playoff losses this past weekend that would have earned them bids to the Pop Warner Super Bowl in Florida, Santa Clara Lions 10U (Panthers) and 12U (Wildcats) are still alive. The teams each have one more chance with games the weekend before Thanksgiving to earn Division II bids to the annual Pop Warner Super Bowl tournament in Orlando, Florida.
For the Wildcats, it would be a repeat trip. A year ago, the Wildcats qualified for and traveled to Florida as the Pacific Northwest 11U Champions. Sixteen of the 22 rostered players from last year’s team have returned and according to Head Coach Roger Young, the veterans are more interested in treating this potential trip like a business trip.
“The veterans that would be returning to Florida are already telling the other kids, ‘Calm down, it’s not about going to the pools and all this other stuff,’” chuckled the head coach. “We did Universal Studios twice while we were over there and this time we are not going to Universal. We’re going there and taking care of business and we are coming home.”
The idea this year is to come home with a big trophy. A big part of that potential is the play of Junior Medina at tailback, but the Wildcats have multiple key figures on the team that surprise their opponents. Myles Cheney is the team’s kicker and has been excellent on his point after attempts all season, plus even kicked a successful field goal, a rare feat at this age group. Another key player is Axel Gomez, brand new to tackle football this season but referred to by Coach Young as one of the team MVPs.
“I’m pretty excited and nervous at the same time,” admitted Gomez on his potential first trip to Florida. “The guys have told me that the teams over there are harder to play than the teams over here.”
Gomez will be able to lean on Florida veterans though like offensive guard Jisaiah Leatiota.
“A lot of people got more mature coming back from last season,” remarked Leatiota on the team’s current focus with a Florida trip on the horizon. “I think everyone is ready and our mindset is where it needs to be.”
This year the 10U Panthers also look ready for a cross-country flight to join the Wildcats at the Super Bowl.
“We have a lot of unique kids, everyone brings their own little unique blend to the team,” chimed Panthers Head Coach Stephen Vinciale. “My coaching staff all have their own takes on how the game should be played, so all that collectively coming together has been amazing. Our team has some of the best energy too, especially on game day. We are loud and proud, it’s a good, unique group of kids.”
Jesse Medina and Dylan Paredes are two of the key tailbacks for the Panthers this season. Both expressed their excitement about potentially winning this weekend against Reno to advance to Florida.
“I’m excited, yeah, we are doing great!” chimed Medina.
“I’m so excited to be here with my teammates. I think we are going to smack this team,” added Paredes.
Santa Clara Lions cheer is also excited about a potential trip to Nationals in Florida.
“We get to go on a plane, and you get more experiences with your teammates when you get to go far,” beamed Dezarey Ayala.
Update: Unfortunately, the Santa Clara Panthers season came to an end. The Santa Clara Wildcats won and will head to the Pop Warner Super Bowl. You can help the Wildcats fund their trip through this GoFundMe.