First published in the Nov. 6 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
By Jonathan Williams, Glendale News-Press
One of California’s oldest high school sports rivalries was back in action Friday night as Glendale High School’s football team blew out Hoover 39-8 on their joint homecoming night, marking the return of the so-called “Battle of the Bell.”
The anticipated intracity contest between the Nitros and Tornados concluded both squads’ seasons and brought a wave of emotion to the stadium — not least of which was because this was the first Battle of the Bell since 2017. Hoover had defeated Glendale in that game.
“The bell is back home,” Glendale head coach Jacob Ochoa said. “We hope it stays here for a long time. We’re going to paint it red, and I hope we’re not going to have to give it back anytime soon.”
Dating back to 1930, the matchup once drew crowds so large that it necessitated use of the Rose Bowl Stadium. With its win last Friday, Glendale — which debuted brand new red uniforms with jet-black helmets — widens the gap in their all-time game history, now 52-36-2. The finish ends the Nitros’ season on a high note, leaving them with a 2-8 record.
“I’m so proud of them,” Ochoa said. “They’ve been through so much. This senior class has been through so much adversity with COVID-19 and everything that is going on.”
Adversity was also a theme for Hoover, which fielded its first varsity team in three seasons after the infamous 2018 campus brawl pulled the plug on that football season and forced the team into a rebuild. Head coach Azad Herabidian was hired in 2019, and started from scratch with only a freshman squad, eventually turning those returning players into a 2021 squad that posted a 6-4 record in freelance play.
“It definitely sucks to go out on a losing note,” Herabidian said, “but it makes us more resolute to come back next year to accomplish some great things.”
Injuries became a hurdle for the Tornados late into the season, and to cap it off, two key defensive players were injured during the homecoming game. At the end of the day, however, Herabidian felt the team had reached a milestone and highlighted the team’s 5-0 start.
“Going into this season, we knew we were considering a [between a] JV or a varsity squad because we just weren’t sure if we were ready,” Herabidian said. “At the end of the day, we accomplished something that hasn’t happened at Hoover in 30 years.”
After a low-scoring opening half last Friday, Glendale ran away with the game in the second half — literally.
Senior wideout Keirson Florita had a standout performance, with seven carries for 148 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. With 3:12 remaining in the second quarter, Florita evaded Hoover defenders and uncorked an 86-yard touchdown run — now the third longest gain from scrimmage in the rivalry’s 91-year history.
“It feels great to get the bell back,” Florita said. “It’s all about making the fans happy, the team happy and to build a better program for the future.”
Another standout performance came from senior running back Dennis Perez, finishing the night with eight carries for 71 yards rushing.
“I’m happy,” Perez said. “It’s been a long four years and I haven’t played Hoover [before]. They came out here thinking they were better than us and we showed them who was better in Glendale. This is our home.”
It was a close game in the first half. With 1:19 remaining in the second quarter, Perez was wrangled down in his own endzone, resulting in a safety. Now down just 14-8, the game was still within reach for Hoover at halftime.
The second half was a completely different game.
The Nitros detonated an explosive 19-point third quarter, including a 55-yard pick-6 from senior defensive lineman Anthony Lopez with 3:31 remaining.
Then with less than a minute to go in the third quarter, Florita again flew into the endzone, knocking over the pylon to give Glendale a 25-point lead.
Perez’s safety ended up being Hoover’s last points for the night.
During halftime, Perez said the Nitros adjusted their gameplan for the week before entering the second half.
“I’m just glad I got to play one last game with my brothers,” Perez said. “No better outcome.”
Hoover sophomore quarterback Ethan Davis completed 5-of-13 passes for 68 yards and added 10 carries for 36 yards rushing and the lone touchdown for the Tornados. Fellow sophomore Giovanni Vartanyan added 41 yards through the air on 6-of-14 passing.
Devastated by the loss, the Hoover players embraced the end very much the way they began the night — in a huddle. Davis, a team leader, consoled players postgame as Herabidian and his coaches addressed them.
“I’m just thinking about the future,” Davis said. “The game is over. No need to think about the past. We just have to move on because that’s the best we can do. If you think about the past, it’s going to get to you. We can’t let anything get to us anymore.”
Davis said the injuries derailed Hoover’s defense in the second half and noted that he was banged up throughout the game.
“They wanted it just as much as us,” he said. “They had the firepower, and we didn’t. I feel like next year, we’re going to come back.
“I think people let the rivalry get too much into their heads,” Davis added. “It’s football. Football is football and no game is different.”