SANTA MARIA, Calif. - After a big upset win last Friday, it's apparent there's something special happening at Santa Maria High School.
The Saints played top-seeded Schurr in the second round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 12 playoffs on Friday night and knocked off the Spartans 42-21.
The victory moved the Northern League champions into the semifinal round, where it will face South El Monte on Friday night.
"It's just crazy knowing that if we win this game we're in the championship game the following the week," said senior linebacker/wide receiver Jonathan Ramos.
The playoff win was just the latest remarkable accomplishment for Saints team that is now used to earning a bit of school history seemingly every week.
On the last night of the regular season, a victory over Nipomo gave the Saints the program's first league title in 29 years.
This season also marks the first time Santa Maria has earned a CIF playoff trip since 2001.
A win over Carpinteria in the opening round of the playoffs was the first postseason victory since 1994.
Now, the team has earned a trip to the CIF semifinals for the first time since 1988.
"Getting so far in CIF, it's like a dream come true, honestly," said senior running back/linebacker Robert Ruiz. "I'm hoping to make it to the finals. I never imagined us getting this far."
The run continues an incredible turnaround for the program. From 1996 to 2015, Santa Maria won only 37 games.
After averaging less than two wins a season during that 20-year span, this year's team is now just two wins away from an unlikely CIF championship.
"It feels special," said senior quarterback Blake Truhitte. "We know that we're going to be able to take this where ever we go in life. We're part of history and it feels awesome."
With the Saints performing so well, it's no surprise the team is capturing the attention of a lot of people in Santa Maria.
"Everywhere I go, people are asking, don't you play football for Santa Maria?" Ruiz said. "It feels really good. Everyone is supporting you and everyone is on your side."
Third-year head coach Dan Ellington has accomplished what many others have not been able to do over the past two decades, which has been to return Santa Maria football to prominence.
With the Saints two wins away from a championship, the longtime area coach is enjoying the ride.
"It's surreal, I guess a little bit, you can say," said Ellington. "I've been coaching for over 30 years and this is the furthest I've ever been in the playoffs and just seeing the kids so excited and the community and getting phone calls from alumni that graduated from this school like 40 years ago, it's just really cool."
The football team continues an unprecedented run of success across the entire athletic department.
Highlighted by a CIF title in baseball five months ago, Santa Maria High School sports teams are winning big.
"It's like a domino effect," said Ellington. "When one program does well, you get a nice facility and a nice weight room and a pool, you put some money back into the school, kids now participate and are rewarded by their hard work and this school has a lot of good coaches on staff and that's helped out a lot."
Even as the team enjoys its playoff run, it has also quickly turned the page in preparation of its game with South El Monte.
"It's going to be a big challenge," said Ellington. "They're a physical football team. They've got a really good running back (Sal Tovar). He's got over 2,000 yards. Their quarterback (Daniel Olmos) is an athlete. He likes to run the ball too, so we have our hands full, but our whole season kind of prepared us for these playoffs. It's not something that we haven't seen before and we have an idea of how to prepare for them."
After playing its first two playoff games in the friendly confines of its home field Ralph Baldiviez Stadium, Friday marks Santa Maria's first road game of the postseason.
"Road games are always tough, especially if the bus drive is three or four hours because the momentum is not always there and you have to pick yourself up as you get there to get pumped and have a lot of energy," Ruiz said.
Despite playing about 170 miles south of Santa Maria in the San Gabriel Valley, the Saints will enter the game feeling they can win again, especially after just beating the top-seeded team.
"These kids are really confident," Ellington said. "I think what really put us over the confidence level was beating Nipomo. I think that was the thing that made us start to believe in ourselves and you could see each week after that, we've gotten better and better. Last week we played phenomenal football."
A Santa Maria victory would earn the Saints its first trip to the championship since 1988. The winner between Santa Maria/South El Monte will face either Big Bear or Santa Ana for the title next week.
It's a game the Saints are hoping they'll be part of.
"It's exciting," said Truhitte. "This is what it's all about. We want to play as long as we can. We're just going to ride this momentum wave and go down and have a good time and bring back another win."
Santa Maria plays at South El Monte on Friday, Nov. 24.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Friday Football Focus on KCOY 12 Central Coast News and NewsChannel 3 will have a full recap of the game at 11:15 p.m.