For six years, the Modesto Junior College and Laney football teams have been solid sparring partners.
How fitting then that their paths cross again today in their second consecutive battle royale -- the Absolute Loans 15th Annual Graffiti Bowl at 1 p.m.
Today's game decides the Central California regional championship as both teams come in as league champions. Modesto went 5-0 to win the Golden Gate Conference. Laney was also perfect in the Mid-Empire Conference, surviving a double-overtime game with Merced 37-30.
Modesto and Laney share a handful of similarities.
They have started and ended their seasons against one another the last two years, opening with scrimmages and earning Graffiti Bowl berths.
Former conference rivals, Modesto JC and Laney maintained a competitive relationship through scrimmages and non-conference meetings.
Modesto JC coach Sam Young said the mutual respect the teams share has helped both programs develop.
"There are certain core values we teach and instill in our teams," Young said. "We want to play a certain way, present ourselves in a first-class manner. There's a right way to play."
Young and Laney coach Jay Uchiumi were both longtime assistants. Young spent 15 years at UC Davis before coming to Modesto JC in 1991. He was on Steve DaPrato's staff until becoming the head coach in 2000.
Uchiumi was under revered coach Stan Peters, who headed the Laney program for 32 years. He retired after the 2005 season and passed the torch to Uchiumi.
Laney had 10 players sign at Division I schools last year after going 8-2 and winning the Graffiti Bowl in the last six minutes.
That's a loss the Pirate sophomores have carried for a year. Quarterback Chad Draper said the matchup is one he and his teammates were happy about.
"I want to play 'em," Draper said. "A lot of the sophomores feel that way. It would have been neat to play Merced because it's a neighboring team, but it's Laney who the sophomores wanted, especially after losing the lead with six minutes left."
Even among the talk of avenging that loss, there is an air of professionalism. Defensive lineman David Hiriscau said the Pirates and Eagles don't engage in trash talk, keeping emotion out of their rather businesslike meetings.
"Some teams you jaw with you come back crazy to hit on the next play," Hiriscau said. "That can be a bad thing and you develop a personal vendetta that could hurt your team. The game of football is supposed to be fun. It's not supposed to be about fighting. We respect each other really well."
Hiriscau thinks both teams are evenly matched. He agreed with Draper that last year's loss helped motivate the Pirates this season. They don't want to lose to Laney again.
"We're really rolling right now," Draper said. "We're playing our best ball."
Young said the Pirates have shown incredible focus this week. The offense has steadily improved, particularly the line.
"Our preparation has been excellent," Young said. "The way the kids have practiced down the stretch has been pleasing to see. We're looking forward to having a great game."
Bee staff writer Kelly Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.