Button up your chin strap and get ready for high school football.

After weeks of practice, it’s time to turn on the Friday Night Lights at the stadiums, bust through the banners, and play for real.

Each Friday during the season, Noozhawk will preview the games involving our area teams and predict a winner.

This week is considered Week Zero on the schedule of the California Interscholastic Federation, the governing body of high school sports in the state.

Those teams that play this weekend will have a bye week later in the season.

There are five games on tap for Friday and one on Saturday.

The Friday clashes are Rio Mesa at Dos Pueblos; Santa Paula at San Marcos; Santa Barbara at Buena; Simi Valley at Lompoc, and Nipomo at Santa Ynez.

On Saturday, Bishop travels to Lompoc to play Cabrillo.

Here’s a look at each game:

Rio Mesa at Dos Pueblos, 7 p.m. — The Chargers play their first game on the new turf at Scott O’Leary Stadium. This is an even match-up.

Both teams have big lines and a lot of new players. Rio Mesa, however, has a game-breaker in 6-3 speedster C.J. Lewis. The senior moves from receiver to running back, which means he’ll get a lot more touches. The Pick: Rio Mesa

Santa Paula at San Marcos, 7 p.m. — This is a challenging opener for the Royals. Santa Paula is the favorite to win the Citrus Coast League. The Cardinals’ leading returner is receiver Victor Duran, who led Ventura County last season with 1,140 receiving yards.

San Marcos has a solid group of seniors, led by quarterback Ben Partee, receiver Josh Brown and running back Henry Herrera. Their experience should make the difference. The Pick: San Marcos.

Santa Barbara at Buena, 7 p.m. — For quarterback Deacon Hill and the Dons, it’s time to deliver. With his early commitment to Wisconsin, Hill received lots of media attention during the preseason. He now gets his chance to show his stuff against a young Buena team.

He has an experienced group of playmakers around him. Santa Barbara is ranked sixth in the Division 8 preseason poll. The Pick: Santa Barbara.

Simi Valley at Lompoc, 7 p.m. — The Braves will see a much improved Simi team than the one they faced in last’s opener. In their second year under legendary coach Jim Benkert, the Pioneers, who went 8-4 last year, have developed a winning spirit and have improved in several areas. They are ranked third in the Division 10 preseason poll.

Returning quarterback Jack Applegate is a dual threat behind a big offensive line. Receiver Malik Hunt caught 35 passes last year, and transfer running back Elijah Leiva ran for 852 yards and 11 TDs at El Camino Real last season.

Lompoc, ranked fourth in Division 5, has lots of weapons, led by quarterback Cameron Iribarren.  The defense is loaded with returning starters, led by linebacker Leondre Coleman. The Pick: Lompoc

Nipomo at Santa Ynez, 7 p.m. — Nipomo returns several key players from a team that went 8-3, so  expectations are high. The Titans are led by senior quarterback Brayden Groshart and senior linebacker Jesse Garza. Santa Ynez has several athletic players who play multiple positions and an experienced quarterback in Bennett Redell.

But do the Pirates have enough on defense to contain the Titans? The Pick: Nipomo.


Bishop Diego vs. Cabrillo, at Lompoc’s Huyck Stadium, 7 p.m. — Bishop Diego will get a chance to see what talented junior quarterback Buddy Melgoza can do in his first varsity game. He has a big, physical line to work behind and powerful running back senior Adrian Soracco to take handoffs.

Bishop’s physicality figures to be too much for the Conquistadores. The Pick: Bishop Diego.

Noozhawk Sports Editor Barry Punzal can be reached at bpunzal@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at bpunzal@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.