San Beda-Letran is the longest-running rivalry in the NCAA, but it had been a while since it was a real competition. After the Letran Knights snapped the Red Lions’ five-peat in NCAA Season 91, they entered a rebuilding phase. Other rivalries came to power, most notably the one between the Red Lions and the upstarts of the league, the Lyceum Pirates. San Beda-Letran games represented a rivalry in name only.
That ended today—when the new-look Letran Knights took the defending champions to overtime in their closest game since 2015. The San Beda Here are the best quotes from both teams.
“Mahirap talunin, masaya laruin.” –Coach Boyet Fernandez
The Red Lions’ multi-titled head coach won his first championship with San Beda by beating the Letran Knights. “Naalala ko pa ‘yun, panahon pa nina (Raymond) Alamazan,” he said while walking to the dugout for his pre-game meeting. “Kapag San Beda at Letran ang magkalaban, mas masaya manalo, mas masakit matalo.”
“This is WAR, i-all caps mo ‘yan.” —Jerrick Balanza
Over in the Letran dugout, Balanza was suiting up. He was a rookie when the Knights last defeated the Red Lions. Every year when the NCAA schedule is released, Balanza gets a pen and marks their San Beda games with an asterisk.
“This is WAR. I-all caps mo ‘yan, ate,” Balanza told me. Though the previous two seasons have been a struggle, every game, he’s told himself the same thing when facing San Beda: “Siguro ito na ‘yung oras para matalo sila.”
“Hanggang ngayon, kapag nag-uusap kami ni Ola [Adeogun], nababanggit pa rin ‘yung 2015.” –Robert Bolick
While Balanza was a rookie back in 2015, Bolick was serving his residency with San Beda. He had courtside seats to the game that left the all-star lineup including Adeogun, Baser Amer and Art Deal Cruz heartbroken.
“Syempre ganado ako. Hindi makakalimutan ng seniors ko ‘yun,” he says. “Every game, I feel the same. Alam mo ‘yun, nandoon ka,” Bolick nodded to (Javee) Mocon. Mocon, meanwhile smiled: “Pwede ba, huwag mo nang ipaalala?”
Mocon went on to echo Balanza’s statement: “This is war. For us, every game against them feels like a championship game.”
“Ito na, dito natin mapapakita ang character natin.” –Coach Jeff Napa
The Knights scored the first point, but the Red Lions took the lead and kept it until the fourth quarter, where the heroics of JP Calvo, Christian Fajarito, Bong Quinto and Jeo Ambohot finally gave them the lead. The Knights and their fans went wild, with Jeremiah Taladua standing on the bench seats with both arms stretched to the sky. A putback by Tankoua tied the game, though, sending it into overtime.
Before the game, Coach Jeff Napa had said, “Sa tagal ko na sa Letran, nasa puso ko na ang ayoko matalo sa San Beda.” During overtime he encouraged the Knights to recover from the lost opportunity to win the game in regulation: “Anumang mangyari, we stick together.”
“Every game with them feels like a championship game.”’ –Javee Mocon
Even the fans were getting in it. The Red Lions’ supporters screamed their Indian Yell cheer. Not to be outdone, the Letran side busted out their version of it: “Beda Tulo Laway!”
In the end, though, the combined efforts of a steady Bolick and Mocon, plus timely shots by Soberano and Tankoua, brought the victory to San Beda. On paper, it was the same outcome as the past years’ San Beda-Letran games, but make no mistake: this was different. The Knights are once again a match for the Red Lions.
Mark your calendars for their round two meeting, guys. The San Beda-Letran rivalry is back on track.