A regional science competition pit school against school -- and for the regional championship and a trip to next month's National Science Bowl in Washington, D.C., one Norris Middle School team against another.
Three team spots were available to represent the state of California at the finals April 24-28.
With one spot left to decide, the two Norris teams competed against each other in the regional final Saturday at Arroyo Grande High School in San Luis Obispo County.
Andrew Stephens, a science teacher, coached the three Norris teams that competed. He cracked jokes to relieve the nerves of students before they competed against the very teammates they had practiced with for six weeks.
He said the questions were "shockingly complex" and moderators could not repeat questions.
"They get so long, I'm like I don't even known how these kids are keeping up at this," Stephens said.
The competition -- three levels of race-to-respond battle fashioned after the game show "Jeopardy!" -- tested student knowledge of biology, chemistry, Earth and space science, physics and math.
Ryan Carr, the eighth-grade dean at Norris, said he had not heard of the science bowl until shortly before school recessed for winter break this school year.
Students practiced twice a week for about 45 minutes a day.
Twenty-seven teams from 13 middle schools in Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Kern and Santa Barbara counties competed in the regional match.
The U.S. Department of Energy coordinates the national contest. Norris will join about 50 middle school teams at the finals in Washington.
Dirk Fillpot, a spokesman with the science office of the U.S. energy department, said middle school students have been part of the science bowl since 2002, but this year is the first time middle school students from Bakersfield participated.
Stephens said he knows his students are brilliant but he did not think the school had a chance to win the regional.
"It's astounding how well they did," he said.