PAHULU’S POINT OF VIEW — 8/25/17
For the first week of the high school football season in the Bya Area, I chose to visit Menlo-Atherton High to watch a possible CCS Open Division playoff matchup between Bellarmine-San Jose and the host Bears. Menlo-Atherton surprised everyone last year coming out of the PAL (Peninsula Athletic League- Bay Division) as a state finalist.
The football field is named after Coach Ben Parks, as I remembered during my high school football & wrestling career at Capuchino-San Bruno. Coach Parks was the wrestling coach for M-A. Coach Parks is remembered for running his age in miles ever year on his birthday. For example, when he turned 56, he ran 56 miles around the M-A track to support a cause to help his ailing wife. Eventually, 49ers greats Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott began supporting his birthday runathons in the late 80s and early 90s.
I am here to watch five Tongan football student-athletes from M-A who are on the recruiting radar: #52 Noa Ngalu, #5 Daniel Heimuli, #12 Dimitri Sakalia, #10 Kilifi Leaaetoa and #58 Ben Makoni. The football game starts with a moment of silence to honor Aisea Mataele passed away unexpectedly during his Freshman year last December. Menlo-Atherton honored him by retiring his #60 jersey.
The Bears start their pregame routine by performing the HAKA (Warrior Dance) led by #53 Moala Tautuaa who transferred from Tonga as he went to Toloa High School known for their rugby traditions. Whatever the Bears did to hype themselves up worked as Nick Anderson returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. Towards the end of the first quarter, Bellarmine responds as their RB and workhorse Austin Ajiake tied the game with a 45-yard TD run.
Midway through the second quarter, M-A took the lead as Spencer Corona kicked a line-drive 43-yard field goal. At halftime, the Bears were up 10-7. With 9:30 remaining in the third quarter, Bears QB Miles Conrad throws a perfect pass to freshman phenom Troy Franklin who takes it to the house for a 57-yard TD. M-A led 16-7 with the Bells showing frustration.
As the fourth quarter began, I’m noticing M-A players are being sidelined due to cramps and some injuries. Bellarmine begins to come to life. Ajiake scores on a 15-yard TD run with 7:48 remaining in the game as Bellarmine pulls to within 16-14. Then with 2:36 remaining and Bellarmine at the 6-yard line, M-A called a timeout as the Bells face a 4th- and-1. Bellarmine was not thinking of a field goal. As play resumes, Bellarmine gives the ball to Aijiake who picks up the first down on a 5-yard run to the 1-yard line. Two plays later, Aijiake runs up the middle for his third TD of the game and a 21-16 Bells lead with 1:33 left. Plenty of time for the Bears.
Corona, also the team’s top receiver, is out with an injury. On 4th-and-10 from the Bellarmine 21-yard line, Conrad throws a desperate pass to Troy Franklin who catches the ball in double coverage for a 33-yard pickup that keeps M-A alive. Two plays later, Anderson gets a pass from Conrad and takes it all the way to the 15-yard line with 36.1 seconds left. The Bears were out of timeouts at this point. The Bears get it all the way down to the 6-yard line before an incomplete pass on 4th-and-1 essentially ends the game. Bellarmine prevailed 21-16 over Menlo-Atherton.
Aijiake finished with 28 carries for 173 yards for the Bells. Conrad had 197 yards passing for the Bears, and the freshman receiver, Franklin had 4 catches for 72 yards.
M-A coach Adhir Ravipati summarizes his team’s effort as, “busted coverages, and we need to work on the little things.” When asked about the game’s final play, his voice wasn’t saying anything but his body language said something else.
This game went down to the wire and M-A lived up to their expectations to start this season. They proved they can play with the catholic football programs of the WCAL. Coach Ravipati has got a good squad, and I believe they will get better throughout the season. This was the game of the week and it lived up to the hype. Til next time. Ofa Atu.