After an unanticipated bye week due to hazardous air quality resulting from the North Bay fires, local football teams are changing gears, preparing for a new opponent after not playing the team they prepared for last week.
"It's been a little bit of a whirlwind for sure,'' Menlo-Atherton coach Adhir Ravipati said. "Prepare for a team then shelve that for three weeks before coming back to that opponent. But when you see what happened to Cardinal Newman High School, that puts it all in perspective. Kind of mind numbing.''
Tommy Barnds/Bob Dahlberg.
One of the biggest games scheduled for last Friday was defending CCS Open Division I champion M-A (4-2, 2-0) hosting undefeated Aragon. Now instead of Aragon, M-A will play another undefeated team, Half Moon Bay, in a 7:30 p.m. game Friday on the road.
"In my opinion, when you look at CCS, the top teams are Valley Christian, St. Francis and Serra from the WCAL, Milpitas, and Aragon and Half Moon Bay,'' Ravipati said.
Half Moon Bay (6-0, 1-0) has outscored its opponents by a staggering 320-29 margin. Included in its non-league schedule were three games against PAL Lake teams, which HMB outscored by a combined 170-0, but the Cougars also blasted two teams from the SCVAL De Anza Division -- Palo Alto and Saratoga, 48-7 and 63-7, and won their PAL Bay opener 39-15 over a Burlingame team that M-A edged by a mere 14-10 count.
"They're the real deal,'' Ravipati said. "They have a lot of three-year players. It will be a very difficult task to beat them on their home field on senior night and homecoming. We will need to be very disciplined and assignment sound.''
After the win over Burlingame, a game in which Burlingame dominated time of possession, M-A had a regularly-scheduled bye, then beat Sacred Heart Prep 42-35 thanks to a handful of big plays, including two kickoff returns for touchdowns by Nick Anderson. The Bears scored 42 points in that game despite running only 21 plays from scrimmage.
Then another bye, this one unanticipated. So it's been a long time since M-A's offense has had significant game-time reps.
"It's been a weird year,'' Ravipati said. "The last two games we've combined for maybe 50 offensive plays.''
Milpitas at Palo Alto, 7 p.m.
Palo Alto faces a big test against a powerful Milpitas team.
"They are clearly the top dog in terms of skill and athleticism in our league,'' Palo Alto coach Danny Sullivan said. "They're fun to watch.''
Milpitas (7-0, 3-0), which had its regularly-scheduled bye last week, is led by the Bracy twins, Tariq and Tyree. Tariq Bracy, a speedster running back, has offers from Notre Dame and Cal, among others.
"He's got to be one of the top five dynamic players in the section,'' Sullivan said. "He can catch the ball, run with the ball, make plays in space and plays corner very well. If they had a trick play for him to throw the ball, he could do that. I haven't seen a player like that around here in a long time.''
Palo Alto (1-5, 1-1) goes in as a huge underdog.
"We have got to be disciplined,'' Sullivan said. "If we leave one gap uncovered they'll find a way to hit it. We've got to keep our pads low and we've got to make some plays through the air.''
The lack of a passing game has been a constant thorn in Paly's side the last two years. The team's running game has been effective the last two contests in a win over Homestead and a loss to Los Gatos.
"The key for us is ball control and to capitalize on opportunities,'' Sullivan said. "We had long drives against Los Gatos and came up with nothing. We have to score when we get in the red zone. We're not built for big plays. We're running the ball well, 5 yards a carry. When we drop back we're averaging 4.3. That's unreal and very frustrating for me having played quarterback back in the day.''
Monta Vista at Gunn, 7 p.m.
On paper this looks like an even matchup. Gunn and Monta Vista are both 3-3 overall and 1-1 in the SCVAL El Camino Division. Comparative scores are comparable: both teams beat Lynbrook, Gunn by 33, Monta Vista by 31; both teams beat James Lick, Gunn by 22, Monta Vista by 20; both teams lost to Andrew Hill, Gunn by 23, Monta Vista by 8.
The winner will have a winning record at a late date in the season, providing plenty of motivation on both sides for a couple of programs that have been down in recent years.
Stopping the run will be a key for Gunn, which broke a 15-game league losing streak in its last game, a 40-7 win over Lynbrook.
"They're a finesse running team with a lot of quarterback option,'' Gunn coach Brandon Boyd said of Monta Vista. "They probably run 85 to 90 percent of the time.''
The Titans are much more pass-oriented on offense, averaging 301 yards per game through the air as opposed to 73 per game on the ground.
Solomone Paletua has taken over as Gunn's starting quarterback.
"He's one of those guys who can do everything,'' Boyd said. "He's a threat to use his feet to run the ball and he can make any throw on the field.''
Hudson Alexander, the primary quarterback earlier in the season, will see time at running back, tight end and wide receiver.
DJ Barnes is a special player for Gunn. He had three interceptions in the win over Lynbrook and 254 all-purpose yards with 135 receiving and 75 on punt returns. On the season he has 44 receptions for 732 yards with seven touchdowns.
"If he was 6-1 every school in the country would be calling us about him,'' Boyd said of the 5-foot-9, 160-pound Barnes.
Woodside at Menlo School, 3 p.m.
Menlo (4-2, 2-0) might be tempted to look ahead a week to a potential showdown against Hillsdale for the PAL Ocean title, but standout senior lineman JH Tevis says that won't happen.
"We're always focused on the week ahead of us,'' Tevis said. "We put a lot on ourselves, our identity, keeping our heads down and trying to continue being a great defense, a great team. Woodside has some good players. We can't look past them.''
Tevis, who has committed to Cal, has led a defensive unit that has been outstanding all season, having allowed 71 points in six games.
"The last three years our defensive coordinator, Todd Smith, has created a system of accountability,'' Tevis said. "It's a system where we all rely on each other. Everyone has to do their part. This year we've really come together and held each other accountable. We focus a lot on our trust, our willingness for 11 guys to get to the ball.''
It's been a nightmarish season for Woodside (0-6, 0-2) which had only 18 available players at the conclusion of its last game, a 49-6 loss to a team from The King's Academy that also went into the game 0-5.
"As a coach this is something new for me to deal with,'' Woodside coach Justin Andrews said. "I've found that I've got to be more creative, more resourceful. Just try to get through it each week, get through game day.''
Terra Nova at Sacred Heart Prep, 3 p.m.
After experiencing a real low point in their season in a 40-7 loss to Aragon, SHP (1-5, 1-1) bounced back nicely offensively in a 42-35 loss to Menlo-Atherton.
"The M-A game showed what our team can do offensively,'' quarterback Brad Yaffe said.
Yaffe threw for 287 yards against M-A, completing 21 of 33 passes.
The running game got a boost with the return of Tommy Barnds from an injury he incurred in the second game of the season against Sobrato. Barnds rushed for 89 yards on 20 carries.
The defense needs to tighten up, having allowed an average of 39.5 points per games during its current four-game losing streak. The Gators were victimized by the big play against M-A, which returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.
But in all it was an encouraging, competitive performance against the defending CCS Open Division I champions.
The Gators had their game against Half Moon Bay rescheduled for the end of the regular season.
"We couldn't practice so we watched a lot of film,'' quarterback Yaffe said. "The guys are really excited to be back on the field."
Terra Nova (4-2, 0-1), with its wide-open spread offense led by quarterback Nathan Gordon, presents a much different challenge for the SHP defense than Half Moon Bay would have with its triple option. But the Gators have a positive memory to fall back on of a 30-21 win over Terra Nova late last season.
"That was my first win as a quarterback,'' Yaffe said. "We'd like to repeat that. We're excited because we're still fighting for a playoff spot.''