First place will be at stake when Menlo School plays at Hillsdale in a PAL Ocean Division showdown Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Menlo (5-2 overall) and Hillsdale (7-0) are both 3-0 in PAL Ocean play. There's a temptation to say the league title is on the line. But this year there's a complication.
With a weekend's worth of games postponed two weeks ago due to the fallout of the North Bay fires, there's an additional league game still to come after next week's traditional rivalry games.
Menlo still has to play Sacred Heart Prep and Sequoia; Hillsdale still must play Aragon and The King's Academy.
"King's Academy is playing extremely well, they're starting to click,'' Hillsdale coach Mike Parodi said, warning against any inclination to look beyond this week's game with Menlo. "There are so many variables.''
Menlo's experienced-laden defense has allowed only 77 points in seven games this season. JH Tevis, a defensive lineman who has committed to Cal, has 13 sacks and 23 tackles for loss.
"They play hard, they're athletic and they're extremely intelligent,'' Parodi said. "Sometimes you get away with stuff. That's not going to fly this week. If we're not where we're supposed to be it's a minus-4 or a sack.''
The Menlo defense will be challenged by a Hillsdale offense averaging just a shade under 38 points per game.
"Hillsdale is a great team,'' Menlo defensive back Dillon Grady said. "If we come out and do our jobs, don't make any silly mistakes, we have a great chance of coming out on top."
Hillsdale is a spread team that runs more than it passes. Primary ball carrier Nick Hulman has had a monster season, rushing for 1,199 yards and 17 touchdowns. The 190-pound senior, a three-year starter at linebacker, scored five touchdowns in a 42-7 win last week over South San Francisco.
"This kid, he gets after it,'' Parodi said. "He's a straight downhill runner who brings some thump.''
Menlo beat Woodside last week 51-6 without starting quarterback Emilio Simbeck and top running back Aidan Israelski. Sophomore Kevin Alarcon stepped in at QB and did a nice job, completing eight passes for 162 yards and three touchdowns. Grady took over at running back and gained 116 yards on eight carries.
"It's awesome to see players who don't get as many reps step up, take a leadership role and perform at a high level,'' Grady said.
Burlingame at Sacred Heart Prep, 7:30 p.m.
Defense made a big breakthrough last week in Sacred Heart Prep's 16-7 win over Terra Nova. The Gators went into that contest on a four-game losing streak in which they had allowed an average of 39.5 points per game.
"It was awesome to see how the guys responded, kept on working and not losing confidence,'' SHP coach Mark Grieb said. "They played with a lot of energy. The defense really played well. Great game plan and execution.''
A return to health of some key performers was a big factor.
"Getting (Jack) Donnelly and (Tevita) Moimoi back makes you a lot better,'' Grieb said of two linebackers who had been out with injuries. "Donnelly was all over the field and the D-line did a great job of getting pressure.''
Offensively, Sacred Heart Prep (2-5, 1-2) emphasized time of possession and the ground game in order to keep the high-powered Terra Nova offense off the field.
Tommy Barnds rushed for 86 yards on 22 carries and John Willard, playing a short time after the death of his father, Mike Willard, a former Stanford lineman, gained 34 yards on 12 carries.
"John played, like his father would have wanted,'' SHP athletic director Frank Rodriguez said. "That was a very emotional game, There wasn't a dry eye on our side of the field.''
Burlingame (4-3, 0-3), a run-oriented wing-T team, presents a markedly different challenge than pass-first Terra Nova did for the SHP defense. The Panthers haven't won yet in PAL Bay play, but lost close games to Menlo-Atherton (14-10) and Aragon (14-8).
"Assignment football,'' Grieb said. "That's the kind of preparation you have to have when you face an offense like Burlingame.''
Menlo-Atherton at Terra Nova, 7:30 p.m.
The Bears will play their second game in a row on the Coastside and will try to bounce back from a disappointing 28-10 defeat at Half Moon Bay.
"We need to step it up as a team,'' M-A coach Adhir Ravipati said. "In the Half Moon Bay game and the last couple of weeks we've played pretty soft, haven't played up to our physical ability. We haven't played M-A football, blue-collar, physical football.''
Establishing the run on offense will be a key.
"We want to be able to run the football,'' Ravipati said. "Other than the Palma and Los Gatos games we haven't been able to do that. That's why we haven't been able to get into a rhythm offensively.''
Terra Nova QB Nathan Gordon, the younger brother of record-setter Anthony Gordon, has thrown for 1,679 yards and 17 TDs with only three interceptions.
"He kind of reminds me of Johnny Manziel,'' Ravipati said. "He makes plays with his legs, is tough to corral. He's more of a scrambler than his brother.''
Saratoga at Palo Alto, 7 p.m.
After losing to league heavyweights Los Gatos and Milpitas in its last two games, Palo Alto finds itself in the role of favorite when it welcomes Saratoga to Hod Ray Field for its homecoming game.
"Saratoga is a good matchup for us,'' Palo Alto coach Danny Sullivan said. "They're real well coached but just having a real tough year.''
The Falcons are 0-7 and have allowed 60 points or more in three of their games. Palo Alto (1-6, 1-2) should have an advantage on the line of scrimmage.
"They're having some trouble up front,'' Sullivan said. "Our defensive line will be out to put some pressure on their quarterback, create some havoc.''
Like every Paly opponent, Saratoga will be looking to stop the run.
"I'm expecting them to stack the box, because why wouldn't a team do that against us,'' Sullivan said. "We'll need to hit some passes.''
Jackson Chryst saw some action against Milpitas after missing two games and shared time with Kyle Mostofizadeh at quarterback.
Cupertino at Gunn, 7 p.m.
Coming off a 26-14 loss to Monta Vista, the Titans will try to get back on the winning track against the SCVAL El Camino Division's first-place team.
"They like to run heavy,'' Gunn coach Brandon Boyd said of Cupertino. "We have to stop the run. I can't preach that enough.''
Alex Bruckhaus is the lead back for Cupertino (5-2, 3-0). He's rushed for 961 yards on the season and has had 98 or more in every game.
Last week, Solomone Paletua threw for 281 yards for Gunn (3-4, 1-2), completing 17 of 25 passes. DJ Barnes had 10 catches for 121 yards and Hudson Alexander six receptions for 155 yards.
"That game was closer than the score said,'' Boyd said. "Our defense played well. The offense let some opportunities get away in the red zone.''
Alexander also saw some time at quarterback.
"We'll go with whoever has the hot hand,'' Boyd said.
The Titans welcome back Lee Howard, out the last two games due to injury.
Woodside at Sequoia, 7:30 p.m.
This is one of those matchups in which many of the players are familiar with members of the opposing team.
"The Sequoia game has traditionally been a really fun and exciting game,'' Woodside coach Justin Andrews said. "The community is into it, the fans are into it.''
Woodside (0-7, 0-3) has a couple of players returning from injury and Andrews says the team will have a season-high 25 players in uniform.
Sequoia (2-5, 0-3) will be hungry for its first PAL Ocean win.
"Sequoia is a pretty physical football team with some pretty decent size,'' Andrews said. "The recurring thing for us is us really needing to get out of our own way. We are still making mistakes that should've been fully corrected by now.''
On the basis of scores against common opponents (Woodside lost to Hillsdale by 49, Sequoia by 19; Woodside lost to TKA by 43, Sequoia by 33) Sequoia should be considered a clear favorite.
Andrews' message to his team: "Just go out and have some fun.''