Menlo-Atherton finished with a roar Friday.
The Bears took their first lead of the game with 5:14 left in the fourth quarter when Miles Conrad threw his fourth touchdown pass, a 35-yarder to Spencer Corona.
They added a safety, the result of a sack by Kilifi Leaaetoa, and a touchdown run by De’Marshaun Payton to earn a 37-21 road victory over San Benito in the Central Coast Section Open Division I playoffs.
No. 5 seed M-A (7-4) advances to play No. 1 seed Milpitas (11-0), a 35-7 winner over Bellarmine, in the semifinals. The Bears beat Milpitas 17-0 in last year’s Division I championship game.
Palo Alto, the No. 7 seed, held a second-half lead over host Salinas but could not add on in a frustrating loss on the other side of the Division I bracket.
San Benito (6-5), the No. 4 seed, scored two first-half touchdowns to take leads of 7-0 and 14-7.
M-A responded with a touchdown of its own on each occasion as Conrad threw a 70-yard scoring pass to freshman Troy Franklin and a 31-yard TD pass to Corona. Then M-A forced a punt but muffed the catch with the Haybalers recovering and taking possession at the M-A 27 with 35 seconds left in the second quarter. Four plays later they scored and went into the locker room at halftime with a 21-14 lead.
Not a very positive way to end the half.
But the M-A defense came together in the second half and held Hollister scoreless over the final two quarters.
“It was more just getting our guys calmed down, settling them down,’’ Menlo-Atherton coach Adhir Ravipati said. “Then they were able to play more disciplined.’’
M-A’s first possession of the second half went nowhere due to penalties. The Haybalers responded with a time-consuming 10-play drive that ended when sophomore Joe Posthauer threw a Hollister running back for a 3-yard loss on fourth down.
On the second play of the fourth quarter Conrad hit Joey Olshausen with a 63-yard touchdown pass. Corona’s extra point tied it up 21-21.
The M-A defense forced a punt and the offense went 79 yards for the go-ahead score. The first nine plays of the possession were all runs, six by Payton and three by Deston Hawkins. Then, with the San Benito secondary cheating toward the line of scrimmage, Conrad connected with Corona on the bomb, something the senior quarterback had a lot of success doing. He completed 14 of 22 passes for a staggering 345 yards.
“We’re a run-first team,’’ Conrad said. “When we stick with the run and get the run going it helps our passing game.’’
Corona had eight catches for 156 yards, Franklin four receptions for 118 yards. M-A also had 159 yards rushing and 504 yards of total offense.
After the Bears took the lead, San Benito had the ball deep in its own territory and forced to play in desperation catch-up mode, not the greatest strength of its wishbone offense. On third down, Leaaetoa had a clear, unobstructed path to the quarterback and delivered a hit that sent the ball flying backward into the end zone. The Haybalers recovered for a safety, which gave M-A a two-possession lead at 30-21 with 1:33 left.
“When he gets in position to make plays he’s a very physical football player,’’ Ravipati said of Leaaetoa. “That hit put the game away.’’
On the second play after receiving the free kick Payton broke a 33-yard run for a touchdown, a run that gave him 100 yards rushing for the game.
Salinas 14, Palo Alto 7
No. 7 seed Palo Alto gave heavily-favored Salinas all it could handle in another Division I game.
“We should’ve won,’’ Palo Alto coach Danny Sullivan said. “We controlled much of the game.’’
The Vikings forced a punt on the opening possession of the game and took over on their own 1-yard line. They drove more than 80 yards but didn’t score.
No. 2 seed Salinas (9-2) led 6-0 at halftime. Paly put together a sustained scoring drive to begin the second half, mixing the pass and the run, and scored on a 6-yard run by Sione Latu. The PAT made it 7-6.
But Salinas responded with a touchdown and two-point conversion and Palo Alto (3-8) never seriously threatened the remainder of the game.
“The kids played their hearts out,’’ Sullivan said. “(Quarterback) Jackson Chryst played the best game of his career, so did (receiver) Jamir Shepard. (Defensive back) Dwayne Trahan played well on defense and (linebacker) Wes Walters played his usual Wes Walters game. In the end it was an amazing high school football game.’’
Menlo School fell to host Turlock, 25-16, 13-25, 25-23, 17-25, 15-12, in the NorCal Open Division in the first round.
Selina Xu did a lot of everything for the Knights (29-6) with 10 kills, five aces, 14 digs and 25 assists.
Ashley Dreyer had 16 kills. Sianna Houghton recorded six kills and 21 digs, Grace Enright had two aces and 25 digs and Kristin Sellers contributed 13 digs and 14 assists.
Records: Menlo 29-6; Turlock 34-8