Menlo-Atherton has been an explosive, talented, but mistake-prone football team all season. And it was multiple mistakes that came back to haunt the Bears, ending their season in the process Friday in a 33-20 loss to Milpitas in the Central Coast Section Open Division I semifinals.
Menlo-Atherton (7-5), the No. 5 seed, outgained No. 1 seed and undefeated Milpitas 264-113. The 33 points allowed in no way was indicative of how M-A’s defense played.
Milpitas scored three touchdowns off M-A turnovers (the Bears made five turnovers in all), two on interception returns and one on a fumble recovery in the end zone.
“You can’t make mistakes and beat a No. 1 seed on the road,’’ Menlo-Atherton coach Adhir Ravipati said.
M-A beat Milpitas 17-0 in last year’s Open Division I final. The Trojans got revenge this time around.
“Milpitas is a great team,’’ Ravipati said. “We threw punches but they weathered the storm. We’ll be back. We finally started to play to our potential on defense and at times we only had two seniors on the field, a freshman and a sophomore playing corner.’’
M-A’s defense stood out. But so did the Milpitas defense.
In the 37-21 win over San Benito in the CCS quarterfinals M-A quarterback Miles Conrad was not sacked at all and had a great game, throwing for 345 yards.
In contrast, the Milpitas pass rush was fierce and unrelenting. Conrad was sacked six times and pressured on numerous other occasions.
“They’re very athletics and their front seven is very physical,’’ Ravipati said.
Milpitas (12-0), which will play Salinas in the CCS final, took the lead three plays into the game on a 35-yard interception return by Tuni Faletau'fifita.
Both defenses dominated the rest of the first half until Conrad got the hot hand and took the Bears 98 yards in seven plays for a tying touchdown 57 seconds before halftime.
The drive started after Gary Carter’s interception gave M-A the ball just beyond its own 1-yard line. Conrad, throwing from his own end zone, got the Bears out of the hole with a 21-yard strike to Spencer Corona.
He connected with Corona on 17- and 8-yard completions, then hit running back Deston Hawkins for a 37-yard gain and a first down at the Milpitas 14.
Two plays later Conrad hooked up with Corona for a 14-yard scoring toss and a 7-7 tie at halftime.
M-A’s defense limited Milpitas to 14 yards total offense on 17 first-half plays.
Milpitas drove into M-A territory to start the third quarter before sacks by Noa Ngalu and Kilifi Leaaetoa put an end to the drive.
The Bears took over on the 30, but two sacks and a penalty resulted in a punt on fourth and 36 from the 4.
Milpitas took advantage of the short field and went in for a touchdown on an 8-yard pass from Tyree Bracy to twin brother Tariq Bracy. That 37-yard drive resulted in the only touchdown scored by the Milpitas offense.
The M-A defense did a great job all game against Milpitas star Tariq Bracy, who managed only 43 yards rushing on 16 carries. But on the second play after the Trojans took the lead, Bracy picked off an overthrown pass and showed his broken-field running ability with a 31-yard return for a touchdown.
Conrad’s next pass resulted in another Milpitas interception. And then after M-A’s defense held, Conrad was called for intentional grounding as he was about to be sacked in the end zone for a safety.
Bracy returned the free kick 34 yards to set up a field goal as Milpitas extended its lead to 26-7.
Just when it looked as though a blowout might be in the offing, M-A mounted a comeback. Conrad connected with Leaaetoa on a 56-yard touchdown pass. And after an exchange of punts he drove the team 80 yards for a touchdown on another 14-yard pass to Corona.
That made the score 26-20 with 1:41 left and a miracle seemed almost possible after Feleti Malupo recovered the onside kick.
Conrad completed three short passes to advance to the Milpitas 37, but a 15-yard penalty made it second and 25 from the M-A 48. On the next play Conrad tried to get rid of the ball while being sacked by Isiah Cotton. The ball flew out of his hands backwards and rolled all the way to the end zone where it was recovered by Ioane Vete for a Milpitas touchdown.
After leaving the field at the game’s conclusion an altercation broke out between members of the two teams in front of the locker rooms.
“There is no place for that,’’ Ravipati said. “We have a lot of respect for them and after talking to their coach and players last year I know they have respect for us. No punches were thrown. There was just a lot of talking and guys pounding their chests.’’