Late touchdown lifts Menlo into CCS Division V title game


The Menlo School football team took its first lead of the game with 1:05 left in the fourth quarter on Jake Shiff’s 3-yard run.

A good time to go on top. That touchdown provided the winning points as Menlo defeated Scotts Valley 26-21 in a Central Coast Section Division V semifinal game Saturday at Menlo.

The No. 2 seeded Knights advance to play No. 1 Gilroy for the CCS championship on Friday at 7 p.m. at Westmont High School.

With the team’s running back position decimated by injuries, Menlo quarterback Emilio Simbeck took matters into his own hands. In addition to completing 18 of 29 passes for 263 yards, Simbeck carried 26 times for 96 yards -- both career highs by a big margin. He had carried 43 times for 156 yards all season prior to Saturday’s game.

“I ran much more than expected,’’ Simbeck said. “I’ll probably have some bruises in the morning, but I feel fine now.’’

Aidan Israelski and Conor McCusker had both gone down with injuries earlier in the season. Then Dillon Grady, who had taken over as the starting running back, took a blow to the head on the last play of the first half and sat out the rest of the game.

Simbeck’s heavy dose of ball-carrying was split between designed quarterback runs and improvisational moves in reaction to a pass rush or not finding receivers open.

Scotts Valley (7-5), the No. 6 seed, led 14-7 at halftime and 21-14 heading into the fourth quarter.

Menlo (8-4), which dominated time of possession, running 65 plays from scrimmage to 36 for the Falcons, scored on a 33-yard pass from Simbeck to Kevin Chen with 8:12 left in the game. But the PAT was wide and Menlo still trailed at 21-20.

The Menlo defense forced a three and out and the Knights took over on their own 6-yard line with 6:03 left. Simbeck ran for 5 yards then passed to Shiff for 13 yards and a first down. On third and 15 Simbeck scrambled out of the pocket and lofted a pass over a Scotts Valley defender and into the arms of David Schmaier for 21 yards and a first down. Then on third and 9 it was Simbeck to Luke Anderson for 24 yards and another first down.

“Clutch plays,’’ Menlo coach Mark Newton said.

Simbeck ran for 1 yard before throwing a long pass to 6-foot-3 Kevin Chen who went up and made a one-hand catch for a first down at the 4.

“Odell Chen,’’ Newton said.

“He had a lot of faith to throw me the ball like that in double coverage,’’ Chen said.

Two plays later Shiff scored and Menlo finally had the lead, one that would hold up.

Landon Smith had six catches for 90 yards and Schmaier five receptions for 82 yards.

Menlo has gone 0-3 in previous CCS championship game appearances. Gilroy, with a 12-0 season record after a 34-14 win over Hillsdale, will go into the Division V title game as a heavy favorite. But Menlo has a shot at winning its first CCS football championship.

“There have been so many amazing alumni and so many great coaches,’’ Simbeck said. “If we can be the team to get that championship it would mean the world to me.’’

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