On the surface Menlo School looks like a decided underdog going into Friday's Central Coast Section Division V football championship game against Gilroy at 7 p.m. at Westmont High.
But that doesn't take into account some of the intangibles.
No. 1 seed Gilroy (12-0), one of only two undefeated teams remaining in the CCS, has had a dominant season. A 30-21 win over Carmel in the second week was the closest game it played. The other 11 opponents were all defeated by 18 points or more.
No. 2 Menlo (8-4), on the other hand, has been in a number of close games, especially lately. The Knights had to come from behind and score the winning touchdown with 1:05 left last week in a 26-21 win over Scotts Valley in the CCS semifinals.
"Our assignment Friday will definitely be a tough one,'' Menlo coach Mark Newton said. "Gilroy is a well-earned No. 1 seed, really well-coached. A lot of their players grew up together in the Pop Warner system in Gilroy. They don't have a single weakness. But our team has faced adversity all year and will definitely be up for the challenge.''
While Menlo's 8-4 record pales next to Gilroy's 12-0, it should be noted that Menlo has played the tougher schedule with non-league games against two CCS "A" league teams in Palma and Sacred Heart Prep, against East Nicolaus, a 13-0 team that won the Northern Section Division IV championship, and Piedmont, a North Coast Section playoff team. Gilroy played one "A" division team, Live Oak, but also played Overfelt and Harbor, two "C" division teams.
But 12-0, as football coaches like to say, is 12-0.
Gilroy beat Hillsdale 34-14 in the other semifinal. Hillsdale had to play that game without starting quarterback Jeremy Teteak, who was injured the previous week against Sobrato. Hillsdale is also a team Menlo knows well.
Menlo's 33-10 win over Hillsdale on Oct. 27 was the highlight of Menlo's season, a win that enabled Menlo to win the Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division championship.
With his team the one common opponent, Hillsdale coach Mike Parodi was asked how he thought Menlo and Gilroy would match up:
"I think it will be a great matchup,'' Parodi said. "Menlo has some tough kids who play hard and match up well on the offensive and defensive line. I think it will come down to how well Gilroy can defend the pass and how well Menlo can defend the run.''
Gilroy is a predominant running team out of its Wing-T formation, averaging 292 yards rushing per game and 7.2 yards per carry. Junior running back Joseph Barnes has rushed for 1,552 yards.
"He's kind of a Chase Hofmann type,'' Newton said, comparing Barnes to the Half Moon Bay standout.
The deception inherent in a well-executed Wing-T offense makes it difficult to defend.
"They do a lot of different stuff,'' Parodi said. "It's not like going up against an I-formation team where you can focus on a stud tailback. They've got flyback, wingback, fullback dive. That's why it's a great high school football offense.''
Menlo's defense, led by Cal commit JH Tevis on the line, has been strong all season. And that's a good thing as Menlo's offense has been limited to some extent due to injuries at running back. Conor McCusker and Aidan Israelski both went down with season-ending injuries, necessitating the move of Dillon Grady to running back, Grady took a blow to the head at the end of the first half against Scotts Valley, and sat out the second half.
Having him cleared to play against Gilroy will be important for Menlo as Grady performs multiple roles for the team. He has nine interceptions as a safety on defense and also has handled the placekicking, punting and kick return jobs for the Knights.
In his absence against Scotts Valley, quarterback Emilio Simbeck rushed for a career-best 96 yards, in addition to passing for 263, and Jake Shiff, the one remaining healthy running back, scored the winning touchdown on a 3-yard run.
This is a game the Menlo seniors have been pointing toward all season. Menlo has played in three previous CCS championship games and come out on the short end all three times, against Carmel in 2009, against Sacred Heart Prep in 2012 and against Half Moon Bay last year.
"If we can be the team to get that championship it would mean the world to me,'' Simbeck said.