One of the constants of athletic competition is the desire to go out on top, to go out with a win, to end a season on a positive note.
The Menlo School football team fell short Friday night in its quest to win the first Central Coast Section championship in program history, losing to Gilroy 38-21 in the Division V final at Westmont High.
“It’s football,’’ quarterback Emilio Simbeck said. “It’s a tough way to play my last game. It’s not the way I envisioned it.’’
Menlo (8-5) was making its fourth appearance in a CCS championship game. Instead it was No. 1 seed Gilroy (13-0) that won the first CCS title in school history.
“I’m incredibly proud of the boys,’’ Menlo coach Mark Newton said. “A lot of intangibles go into a playoff win. They battled through a lot of adversity and never bowed their heads.’’
The team received a boost with the return of running back Aidan Israelski from a knee injury suffered against South San Francisco. But Menlo played without multi-purpose Dillon Grady, who had nine interceptions as a defensive back this season and also played running back and handled kicking and kick return duties.
Simbeck, who had an outstanding game running and passing in a semifinal win over Scotts Valley, had a tougher time against Gilroy. He passed for 167 yards and two touchdowns and managed 51 yards rushing on 23 carries. He had negative yards on nine carries, a testament to the pressure he was under from the Gilroy pass rush.
“Their pass rush was by far the best we’ve seen all year,’’ Simbeck said. “They were bringing four, keeping seven back in coverage and still getting home.’’
Simbeck, who finished the season throwing for 2,172 yards and 26 touchdowns, threw two first-half touchdown passes to Israelski and Holden Smith. His 9-yard TD pass to Smith capped a 67-yard, four-play drive and gave Menlo a 14-10 lead 40 seconds before halftime. A 42-yard completion to David Schmaier, who had three catches for 97 yards, was the big play on the drive.
The Menlo run defense kept Gilroy running back Joseph Barnes relatively in check in the first half when he had 75 yards on 18 carries. But Barnes got it going in the second half, gaining 160 yards on another 18 carries, giving him 235 yards rushing on the game. He scored all five Gilroy touchdowns.
Menlo went three and out to start the third quarter and Gilroy responded with a 62-yard, 13-play drive to take the lead.
Menlo ran seven plays on its next possession before turning it over to Gilroy on an interception on a third-and-14 play. Gilroy then went 56 yards on eight plays with Barnes scoring on a 3-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter to put Menlo down 24-14.
Then Menlo’s nine-play drive to the Gilroy 22 ended on a fumble.
“I take a lot of the responsibility,’’ Simbeck said. “I missed a lot of throws. Gilroy is a great team, undefeated. Turn the ball over four times you’re not going to win.’’
Simbeck’s 1-yard run for a touchdown brought the Knights within 31-21 with 3:16 left.
But Menlo’s defense, which had been limiting Barnes to short gains, finally started to wear down and Barnes broke touchdown runs of 41 and 50 yards in the fourth quarter.
“Our defense did a great job containing him in the first half,’’ defensive lineman JH Tevis said. “Credit coach Todd Smith. He taught us to be mentally tough. Late in the game they got the edge on a few plays. We didn’t get the luck of the draw. If a few plays went our way it could’ve been a different outcome.’’