The message from head coach Sione Taufoou to his players after the game was simple: We are close.
There is no mystery behind the Menlo-Atherton head coach’s thinking. In lining up stiff preseason competition, Taufoou is preparing his players for the Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division schedule that is lining up to be quite a battle.
So for now, despite nights like Friday when the Bears fell 38-21 to North Coast Section power Campolindo High School, you have to take the sting of the loss and, like Taufoou told his players after the game, you have to come in the next day ready to get better.
The Bears are close. But they’re not quite there yet.
The Cougars were the superior team Friday night at Menlo-Atherton, taking a 24-7 lead into halftime and then answering every Bear punch in the second half with a counter that was even more potent.
Down by the above score in the third quarter, M-A scored a heart-pounding touchdown from 20 yards out courtesy of the tank that is running back Brian Jaggers. No. 8 hit the line of scrimmage hard, bounced off two would-be tacklers and then took the carry to the right side where he found daylight and rumbled into the end zone to make it 24-14 with 2:13 left in the period. The score appeared to energize the sideline and a packed M-A home stands.
But that momentum was quickly deflated by one of the Bears’ arch nemesis for the night. Phillip Rei, who caught seven passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns, burned Menlo-Atherton on an 84-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to hand the momentum back to the Cougars.
Rei and quarterback Andrew Zolintakis (14 of 24, 272 yards, four touchdowns) gave the M-A secondary fits the entire game.
The score was actually tied at 7-7 after Brian Keare tossed a touchdown pass of his own capping off a 10-play drive for the Bears. After the teams went toe to toe for a bit, it was Rei who broke off another big play, this one a 46-yard touchdown catch that saw No. 2 do all the work on a quick hit turned race down the Campolindo sideline. After that, a turnover aided the Cougars, who then turned it around and turned it into six points — once again, Rei and Zolintakis did the honors.
It was those two who did the majority of the work on a drive to end the half that covered 45 yards and set up a field goal to make it 24-7.
M-A bounced back with that Jagger score, but Rei answered right back. And then, when Isiah Nash muscled his way into the end zone for M-A to make it 31-21 with almost the entire fourth quarter left to play, it was Zolintakis shredding the defense and finding Tyler Petite over the middle on a beautifully thrown touch pass to make it 38-21.
The schedule doesn’t get easier for M-A. They travel to CCS power Los Gatos High School next week.