The Burlingame offense has gotten a lot of attention this season as it averaged 50 points per game through the five contests of its non-league schedule.
The Panthers’ defense, on the other hand, has been mostly dismissed, despite allowing less than four points per game. Most critics cited the lack of competition as the reason the Panthers have looked so dominant this year.
The competition got turned up a notch when the Panthers went on the road to San Mateo to take on Aragon Friday night and all Burlingame did was silence the critics with a statement win over the Dons: 33-17.
“It was interesting,” said Burlingame coach John Philipopoulos. “Our defense was unbelievable, as they have been all year. Our defense didn’t wear down.”
On the contrary, the Burlingame defense all but won the game for the Panthers, returning two interceptions for touchdowns, blocking a field-goal attempt and returning it for another score and forcing three Aragon turnovers overall. They also held a very good Aragon offense to just 198 yards of total offense, with only 78 yards coming in the second half.
“Their defense is very, very good,” said Aragon coach Steve Sell. “They bowed their backs at some critical times in that game.
“I wasn’t surprised.”
While both pick-6s came in the second half as Burlingame (1-0 PAL Ocean, 6-0 overall) rallied from a 10-3 halftime deficit, it was the defense’s play in the first half that enabled the Panthers to pull away over the final two quarters of the game.
Burlingame turned the ball over three times in the first 17 minutes of the game — two on fumbled punts — but all Aragon (1-1, 4-2) could get out of them was seven points.
“They gave us gifts and we couldn’t take advantage,” Sell said.
That’s because the Burlingame defense stiffened and kept the Panthers in the game. Burlingame managed just 64 yards of offense in the first because, as Philipopoulos put it, “We didn’t have the ball.”
“We felt good being down only three points (at halftime),” Philipopoulos said. “They (Aragon) had to be concerned with that.”
Said Sell: “I was thinking that (the lack of points off turnovers) might come back to haunt us.”
Burlingame didn’t score its first offensive touchdown until late in the third quarter, but when the Panthers did, you could almost feel the wind being knocked out of the Dons.
Up 13-10 with just over four minutes to play in the third quarter, Burlingame took possession at its own 16. After picking up an initial first down, a chop block pushed the Panthers backward. Facing third-and-20 from his own 19, quarterback Avery Gindraux dropped back to pass. Once he got to the back of his drop, he paused, saw that the field had opened up in front of him, and took off up the middle. He appeared to be stopped short of the first down, but he shook off a would-be tackle and broke loose for an 81-yard touchdown run.
Just like that, the Panthers had a 20-10 lead with 1:16 left in the third quarter.
“That QB scramble was the back breaker,” Sell said.
Philipopoulos said the play was not a designed run despite appearances and he agreed with Sell.
“To me, that’s the play of the game. … That was a game changer,” Philipopoulos said. “He does it to us (our defense) in practice all the time.”
That play seemed to relax the Burlingame offense as it racked up 263 yards in the second half. The Panthers put the game away on a 15-yard Griffin Intrieri touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
The first half was a defensive battle on both sides of the ball. Aragon took the opening kickoff, but were forced to punt, but the Panthers’ return man fumbled the ball back to the Dons. They proceeded to drive 30 yards for the score with Patrick Pauni barreling into the end zone from a yard out to put the Dons up 7-0.
Aragon got another break early in the second quarter when Burlingame again fumbled away a punt. But the Panthers’ defense held firm and limited the Dons to a 31-yard field goal attempt.
In the blink of eye, the game was tied at 7. The Panthers burst through the line and blocked the kick, with Keone Keahi scooping up the loose ball and sprinting 76 yards the other way for the score.
Aragon came back with a big play of its own on its next drive, using a fake punt to Devin Grant, who picked up 23 yards and a first down to the Burlingame 20.Again, the Panthers’ defense kept the Dons out of the end zone, holding them to a 24-yard German Perez Meza field goal to put the Dons up 10-7 at halftime.
Burlingame finally swung the momentum in its favor early in the third quarter. After the Dons forced the Panthers to punt on their first possession of the second half, Aragon started the drive at its own 6. Quarterback Nat Blood dropped back and tried to throw a quick out in the flat, but Burlingame cornerback Andrew Kennedy jumped the route and returned it 10 yards for the score and a 20-10 Burlingame lead.
The Panthers upped their advantage to 27-10 when Kennedy made another interception and took it to the house from 42 yards on the second play of the fourth quarter.
Aragon scored quickly on its next possession, getting a 43 yard catch-and-run from Christopher Fiscal and a 5-yard Pauni plunge, but Burlingame answered with Intrieri’s score.
“Hats off to them,” Sell said. “They did a really good job.”