Burlingame running back Manase Palu paced up and down his team’s sideline during the early quarters of their Central Coast Section quarterfinal matchup against Hillsdale.
And every time he opened his mouth, the message was simple: “Wake up.”
It took the No. 1 seeded Panthers two quarters and a halftime break to listen to their captain’s pleas. Behind a more spirited second-half effort, No. 1 Burlingame beat No. 8 Hillsdale 31-7 to advance into the CCS Division III semifinals next Friday when they’ll play the WCAL’s St. Ignatius.
Until that third quarter, it’s safe to say the Knights had the momentum and the advantage on the stat sheet, even through the Panthers led 10-7 at recess.
But behind Keone Keahi’s two touchdowns in the second half, the Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division champions ended the Lake champions’ season.
“The defense kept us in the game,” said Burlingame head coach John Philipopoulos. “We came out and the offense sputtered a little bit. I don’t even know that it was the offense sputtering or just a great job by the Hillsdale coaching staff with the game plan and execution by their players. So, the defense kept us in the game. At halftime, we just preached being patient.”
“I think that they did a good job on defense in the first half,” Keahi said. “We came out flat again. We couldn’t move the ball effectively. But defense has been our backbone all year and we stepped up. We had to rely on the defense in the first half. At halftime, we talked about coming out harder and executing. And that’s what we did.”
“Our mistakes caught up to us,” said Hillsdale head coach Mike Parodi. “Both my play calling, little things. Playing one of the best teams we’ve played all year, you can’t get away with some of the things we were doing. From me down. Against quality teams like Burlingame, it just catches up to you.”
The first half couldn’t have gone much better for Hillsdale. Sure, they were down 10-7, but it was evident the Knights managed to shock the Panthers, who came in at 10-0.
Two mistakes cost the Knights in that first half. First, a botched snap gave Burlingame a very short field to begin the game. With 1st-and-10 at the Hillsdale 11-yard line, the Panthers, in a sign of things to come in the first half, only managed seven yard. That set up a 21-yard field goal that put Burlingame up 3-0.
Hillsdale went on a long drive (13 plays) without a point and then, when they got the ball back, threw an interception that Liam Martinez turned into a 65-yard pick-6 with 2:28 left in the first quarter that made the score 10-0.
But that was it was Burlingame. The much-heralded Panthers offense put up 38 total yards on Hillsdale in that first half. Hillsdale went for 130 and with 7:50 left in the half, got a 1-yard touchdown by Giancarlo Boscacci to make it 10-7 and send a chill down the collective spine of the Panther Faithful.
“I was nervous,” Philipopoulos said. “Hillsdale had all the momentum. You could see the hop in their step. I think we were a little stung. But we told the kids, that’s a good team, a well-coached team and they’re not going to lay down for anybody. They did an outstanding job. It was just a few adjustments with our blocking schemes. They did a great job taking away our sweeps and our off-tackle stuff which is one of the strengths of our team so we had to adjust. They came out in the second half, remained patient but continued to play hard and continued to play with emotion. And just like they dominated the first half, I think we dominated the second half.”
It took Burlingame two offensive drives to get the spark they needed and eventually pull away. After stopping the Knights on their initial second-half drive, the Panthers marched down the field 54 yards and built the lead to 10 points following a 31-yard touchdown run by Keahi.
Then, Hillsdale gambled on a 4th-and-2 deep in its own territory and failed, setting up a short field for Burlingame. The Panthers capitalized, using nine plays to travel 28 yards and seize control on a 4-yard Palu touchdown.
“I just had the confidence in our kids that we’re going to make it,” Parodi said of his fourth-down call. “I told them all along, fourth and short means time to go. HIndsight is always 20/20, but I felt like we were moving the ball and tried to get the sticks moved.”
“We made some small adjustments with our blocking and our play-calling and it paid off,” Philipopoulos said. His coaching staff’s moves showed up on the scoreboard and stat sheet. After a 38-yard first half, Burlingame put up 127 in the third quarter alone.
The Panthers iced the game on defense when Tommy Dryden sacked Cole Carrithers, forcing a fumble his team recovered to begin the fourth quarter. Keahi added his second touchdown with 3:17 left in the game for the final outcome.
“Coach said, ‘Play with heart,’” Keahi said. “And I told the guys we have to leave it all on the field. I tried to run as hard as I can on each play.”
Hillsdale ends its 2013 season with a 7-4 record and its first PAL Lake Division championship since 2009 and only its third since 1991.
“As a coaching staff, we can only do so much. At some point, these kids do know it’s their team. I run the program, they run the team, kind of. And it’s up to them to be the heart and soul of it and this senior group was phenomenal. I’m going to miss them,” Parodi said.
In other CCS Division IV action, No. 4 Menlo School, without quarterback Jack Heneghan, could only muster 12 points and lost to No. 5 Monterey. The Knights end their 2013 season by 6-5.
No. 7 Aragon fell behind early to No. 2 Aptos in Division III and could not rebound. The Dons fell to the Mariners 34-19.
And in Division II, No. 3 Menlo-Atherton scored 14 first-half points and added a fourth-quarter touchdown to beat No. 6 Oak Grove 21-6. The Bears will face No. 2 Los Gatos next week.