Julio Lara/Daily Journal
The dream season for the Burlingame High School football team has ended.
And once again, a team from the WCAL has proven to be the Panthers’ worst nightmare.
After going 11-0, winning a division title for the first time in 11 years, capturing another Paw and earning the No. 1 seed in the Central Coast Section Division III bracket, the boys from Burlingame have plenty to hang their hats on for 2013. But unfortunately, all feelings of success are currently halted after the Panthers’ 41-21 defeat at the hands of St. Ignatius — a West Catholic Athletic League team that came in with a 3-8 record.
This marks the third straight time a WCAL team has knocked the Panthers out of the playoffs.
The Wildcats were the beneficiaries of a couple of huge plays that swung the game completely in their favor. And unfortunately for the Panthers, they didn’t have the appropriate answers to those big plays — especially in a second half that saw St. Ignatius outscore Burlingame 20-7.
The Panthers’ season ends with an appearance in the CCS Division III semifinal final and an 11-1 record.
“S.I. is a great team,” said Burlingame head coach John Philipopoulos, who spent the majority of his post game speech reminding his Panthers of the great season they had. “I think if you look at the score, I don’t know how indicative it is of the game and just looking back, and before I have a chance to watch the film, I think there were five plays that really changed the outcome of this game. And if you look at most football games ... anytime it’s a close game, it’s usually five or six plays that change the outcome. They made them at the right time. We didn’t. And I think that’s the difference in today’s game.”
The game itself was decided in a 10 to 12 minute span starting at the five-minute mark of the second quarter. At the time, St. Ignatius was dominating in the category that mattered the most: Points. The Wildcats were up 21-0 behind two of those five plays Philipopoulos mentioned. First, a 75-yard touchdown grab on play-action that saw Joe Lang get behind the Burlingame defense and increased S.I’s lead to 14-0. And second, a fumble deep in Burlingame territory gave the Wildcats the football on the 21-yard line. Three plays later, St. Ignatius was up by three touchdowns and looking to put the game away early.
But with five minutes and change left in the half, Burlingame responded. On second down, Manese Palu got his hands on the football and scampered 50 yards to the house, igniting the Burlingame side of the field. Then, with time ticking off the clock, the Panthers defense held and then were granted a big gift when the Wildcats botched the punt attempt and gave Burlingame the ball on the S.I. 17-yard line.
On the next snap, Griffin Intrieri went over the left side and scored to make it 21-14.
“I thought we ran the ball a little better that I thought we would coming into the game,” Philipopoulos said. “I really thought we would have to pass the ball to loosen them up. But once we got into a good rhythm, we had some big runs. I thought that was the most consistent part of our game tonight. Maybe I’m wrong.”
Even though St. Ignatius was up by seven, Burlingame had the momentum and the ball to start the third quarter. But the Panthers weren’t able to do much on that opening drive — which might have really made things very interesting. Instead, they punted and a nice return by Lang set S.I up at the Burlingame 40-yard line. A big completion on fourth down kept the drive alive early and the Wildcats went up 28-14 with 7:37 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers couldn’t do much on the ensuing possession either and after another punt, an enormous roughing the kicker penalty gave S.I new life on a drive that had been thwarted but instead culminated with a fourth down conversion that went for 32-yard and touchdown — that score actually came on a broken play that the Wildcats converted miraculously.
“That hurt,” Philipopoulos said. “That hurt. ... All those little things, they add up. And when you play a team like S.I., you can’t do that. And we did and that is why we’re looking at a loss and will be collecting gear tonight.
“We had a lot of momentum. We were feeling good in the locker room. We had a game plan. We stuck to it. We just, again, S.I. is a great defense. Their front is very formidable. They’re hard to block. They’re hard to get a push on and even in our pass sets, they were getting a lot of penetration. They had guys in our quarterback’s face and we just didn’t have time to throw the ball. We had guys open at times, their defensive front was just so ferocious it was hard to keep them off our quarterback.”
The three touchdown deficit to begin the fourth quarter proved way too much for the Panthers to overcome. They’d score on a Keone Keahi run with 3:57 left in the game but failed to recover an onside kick. S.I put an exclamation point on the night with a late touchdown.
“I think we had a great season,” Philipopoulos said. “We had a record season and did a lot of great things. Ultimately, we want to be playing next and we didn’t get that done.”