Daily Journal Sports file
Quarterback Shane Acton enters his third season as the Half Moon Bay starter and finally has a handle on coach Keith Holden’s double-wing offense.
Heading into the final month of the 2013 season, Half Moon Bay football was in dire straits.
Through nearly two years under head coach Keith Holden, the Cougars were winless in Peninsula Athletic League play, totaling a 0-8 record dating back to 2012. Then an interesting thing happened. Half Moon Bay won its final two Ocean Division games of the 2013 season, starting with a 32-21 upset over playoff bound Aragon.
Half Moon Bay’s surprise finish had a profound effect on the upcoming 2014 season. Playing in the upper-tier Bay Division two years ago, the Cougars’ winless 2012 league record saw them dropped to the middle-tier Ocean Division. Until their league wins over Aragon and Capuchino last year, the Cougars were on track to drop to the lower-tier Lake Division.
The first two wins of Holden’s varsity head coaching career, however, preserved the Cougars’ standing as an Ocean Division team. Not to mention, the upset brought some much needed big-win excitement to Half Moon Bay.
“That win, for us, was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s why we coach. That’s why we play. This is what it’s supposed to be like. This is the expectation here,’” Holden said.
Entering his third year as head coach, Holden is making the most of a 32-player roster. Low numbers is a common theme for Half Moon Bay, but not a death knell by any stretch. In 2011, when Holden served as an assistant coach during former head coach Matt Ballard’s final year at Half Moon Bay, the team won the Ocean Division title with just 35 players on roster.
And what’s more, the Cougars’ lack of marquee talent this season also has a track record of success. The team boasts one returning All-League player in senior tight end James Cartwright. After his dual-threat ability as a solid blocker and a sturdy target for third-year quarterback Shane Acton, there aren’t any previous accolades to highlight in the Cougars’ current mix.
“We have some good players,” Holden said. “Unfortunately those players have to be on the field a lot.”
But Holden is quick to point out it doesn’t take marquee talent to win. Flashing back to 2010 when the Cougars were led by running back Dominic Sena, the senior produced one of the best single seasons in school history. Sena ran for 2,159 yards with 35 touchdowns. Yet it wasn’t until the year after he departed in which Half Moon Bay notched its last division crown.
“[Sena] was very good and we scored a ton of points. But the year after he left is the year we won the championship. And I think that was just a bunch of scrappy kids who wanted to do really well,” Holden said. “I’ve been preaching to our kids, ‘I don’t want you to achieve where you should be. I want you to overachieve.’ That’s the standard that’s been here for years. Obviously the last few years we’ve gotten away from that.”
A former offensive coordinator, Holden is looking for his double wing offense to come to fruition this season. He installed the new playbook when he took over as head coach three years ago. In that time, he has seen Acton grow into the headstrong quarterback needed to navigate the physical demands of such an offense.
Since being promoted to the varsity squad as a 155-pound sophomore, Acton has filled out a sturdy 6-foot, 185-pound frame while relying on good footwork and athleticism to create a quick-strike tempo with his accurate throwing arm.
“We put this offense in when he was a sophomore. So between then and now, the way that we run it is actually so much better,” Holden said. “The [double wing] is really a process and takes some time to get the timing down. And really, the tough part is to get your quarterback to read it well all the time.”
The offense also requires at least one running back-like bull. Fullback Toby Leonardos certainly fits the bill. Holden describes the senior as thick and strong. And he is one of a trio returning players — along with juniors Matt Spigelman and Anthony Demartini — who figure to get a vast majority of reps out of the backfield this season.
The line is a good mix of proven experience and relative youth, with returning junior center Justin Terra and 5-6, 220-pound senior guard Marcos Sarabia — a former PAL champion wrestler — balancing out a tandem of newcomers in tackles Sean Baird and Miguel Camacho. And while all four will be relied upon for two-way detail as defensive linemen, the entire department is in good hands with longtime line coach Don Diaz, who has spanned four decades of Half Moon Bay football and earned the CCS Honor Coach Award last season.
The defense, as a whole, is also in good hands this year with the addition of veteran defensive coordinator Brian Von Almen, who left Burlingame to return to Half Moon Bay, where he served as head coach in the early 1990s.
Highlighting Von Almen’s 4-4 defense is defensive back Brandon Inglis, the team’s best open-field tackler, according to Holden; while newcomer Jim Alves brings depth to the linebacking corps.
“We have a bunch of kids who are pretty good football players, pretty dedicated, pretty hard-nosed,” Holden said. “But no one single person.”
Coach: Keith Holden, third season
2013 record: 2-3 Ocean Division, 3-7 overall
Key returners: James Cartwright (sr., TE/LB); Shane Acton (sr., QB); Toby Leonardos (sr., RB/LB); Matt Spigelman (jr., RB/DB); Anthony Demartini (jr., RB/DB); Brandon Inglis (sr., WR/DB); Justin Terra (jr., C/DL); Marcos Sarabia (sr., OL/DL)
Key newcomers: Pablo Gutierrez (jr., WR/CB); Sean Baird (soph., OL/LB); Miguel Camacho (jr., OL/DL); Jim Alves (jr., LB)
2014 Schedule (home games in CAPS): Sept. 5, @ Monterey, 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 12, SANTA CLARA, 7 p.m.; Sept. 19, @ Gilroy, 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 26, MENLO, 7 p.m.; Oct. 10, @ San Mateo, 7 p.m.; Oct. 17, SOUTH CITY, 7 p.m.; Oct. 24, @ Aragon, 3 p.m.; Oct. 30, WODSIDE, 7 p.m.; Nov. 7, @ Hillsdale, 7 p.m.; Nov. 14, TERRA NOVA, 7 p.m.