There was a lot riding on the Little Big Game this year for the Burlingame Panthers.

Entering the final week of the Peninsula Athletic League regular season, the Panthers were sitting on a 4-5 record, and any certainty of a Central Coast Section playoff berth was contingent on a victory over rival San Mateo. 

“We weren’t sure,” Burlingame head coach John Philipopoulos said. “We knew that beating San Mateo would obviously secure a CCS playoff berth and, if we lost, we knew we’d be on the bubble. ... The one thing we kept talking about going into the Sacred Heart Prep game (the previous week), and even the Little Big Game, is we control our own destiny. So that was definitely a theme, and our kids responded to that.”

Lucas Meredith, the Daily Journal Athletic of the Week, led the charge in instilling that certainty. Being thrust into defensive duty the past few weeks as a nose guard hasn’t slowed down Meredith as running back. He totaled 18 carries for 131 yards and two touchdowns, with each of his scores giving the Panthers the lead.

“We were confident,” Meredith said. “Me personally … this is my third Little Big Game. I was just looking forward to having a fun game, to having a good game.”

His confidence is understandable. The Panthers have now enjoyed a decade of dominance over rival San Mateo. Saturday’s 22-10 victory marked Burlingame’s 10th straight win in the annual rivalry showdown for the “Paw” trophy.

Things didn’t start well for Meredith and the Panthers, though. After driving on their first possession, Burlingame turned the ball over in the red zone. With Meredith taking a carry from the 3-yard line, he had the end zone in his sights but, in trying to swipe the ball across the plane of the goal line, he fumbled it away.

“Yeah, made me kind of angry,” Meredith said.

The turnover bug bit again when Burlingame quarterback Jordan Malashus got drilled while releasing a pass and got intercepted at the Burlingame 20. San Mateo used the favorable field position to get on the board in the opening minutes of the second quarter when Olle Mandorf booted a 23-yard field goal.

“You can’t be moving backwards, always forward,” Meredith said. “That’s what I always tell my boys when anything bad happens.”

Burlingame would heed Meredith’s advice and take the lead before halftime. With the Panthers starting a drive at their own 25, Elijah La Guardia got the ball moving with rushes of 11 and 12 yards. Then after a big 31-yard completion from Malashus to Taylor Kaufmann, Meredith broke a scoring run of 20 yards to put his team up 7-3.

San Mateo would lead briefly once more in the third quarter when Bearcats quarterback Luke Bergstrom hit Michael Vendel for an 18-yard touchdown pass. But Burlingame fired right back, needing eight plays from its own 20 to score, capped by Meredith’s 42-yard ramble off the strong-side edge for a touchdown.

“He got the edge and was gone,” Philipopoulos said.

The Panthers scored once more, taking over after a San Mateo punt with favorable field position at the Bearcats’ 39. It took Burlingame just one play for Malashus to hit Charlie Koch with a 39-yard scoring pass.

Playing in his third Little Big Game, Meredith identifies with the traditional regular-season finale as a friendly rivalry. Prior to arriving at Burlingame, he was a well-traveled Pop Warner player, who grew up playing for the Bay City Bulldogs with, among other Bearcats, Bergstrom and Omar Maithaluni. Meredith went on the play with both the Bayside Broncos and the Redwood City 49ers prior to high school.

Meredith now ranks seventh in the CCS in total rushing yards among team reporting statistics to MaxPreps.com. Keep in mind, though, his 1,263 rushing yards have come through just nine games, as Burlingame earned one of its wins via forfeit.

“I think Lukey has just been a workhorse for us week in and week out,” Philipopoulos said. “Lucas is a downhill force from the backfield. He can also run around you. He’s got great balance, great agility … and we’re asking him to do more both sides of the ball.”

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