Maybe it isn’t the most flamboyant style of football. But for gridiron purists, it’s poetry in motion.
The Half Moon Bay Cougars (10-0 overall) finished off their second undefeated regular season in three years Friday night, minting themselves not only as the undisputed Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division champions, but showing they figure to be mean competitors in the Bay Division in the years to come.
HMB — outscoring opponents 422-94 this season — rolled past archrival Terra Nova 39-7 in the annual “Skull Game” at Coach Bill Gray Field. It marks the third opponent from the PAL Bay Division the Cougars have knocked off this season.
“I’m just super proud of our football program and what we’ve done because there was a time when the ‘Skull’ was out of reach,” Cougars head coach Keith Holden said. “… When one team wins all the time, it’s not a rivalry.”
In going up against a likely Central Coast Section playoff qualifier in Terra Nova, the Cougars made it look easy.
Sophomore quarterback Will Moffitt was a spectacle, racking up 304 total yards (196 passing, 108 rushing) and five touchdowns. He rushed for two short scores in the first half, then added a 22-yard scoring run and TD passes of 51 and 35 yards in the second half.
“I know he’s a sophomore but he plays like he’s a senior,” Holden said. “He’s super competitive but you wouldn’t know it by the way he handles things. So, everything he does, he’s pretty level headed. … I guess the best way to say it is, he’s really focused.”
The Cougars established a steady rhythm on offense from the outset. HMB marched 56 yards on eight plays, with Moffitt using the read option to exploit wide-open holes through the middle.
Terra Nova (6-4) was selling out in an attempt to contain junior running back Tristan Hofmann, and Moffitt wisely used play-action fakes to the Cougars’ star running back to tally gains of 16, 11 and 7 yards on QB keepers.
“We ran the ball better, we ran it down their throats,” Moffitt said. “We had high hopes.”
Moffitt then used the same formula to get HMB on the board with a 2-yard score, giving the Cougars a 7-0 lead.
“Those plays could go to Tristan or we can pull it,” Holden said. “And we let the defense dictate that. … I think I’d do the same thing; some teams say, hey, we’re going to stop the [I back] first because we’re not going to let [Hofmann] beat us. And when they do that, we need to be able to execute, and we did a great job with that tonight.”
HMB’s defense produced two straight stops before Moffitt and company struck again. The Cougars got a big third-down stop when Terra Nova quarterback Raphael Bendo got drilled from the blindside by junior Cristian Haro, disrupting his pass attempt for an incompletion.
The Cougars took over on a punt at their own 46, then went on to convert two third-downs, including a shot downfield on third-and-13 when Moffitt found junior Nohea Sharp over the middle for a 39-yard pickup to the Terra Nova 7. On the following play, Moffitt banged across the line of scrimmage and danced in for a score, upping HMB’s lead to 14-0.
Then, with under a minute remaining in the half, the Cougars added to their lead on a controversial turnover call.
Terra Nova was looking to move the ball from its own 35. But when Bendo dropped back to pass, Hofmann blitzed and drilled him, caused the ball to spring loose. Terra Nova was already contending Bendo was in the act of passing, but no whistle was blown, leaving HMB’s Connor Quosig to scoop up the fumble and return it 33 yards for a touchdown.
“We thought it was a dead ball,” Terra Nova head coach Jason Piccolotti said. “… We have to be aware to play until the whistle. We made a lot of mistakes. Not to take away from them. They’re a great team.”
As HMB took a 20-0 lead into halftime, Terra Nova’s coaching staff was livid, accosting the referees on their way off the field at the break, with Piccolotti incurring a yellow flag for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“It was a forward pass,” Piccolotti said. “It is what it is. I had a guy email it to me during the half … and it was way forward.”
In the grand scheme of things, it would have mattered.
The Cougars defense was in shutdown mode. After holding Terra Nova to just 22 total yards in the first half, linebackers Hofmann and senior Weston Henry continued to swarm to allow just 119 total yards overall.
“The whole year we’ve just kept getting better and better at [gap integrity],” Henry said. “Right now, we’re at the prime of our defense. We’re playing super fast. … It’s working really well.”
Then came the HMB razzle-dazzle. Moffitt connected with Hofmann for a 51-yard scoring pass near the end of the third quarter. Then, leading 26-0, the Cougars executed an onside kick to take over at the Terra Nova 38. On the following play, Moffitt hit senior receiver Oz Monroy for a 28-yard score.
“It’s just us getting ready for bigger teams, better teams,” Moffitt said.
Terra Nova scored its only touchdown inside the final minute with a running clock. Sophomore quarterback Dominic Gordon connected with senior receiver Mateo Jimenez for a 2-yard score.
“We made mistakes,” Piccolotti said. “I can’t question our kids’ heart. But they (Half Moon Bay) didn’t make mistakes; they never do. So, we have to play perfect and we didn’t.”
HMB previously defeated Bay Division teams Burlingame and Sacred Heart Prep prior to the start of league play. The Cougars combined to outscore their three Bay opponents 122-33.
“We’ve played two Bay teams in the past and we’ve beat both of them,” Henry said. “Our team, even if we’re in the Ocean, we can compete in that league. We can compete with these bigger teams. We’ve done it in the past and we’re doing it now.”