Can we just promote the Half Moon Bay Cougars to the Bay Division right now?

The boys from the Coastside made a statement with a 25-0 win to open Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division play Friday at San Mateo.

There were plenty of likenesses entering play. Both teams wear the same orange-and-black color scheme. Each utilizes the triple-option offense. Shoot, the team’s head coaches are even former teammates at College of San Mateo.

But the Cougars (1-0 PAL Ocean, 5-0 overall) made certain that’s where the similarities ended.

“No points for San Mateo’s offense, that’s good for us,” Half Moon Bay junior Tristan Hofmann said. “We came out here with a good game plan and it worked.”

While Half Moon Bay’s defense was busy pitching a shutout, the offense went on the march from the word “go.” The Cougars opened with a 10-play, 80-yard drive — capped by a 17-yard touchdown run up the gut by Hofmann — and never looked back. The Cougars went on the score on three of their four first-half possessions, the only one that didn’t find the end zone being cut short by a fumble inside the red zone.

“I thought our offense played well in the first quarter,” Cougars head coach Keith Holden said. “We didn’t block things as well as I would like. We struggled to run the ball at times. I told our guys I feel like our skill people bailed us out. Our quarterback threw the ball well and we had a couple big plays. But I’d like to see more consistency, especially up front taking care of the box.”

Cougars quarterback William Moffitt made it look like the Cougars were turning back the clock to their 2017 CIF Northern California Division 3-A championship season, gaining 157 total yards, 113 passing and 44 rushing. Hofmann went running past Moffitt in total yards on his final carry of the night, a 77-yard scoring dash up the sideline, to gain 175 total yards, 158 yards rushing on 19 carries along with one reception for 17 yards.

“I just told one of their coaches they’re probably the second best team in the Bay right now,” San Mateo head coach Jeff Scheller said. “And I don’t know if they understood how good they were going to be. But their kids are really physical, they’re coached well, they execute well, they’ve got good effort, they tackle well. They do a lot of things they’re supposed to do. So, I was really proud of our kids but that’s a really good team. I think we got beat by a better team.”

Half Moon Bay’s defense got a wakeup call on San Mateo’s first play from scrimmage. After the Cougars jumped out to the quick 7-0 lead, Mateo turned right back around when junior running back Lucas Castillo fired off a 50-yard run to the HMB 15-yard line. The Cougars, though, stopped the drive cold, forcing the Bearcats to attempt a 27-yard field goal, which missed wide right, giving HMB the ball back at its own 20.

The Cougars again marched 80 yards, this time needing just seven plays to reach the end zone. The drive opened with a backward bubble screen, as Cristian Haro lofted downfield for Nohea Sharp to outleap a defender for a 32-yard reception. Moffitt followed with a 21-yard bootleg keeper. The junior QB then connected with Cade Duncan on a 13-yard scoring pass, giving HMB a 13-0 lead.

Half Moon Bay’s defense continued to play a punishing game, holding San Mateo (0-1, 4-1) to just two first-half first downs and nine overall. The Bearcats went 0 of 7 on third-down conversions throughout, and 1 of 3 on fourth-down conversions.

“It makes it harder to make audibles at the line of scrimmage because they know pretty much what you’re going to do,” Scheller said. “So, we didn’t get a chance to do that.”

Hofmann’s take was the matchup was almost identical to the offense HMB’s defense practices against every day.

“It’s very similar,” Hofmann said. “It’s like we’re kind of going against our own offense. They have a lot of similar plays. Pretty much like all of them. So, even one play, they called out a play, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a play we have, that’s our play.’ So, I was just ready for it.”

HMB’s clock management resulted in 16 minutes, 23 seconds on offense in the first half. And taking over with 6:18 left in the first half, the Cougars grinded down the clock with a 13-play, 88-yard drive, ending in a 3-yard scoring run by Moffitt with 10 second left in the half.

The Cougars have now opened the season with five straight wins, including non-league victories over PAL Bay Division teams Burlingame and Sacred Heart Prep. Already favorites in the Ocean Division, the prospect of their moving up to the Bay Division next season seems inevitable.

“We played two competitive teams in the Bay and beat ’em,” Holden said. “And, I wouldn’t say we’re young, but we have some key young players. So, I don’t think I’m going to have a choice.”v

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