Menlo-Atherton got to write the redemption storyline in Friday night’s 30-27 overtime victory over powerhouse McClymonds.
Rallying from 13 points down in the fourth quarter, M-A (2-2 overall) tied it with 1:15 to go in regulation, only to have place kicker Juan Pulido’s point-after try hit the left upright. When Pulido got a reprieve in overtime for a chip-shot 22-yard field goal, though, the senior did not miss.
Pulido knocked down the field goal and pandemonium ensued at Coach Parks Field, as the Bears handed McClymonds-Oakland (3-1) its first loss of the season, and snapping its 26-game regular-season winning streak dating back to 2018.
“You never want the field-goal team, but we’ve got faith in Juan,” M-A quarterback Matt MacLeod said. “That off-the-post, that’s just once in a while for him. So, we’ve got faith.”
M-A was facing an uphill battle from the outset after head coach Chris Saunders was a late scratch due to undergoing emergency dental surgery Friday. Assistant coach T.J. Matsumoto got word Friday afternoon he would have to take over the head coach and offensive coordinator duties, to go with his job as defensive coordinator.
Matsumoto had only served as head coach at any level only one other time in his life. That was in 2018 with the Asane Seahawks of Bergen, Norway from the Norwegian Federation of American Sports, in an emergency assignment much like this one, the year before he joined the staff at M-A.
Is there any comparing the two games, though?
“Oh, heck no,” Matsumoto said. “This one, you can ask some of my assistants, I was like: ‘Can this game just be over? I’m too stressed out right now.’”
The stress was alleviated time and again by M-A senior running back Dane Fifita, who put on a clinic for gaining yards after contact. Fifita gained 149 total yards, including 14 carries for 114 yards and two touchdowns, both his scores coming one 1-yard blasts in the fourth quarter to overcome a late 27-14 deficit.
“This is an everyday thing,” Fifita said. “It’s a blessing to come on this field, do what I do. Just to know that I can run and be able to do things, that’s what drives me.”
Fifita’s igniter was a seemingly modest run of 5 yards in the third quarter. With the Bears trailing 13-7 at the half, though, they needed a spark, and Fifita’s second-effort for a first down on second-and-1 from the M-A 38 lit the fire. On the following play, MacLeod hit senior receiver Jalen Moss for an 18-yard pickup. And after a 28-yard screen pass to Fifita — including several more tackle-breaking efforts — to move the ball to the Warriors’ 10, M-A found the end zone on a 4-yard scoring pass from MacLeod to senior Johnnie Barbie to take a 14-13 lead.
Barbie was one of five M-A receivers to make catches, as MacLeod was 18-of-25 passing for 260 yards and one touchdown.
“Everybody is a weapon who contributes to this team,” Fifita said. “That’s what we do.”
But Mack fired back with a quick seven-play, 55-yard drive, capped by a 1-yard QB sneak from senior Dreyan Paul. Then after Mack forced a three-and-out, thanks to a third-down sack by senior defensive tackle Breece Hutchinson on an all-out blitz, the Warriors struck again.
This time it came even more swiftly, as on the second play of the ensuing possession, Warriors running back Jaivian Thomas — 10 carries for 92 yards — broke off a 60-yard scoring run to jump out to a 27-14 lead with 8:57 to play.
“We just had to keep on going,” MacLeod said. “It was one big play; we just kept going. If we eliminate the big plays, it’s hard for teams to keep the ball moving against us. So, we just had to keep going.”
M-A fired right back with a four-play, 54-yard drive, as Fifita took the opening play for a 41-yard carry and into the red zone. Three plays later, he scored on a 1-yard dive.
The Bears got the ball back quickly, thanks to a third-down sack by M-A senior safety Thomas Taufui, forcing Mack to punt. M-A turned it around for a seven-play, 60-yard drive, highlighted by a fourth-down conversion that saw Moss go over the middle on a suicide route for an 18-yard reception to the Warriors’ 45. Two plays later, MacLeod hit junior Johno Price with a 40-yard pass to advance to the 1, setting it up for Fifita’s game-tying blast.
In overtime, Mack took the first possession at the M-A 10-yard line with four plays to try and score. The Bears’ defense — which has struggled this season, especially in a Week 1 loss to Bellarmine 56-41 — rose to the challenge, pushing Mack backward on nearly every play. The Warriors netted negative-30 yards on the drive, finishing at the 40.
“It’s been an absolute wonderful ride and kudos to these kids, they played their butts off,” Matsumoto said. “Kudos to Mack, the played their tails off, no quit. I’m so proud of this team. Coming back from 14 points down in the fourth quarter, it’s a huge, huge thing.”
Mack starts fast in first half
McClymonds opened with a strong tempo, taking the opening drive 59 yards on seven plays to gain the early advantage. Three different rushers — Thomas, Jay’Vion Cole and Tajir Golden — gained the ground yards. Then with the Warriors facing third-and-goal from the 2, Paul took a play-action bootleg around the left side for a 2-yard score to stake Mack to a 7-0 lead.
But MacLeod and the high-powered M-A offense went right to work.
MacLeod opened the Bears’ first drive with a 26-yard completion to Moss. He followed that with a 27-yard strike to a wide-open Jeremiah Earby to give M-A the ball at the Warriors’ 18.
The drive would ultimately stall, and M-A would come up short on a 39-yard field goal try. But the Bears’ defense responded by forcing a three-and-out — with a third-down stop by senior linebacker Andrew Buck — and M-A took possession right back, and made it count.
After Mack’s punt from its own end zone gave M-A the ball at the Warriors’ 40, it took M-A just four plays to hit paydirt. Fifita powered for two consecutive runs of 15 yards apiece to move the ball to the Mack 10. Two plays later, MacLeod connected with Earby in the back corner of the end zone for an 8-yard scoring pass, with Earby getting airborne to time the apex of MacLeod’s lofty spiral to perfection, tying the game 7-7.
The score stayed deadlocked until the end of the first half when the Warriors covered a lot of ground in a hurry. Taking over at their own 27 with 1:40 to go in the half, the Warriors completed two quick passes. The first was shortened by a downfield holding penalty, but the second — an 11-yard completion to Michael Dansby — gave the Warriors a first-down at their 41.
A third-down QB scramble of 12 yards by Paul into M-A territory earned another first-down. Four plays later, Paul connected with Cole for a 27-yard touchdown pass, giving McClymonds a 13-7 advantage heading into halftime.
Pandemonium at Coach Park Field
After Pulido booted the game-winning field goal in overtime, he was swarmed not only by his teammates, but by a flood of M-A students who rushed the field.
Fifita took a moment to collect himself before joining the celebration, taking a knee on the sideline for a silent prayer.
“They left their sweat on this turf,” Fifita said. “For us to pick it up, this is their legacy, this is our legacy for college. We come here on our field, we lost last time. We put on our helmets, we let the dog talk, we get it done.”