Last season’s showdown between San Mateo and Carlmont was a game changer.
San Mateo had won in heads-up play for five straight years. Carlmont ended the streak with a 21-14 win in dramatic fashion, mounting a long game-winning drive amid a fourth-quarter deadlock. The Scots persevered by virtue of two fourth-down conversion in the red zone, including a 2-yard run by Damarii Blanks for the go-ahead score.
“Everybody was really excited,” said Carlmont head coach Jake Messina about beating the Bearcats in 2017. “The last 20-year stretch … it’s no big secret it’s been a tough row to hoe (at Carlmont) and we’ve had little to no success against San Mateo. That (win) was exciting. So now everyone expects it to be a battle and that’s probably what it will be.”
The outcome impacted the Peninsula Athletic League Lake Division standings. Carlmont went on to take second place with a 4-1 league record. San Mateo settled for a third-place tie at 2-3, both finishing back of league champion Jefferson.
Yet when PAL realignment came calling, it wasn’t Jefferson or even Carlmont that earned the promotion. Instead, the San Mateo Bearcats answered the call to move up to the PAL Ocean Division. And despite a 1-2 record to start non-league play this season, Bearcats head coach Jeff Scheller said he has no regrets.
“Nothing’s easy,” Scheller said. “We want to try to show the kids we want to try to be able to compete. We want to try to challenge them. I had no notions going into preseason that we were going to be undefeated. ... There are always going to be challenges and the kids are working through them. And they’re responding. … No regrets at all. Looking forward to it actually.”
When Carlmont travels to San Mateo Friday night for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff, it will mark the first time the teams have faced each other in non-league action since 2014. The two share much more recent history than that though. This is the 11 straight year the Scots and Bearcats have met, with San Mateo enjoying a 7-3 head-to-head record during that stretch.
The teams have plenty in common.
With the graduation of Blanks, the Scots are reinventing themselves in the backfield. Returning senior Julian Morin has turned in a sturdy performance as the primary back, averaging 73.7 yards per game. But senior Jonaven Kuhn put himself on the map last week in another thrilling Carlmont victory, 21-20 over Mountain View, busting loose with 19 carries for 126 yards and the game-winning touchdown.
“He played really well last year,” Messina said of Kuhn. “We jumped him around a lot and now he’s found his home back there (in the offensive backfield.).”
The Scots’ running game should get a shot of adrenaline with the return of offensive lineman Daniel Taumalolo, who has missed the last two games due to injury.
For San Mateo, its revamped backfield has seen senior William Bradford explode onto the scene. As a junior in 2017, he was the only Bearcats “running back” to play in every game, though that was due to double-duty as a linebacker. With his focus on defense, he totaled just 220 rushing yards.
Bradford surpassed that total in Week 1 this year, going for 221 yards on 30 carries in San Mateo’s 20-19 loss at El Camino. Most impressive was an 85-yard touchdown run in the first half, as the senior straight-armed two defenders to navigate toward daylight to the end zone.
“He worked really hard in the offseason and got strong in the offseason,” Scheller said. “He’s a wrestler too, so he’s got that fight in him.”
He continued through to Week 2 in San Mateo’s 13-7 win against Santa Teresa-San Jose, carrying 27 times for 138 yards.
“William has shown he can break one,” Scheller said. “That was the most surprising is he broke two in two games.”
Both Carlmont and San Mateo are currently 1-2 in non-league play. But the way the Scots arrived at their record gives them plenty of momentum heading into their final preseason non-league tune-up.
Last Friday’s 21-20 win over Mountain View saw Carlmont score twice in the fourth quarter to overcome a two-touchdown deficit. Both scores were set up by special-teams highlights, with two blocked punts, including the dagger by Simon Tara to give the Scots possession at the Mountain View 13-yard line. Kuhn bolted into the end zone on a 6-yard run, and Nico Franchi hit the crucial point-after try to win it.
“It probably shouldn’t have been (a win last week),” Messina said. “We were so thin, we had to scratch and claw to get through.”