CAMPBELL — When Raphael Bendo plunged into the end zone from a yard out with 30 seconds left in regulation, Terra Nova head football coach Jason Piccolotti had a decision to make: kick the extra point to tie the game at 14, or go for 2 and the win.
Piccolotti decided to go for it. But King’s Academy’s Noah Short knifed into the backfield from the right side, wrapped up Jalen Camp and dropped him short of the goal line to preserve a 14-13 Knights’ win in the Central Coast Section Division III championship game at Westmont High School on a rainy Saturday night.
“It was a tough decision,” Piccolotti said. “But at that point, we tried our best to win the game. We figured, ‘Here’s out chance, let’s go for it.’”
The second-seeded Tigers (8-5) still had one more chance, but their onside kick attempt ended in the arms of Short — which was only appropriate. When the top-seeded Knights (10-3) needed a play, it was usually Short who supplied it. The junior scored both King’s touchdowns, rushed for 101 yards, stopped Terra Nova on the 2-point attempt and recovered the onside kick.
“I’ve compared [Short] to you-know-who,” said King’s head coach Pete Lavorato, alluding to current Seattle Seahawks linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven, who Lavorato coached at Sacred Heart Prep.
“[Short is] just a special player.”
As good as Short was offensively, the King’s Academy defense might have been even better. The Knights held Camp to just 74 yards rushing on 20 carries and more importantly, kept him out of the end zone.
“We knew if we didn’t stop [Camp], it was going to be a long night,” Lavorato said. “And we stopped him. We did. He got a couple here and there.”
Said Piccolotti: “They played good defense. Not much we could do. Tip your hat to them. … They knew what we were going to do. They stopped it for the most part.”
Terra Nova made up for a lack of a strong running game with an opportunistic passing attack in weather that did not lend itself to aerial success as it rained nearly all game long. Bendo completed 5 of 15 attempts for 94 yards a touchdown in the rainy conditions.
In fact, it was a completion late in the second quarter that helped set up the Tigers’ first touchdown. First, Rapahel Bendo hooked up with younger brother Nate Bendo for an over-the-shoulder, 24-yard gain on third down to give Terra Nova a first down at the King’s 39. Three plays later, Raphael Bendo used a pump fake to free up Mateo Jimenez for a 26-yard scoring strike to cut the Knights’ lead to 14-7 at halftime.
“We didn’t totally sell out for the run,” Lavorato said. Their guy can throw the ball. They have great receivers. We had to be able to play that in-between game.”
The game started as a defensive battle as the teams traded punts to start the game before Terra Nova recovered a fumble on the Knights second drive.
The Tigers, however, could not capitalize and ended up punting, pinning King’s Academy at its 3-yard line. That’s when the Knights offense went to work. They converted a fourth-and-1 at their own 12 to keep the drive alive and later, quarterback Antonio Gonzalez completed a 35-yard pass to Kevin Sielski down to the Terra Nova 28 to end the first quarter.
On the fourth play of the second quarter, Short capped a 15-play, 97-yard drive with a 9-yard scamper to give give King’s Academy a 7-0 lead.
The teams, again, traded punts and when the Tigers went three-and-out again, the Knights made them pay. Short fielded a punt at his own 39 and bolted straight ahead. He picked his way through the wash and popped a 61-yard punt return for a touchdown to put the Knights up 14-0 with 4:53 left in the second quarter.
“That was a big play,” said Piccolotti. “Right when it was in the air, we were like, ‘Oh no.’ The worst thing you want to do is give [Short] a line-drive punt and that’s what we did.”
Terra Nova, however, answered on its ensuing drive. Facing third-and-long, the Bendo brothers hooked up for a 24-yard gain and three plays later, Raphael Bendo found Jimenez with the 26-yard touchdown, cutting the Tigers’ deficit in half at halftime.
“Funny game. We started throwing the ball well,” Piccolotti said.
In the third quarter, the Knights put together a 13-play drive that ended with a punt. Terra Nova took over at its own 11 and moved to midfield before punting early in the fourth quarter, but caught a break when the King’s Academy return man made a late move for the ball, muffed it and was recovered by Terra Nova at the Knights’ 20 with just under nine minutes left in the game.
The King’s Academy defense stiffened, however. The Tigers picked up an initial first down and had first-and-goal at the 9, but Terra Nova would turn the ball over on downs.
King’s Academy went three-and-out, punting from its own 7 with Terra Nova taking over at the Knights’ 40. Again, the King’s Academy defense came up big with David Cho intercepting a pass on fourth down at his own 35.
“It’s a testament to our defense and how courageous our kids are,” Lavorato said. “We have 26 guys on our team and they’re all courageous.”
With a little over two minutes to play, it was the Terra Nova defense that stepped up. Without any timeouts, the Tigers forced the Knights to punt, only to see the snap sail over the punter’s head. He was stopped well short of the first down and Terra Nova took over at the King’s Academy 28 with 1:33 left.
Following an incompletion on first down, Raphael Bendo found brother Nate again along the sideline for a 25-yard gain to the 3. Three plays later Raphael Bendo burrowed his way over the goal line for the score with 30 seconds left.
Then it was scramble time. Initially indecisive, Piccolotti chose to go for the 2-point conversion late, which resulted in a 5-yard delay of game penalty. This time, Piccolotti ran the kicking unit onto the field and initially it seemed Short had burst through and blocked the kick — but the play was waved off as the Knights were called for offsides, moving the ball back to the 3.
The Terra Nova offense came back out and it was Short who made the play, stopping Camp shy. Short was the hero the previous week in a 31-30 win over Aptos, stopping the Mariners on a 2-point try.
Terra Nova’s last hope — an onside kick — were dashed in the arms of Short. The Knights took a knee, ran out the clock and won their second straight CCS title.
But for the first time, the Knights qualified for a Northern California championship game.
“I don’t care who, where, what, when. Doesn’t matter. Playing in a Nor Cal championship game, that’s pretty cool,” Lavorato said.