Taking on the No. 1 seeded Menlo-Atherton Bears (8-2, 5-0) was a tough matchup for the last seeded Wilcox Chargers (5-5, 4-2). In this opening-round CCS playoff game, Menlo-Atherton came away with a comfortable 42-14 victory. The Bears got off to a hot start by taking the first play from scrimmage all the way to the house for a 62-yard touchdown.
Despite being known for their vaunted rushing attack, the Chargers offense was unable to respond with their ground game during their first offensive series. A failed fourth-down rushing attempt was a double blow as not only did senior tailback Isaiah Chavez fail to reach the marker, but he also sprained his ankle on the play (he would not return). The Bears would score yet again on their next drive to make it 14-0. At this point, it looked like the rout was on.
To the Chargers credit, they did not fold. With senior two-way player Hesikaia Tali Finefeuiaki back from injury, the Chargers were able to start moving the ball on their next drive. On a third-and-eight play from their own territory, junior quarterback David Hernandez spotted Tali deep down the seem for a long 45-yard pass connection. That set up an 18-yard touchdown run by versatile freshman Paul Rosa.
“I just hit the hole” commented Rosa, (son of Chargers Head Coach Paul Rosa) on his touchdown. “I saw one of my linemen hit a defender hard, so I just bounced outside into the corner.”
With the score now 14-7, the question remained whether or not the Wilcox defense could prevent the Bears from scoring. During the final regular season game against Los Gatos, the Chargers defense failed to come up with a single stop.
While Menlo-Atherton would score yet again on their next drive to go up 21-7, Wilcox would respond immediately. The drive began with a long 30-yard run up the middle by senior tailback Richard Herrera. A key catch on a fourth-and-five play by senior tight-end Sione Taufalele set up Herrera’s eventual four-yard run up the middle for the touchdown. Now back to within seven, this is where the Chargers defense was finally able to come up with a stop.
Taking over possession around midfield, Bears senior quarterback Aajon Johnson overthrew senior receiver Mekhi Blackmon on a deep pass play on second down. After Johnson ran up the middle for just five yards on third down, Wilcox would finally get a chance to come off the field. Facing a fourth-and-five play, Johnson’s pass attempt to the far sideline was well defended by senior cornerback Omar Williams. It looked as if Williams and the receiver both caught the ball simultaneously by the sideline and the play was ruled out of bounds for a turnover on downs.
“He’s one of the hardest workers we’ve had,” praised Coach Rosa about Williams. “He’s 5’7,” but has to play against 6’1″ guys all the time. He’s always in the right spot. He scraps and plays tough. He made a great play on that one.”
Unfortunately for the Chargers, their next drive quickly stalled as they turned the ball back over on downs. Somewhat miraculously though, the Chargers defense would get a second-straight stop. A holding penalty helped force the Bears to eventually punt the ball back to the Chargers.
Once again though Wilcox could not take advantage with a chance to tie the score. A third-and-four pass went off the hands of Tali and was incomplete. Deep in their own territory, the Chargers elected to punt on fourth down. On the ensuing Menlo-Atherton drive, three big passes by Johnson quickly restored the two-touchdown lead, 28-14, with less than a minute remaining in the first half.
“That was frustrating” commented Coach Rosa about being unable to capitalize offensively after the back-to-back defensive stops. “We had scored on our last two possessions. Usually we kind of get rolling that way, but that wasn’t the case. They did a good job stopping us. Frustrating for sure.”
Wilcox would get the ball back to start the second half, but a promising drive stalled at the Bears 25. The offense was moving the ball well led by big runs from Herrera and Hernandez. Wilcox would even convert a fourth-and-one on the drive, but the second fourth-and-one attempt came up just short upon measurement, resulting in yet another turnover on downs.
The Chargers defense simply had a tough time containing Bears tailback Jordan Mims. Menlo-Atherton marched down the field on the back of Mims and Johnson, while keeping the ball on the ground. Johnson’s touchdown run put the game away for good at 35-14. The Bears would add one more touchdown late in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring.
“They’re not the No. 1 seed for no reason. Up front they were very good. We just didn’t raise our game [to their level],” recalled Coach Rosa. “I think in the beginning we caught them on some stuff, we were in the game, but their offense is rough to stop if you look at their scores. You get two athletes in space like that…they do a very good job over there. They were the better team tonight for sure. They were more physical, faster, overall better.”