Junior quarterback Will Brandin lofted a 14-yard scoring pass to senior receiver Mike Scott with 13.6 seconds to play, lifting the Palo Alto football team to a 14-7 victory over Menlo-Atherton in the Central Coast Section Large School Division championship Friday night at Foothill College.
The third-seeded Vikings (11-2) shut down the high-powered offense of the top-seeded Bears (11-2) in the second half to win their second straight CCS title and finish the season with a nine-game win streak. Menlo-Atherton, looking for the second section crown in school history, saw its nine-game winning streak end.
"I expected to win," said Palo Alto coach Earl Hansen, who had a bucket of water dumped on him despite the frigid weather conditions. "I thought we were the better team. We played a much harder schedule. I felt our guys were very well prepared for this game."
Menlo-Atherton came in averaging 38.9 points a game and beating teams by an average of 24.6. The Bears boasted a huge, veteran offensive and defensive line that averaged 280 pounds.
"They were huge and intimidating, but our defense did an unbelievable job," said Paly safety Will Holder.
Holder was just one of many Paly defensive standouts as he blocked a 30-yard field goal attempt by M-A in the second quarter after the Bears had gotten to the Vikings' 8. Linebackers Donnie Salas, Jordan Jefferson and James McCollough also were key members who limited the Bears like no other team had this season.
That, however, didn't come as a surprise to Hansen. His team entered the contest having allowed an average of 7.9 points a game during its seven-game win streak, which included three shutouts prior to the CCS finale.
That scoreless streak stretched to 15 quarters when Palo Alto and Menlo-Atherton played to a scoreless first half and a scoreless third period.
The Vikings scored first, in the fourth quarter, after the Bears' Jamal Wilkins fumbled and Paly recovered on its own 28. The Vikings then put together a 15-play drive, capped by a three-yard run by McCollough with 9:53 left in the quarter. The Vikings had a fourth-and-one at the M-A 5-yard line and went for it, with Brandin sneaking two yards to set up the TD.
Menlo-Atherton answered Paly's touchdown, as Will Latu took the kickoff back 37 yards. Nine plays later, Bears' quarterback Troy McCabe found tight end Matt Mosher open in the back of the end zone for a five-yard score and a tie game at 7.
Palo Alto got the ball back with 5:59 left in the game and promptly began moving toward perhaps a game-winning field goal.
Senior Mike Martin kept the drive alive with a 12-yard reception for one first down and McCollough raced 12 yards for another first down.
The drive stalled at the Menlo-Atherton 41 with 1:49 left to play, leaving Paly with a fourth-and-13 situation. Brandin, however, threw to Jordan Jefferson for a 13-yard gain and Paly had life at the Bears' 23.
McCollough picked up nine yards in two carries before Brandin found a leaping Scott in the left corner of the end zone, with Scott making an acrobatic catch for the winning score.
Scott took advantage of single coverage after having two defenders on him throughout the game.
"I thought it was crazy they didn't double cover him," Brandin said. "I just threw it up there; that was all Mike Scott."
Menlo-Atherton got the ball back, but McCabe threw his second interception (picked off by Paul Brown) as the gun sounded.
Palo Alto's defense was the difference, shutting down the Bears' vaunted attack. M-A rushed for just 44 yards in the second half and finish the game with just 135 on 30 carries after averaging 260 yards prior to Friday's game.
"Our defense play great, no question about it," Hansen said.
As for his team's 11-2 season, just one year removed from going 12-2 and reaching a CIF state championship game?
"I was just hoping we could hold on," Hansen said. "But this, this is a big win. It's huge."
McCollough, who also stood out at his linebacker position, led the Vikings' running game with 108 yards on 21 carries. Paly rushed for 155 yards and Brandin was a very efficient 16 of 24 (with two interceptions) for 164 yards. Scott caught six passes for 63 yards and Jefferson caught five for 44.
Menlo-Atherton's Latu, who gained over 1,500 rushing yards this season, was held just 87 yards -- only 30 in the second half. McCabe, who threw for more than 2,000 yards this season, also was held in check with 12 completions for 135 yards with two interceptions.