By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
The Menlo-Atherton High football team was less than three minutes away from an important victory that might have led to a berth in the Central Coast Section playoffs and let it slip away yet again.
It's saying something about the Bears' talented players that despite a horrific start to the season, they still had a chance to extend their season with two weeks to go.
It also says something about the missed opportunities and last-minutes mistakes that have put M-A where it is, and that's out of contention.
The Bears lost to visiting Terra Nova, 31-21, in a PAL Bay Division contest on Friday afternoon in a game they needed to win, and could have.
M-A (1-3, 2-6) jumped to a 14-0 lead before the game was five minutes old. Terra Nova fumbled on its first play from scrimmage and Taylor Mashack found himself with a ball in his hands and clear sailing from 27 yards out 10 seconds into the contest.
A little more than four minutes later, Uilifeleti Fonua and Richard Cornew connected on a nine-yard scoring toss.
Then things turned sour. The Bears missed a field goal try, and then later fumbled away a chance to score a touchdown before halftime. Instead, Terra Nova hit a field goal to take the edge into the intermission.
The Bears had other promising moments. They soaked up most of the third quarter driving for their own go-ahead score in the third quarter, a 13-yard run from Cameron Moody.
They kept Terra Nova's vaulted offense off the field and that led to an M-A lead at 21-17. It was a lead that held until the Tigers scored with 2:14 remaining to play.
A last ditch effort was intercepted and returned for a touchdown to finalize things.
Still, there were some good things. Moody, Mashack and Junior Sakalia combined for 123 rushing yards and senior defensive end Alfie Herman as in Terra Nova's backfield often enough to make friends.
Austin Clarence and David Abbott also contributed defensive highlights.
The Bears can still finish strong and make an impact on the PAL Bay Division race. Burlingame visits Friday for a 2:45 p.m. contest.
Menlo 42, at Woodside 7
Robert Wickers threw for 179 yards and two touchdowns and Beau Nichols ran for two more to spark the Knights (3-1, 6-2) to a solid victory over host Woodside in a PAL Ocean Division game on Friday night.
The victory keeps Menlo a game back of Jefferson in division play with one game remaining. The Knights almost pulled into a tie for first, but Jefferson held off Half Moon Bay on Friday, 33-32.
Menlo tallied 35 points by halftime with Wickers, Nichols and Tim Benton (six catches for 126 yards) doing the damage. Phil Anderson also had a solid game with a 24-yard TD reception and a 79-yard kickoff return for a score in the second quarter.
Nichols had touchdown runs of 14 and 1 yards in the first half, the second of which allowed him to set the school record for career points. Nichols has 248 points, breaking the record of 242 points set by running back J.B. Barrett in 1982.
On defense, Menlo got big efforts from lineman Mafileo Tupou, defensive end Brad Eckert and linebacker Dylan Mayer. They helped limit Woodside to 128 total yards. Mayer had an interception, as did Chris Reed.
Milpitas 24, at Gunn 10
Missing out on some crucial opportunities late in the game, the host Titans came up short in search of their first SCVAL De Anza Division victory on Friday night. Gunn fell to 0-4 in league (3-5 overall) with tough games against Wilcox and Los Gatos to finish the season.
Twice in the fourth quarter, Gunn drove deep into Milpitas territory trailing by just a touchdown, only to fall short of the end zone.
"Our defense played great tonight," said Gunn coach Bob Sykes. "We just couldn't take advantage of opportunities on offense."
Defense did play a big role as the Titans forced turnovers at key times. The first coming five minutes in the game when Gunn's Elias Baker intercepted a pass and returned it 48 yards to the Milpitas 2-yard line. Unfortunately for the Titans, they had to settle for a 19-yard field goal by Dekel Sherman.
Milpitas came back and tied the score on a 30-yard field goal by Ramiro Ceja.
The Titans then drove 80 yards on seven plays as Anthony Cannon connected on a 40-yard pass to J.J. Strnad as Gunn grabbed its final lead (10-3) with a minute to go in the first quarter. Milpitas, however, answered with two touchdowns in the second quarter.
At this point it looked the game could easily have both teams score 30 plus points, but the offensive onslaught stopped once a steady rain developed late in the second quarter. Milpitas finally added its final TD in the final two minutes of the game.
Milpitas appeared ready to up by two touchdowns early in the second until Gunn's Baker caused a fumble that the Titans recovered in the end zone. Gunn couldn't convert, however. In the fourth quarter with Gunn trailing by just a touchdown, the Titans drove to Milpitas' 26 and 36, but both times were stopped on downs. Gunn's final opportunity came with a little over two minutes to go but a fumble at midfield ended that threat.
Despite the missed opportunities on offense, Gunn's defense stood out as Keenan Venuti, Jim Hinton, Baker and Skylar Larson all had strong games.