Sports

Menlo-Atherton shocks SHP in PAL Division football upset

 

There is always a lot at stake when Menlo-Atherton and Sacred Heart Prep meet on the football field, but there was a laundry list of reasons the Bears were especially amped-up to play their cross-town rivals this season.

After all, both teams entered the contest with unblemished records in the PAL Bay Division, the favored Gators entered with a three-game win streak against Bears, and on top of all of that, it was Senior Day for Menlo-Atherton.

So with the possibility that his team could come out with too much of an edge, first-year Bears head coach Adhir Ravipati gave his team some sound advice.

"Coach told us not to talk any smack to them before," senior cornerback Jack Gray said. "He really pushed for us not to say anything and we held it in and let it out on the field. It felt really good."

Menlo-Atherton definitely let its play do the talking -- running the ball effectively on offense, forcing turnovers on defense and converting kicks on special teams, in order to stun Sacred Heart Prep, 17-14.

"I'm so proud of the way our kids played," Ravipati said. "They did not break. There was a couple of times at the end where it looked like it might break for us, but they hung in there and made the plays when they needed to."

The victory was especially sweet for the senior class, which was previously winless against the Gators.

"They really wanted this one bad," Ravipati said of his seniors. "For those guys it's definitely something they'll remember."

The Bears offensively stuck with their usual run-heavy game plan, and handed the ball off 29 times to junior running backs Jordan Mims and Stavro Papadakis.

Although Mims did not replicate his school-record 324-yard rushing performance from last week, he and Papadakis did rack up 163 yards on the ground against an improving Gators' defense.

"Jordan and Stavro are lightning and thunder out there," Gray said. "They're great running backs. We look up to them to run the ball down every team's throat."

Sacred Heart Prep came into the contest riding high on a three-game winning streak with an average 33-point margin of victory.

Much like Menlo-Atherton, Sacred Heart was also committed to the run on Friday night, which in turn limited the number of overall offensive possessions in the game. But the vaunted Gators' offense, averaging 44.5 points per game, was shut out in the second half, and did not break off any runs longer than 18 yards in the entire game.

"I knew it was going to be a competitive game," Sacred Heart head coach Pete Lavorato said. "(The style) in which it was going to be competitive? That I wasn't sure."

The Gators set the tone for the game on their first drive, running the ball 10 times in an eight-minute drive, which was capped off by a four-yard touchdown run from Lapitu Mahoni.

The Gators, however, lost senior two-way standout Andrew Daschbach after that first series as he sat out the rest of the game with an undisclosed illness/injury.

The Bears answered right back, as a 29-yard run from Papadakis set up an 11-yard touchdown pass from Miles Conrad to senior tight end Marcus Gershenberg.

After a Gators' fumble was recovered by M-A cornerback Tate Tussing, Mims ran in a 10-yard score to give Menlo-Atherton its first lead of the game.

But the Gators answered with another methodical drive down the field, and with six seconds left in the half, Isoa Moimoi plowed ahead for a 1-yard touchdown to tie the score at 14-all at halftime.

"I give them a ton of credit, that is a great team," Ravipati said of Sacred Heart.

Menlo-Atherton opened the third quarter by driving 67-yard in six-and-a-half minutes to set up a 35-yard field-goal attempt from senior kicker Dylan Calderon. The senior calmly knocked down his fourth field goal of the season, and the Bears retook the lead.

Still trailing by three points midway through the fourth quarter, the Gators faced a fourth-and-15 from the Bears' 39-yard line and Lavorato faced a major decision whether or not to punt.

Lavorato decided to leave his offense on the field, and his senior quarterback rewarded the choice, scrambling 18 yards for a first down. But, the Gators could only enjoy the fourth-down conversion for a few moments, as two plays later, Gray picked off Randle down the left sideline on a pass intended for Nick O'Donnell.

"I kind of knew that was coming because (O'Donnell) and Mason made eye contact before the snap," Gray said. "I was playing really close to him and tried to anticipate it. I did and I got lucky."

After a three-and-out by the Menlo-Atherton offense, Sacred Heart had one last chance to pull out the victory with two minutes to go.

The Gators drove down to the Bears' 13-yard line, but Randle's pass on third-and-10 was incomplete, setting up a 30-yard field goal attempt to try and tie the game. Peter Larson's kick sailed wide to the left, and moments later, the Menlo-Atherton cheering section stormed onto the track to celebrate the Bears' victory.

"We talked about growing up from earlier in the year, this is kind of a measuring stick to see how far we've come," Ravipati said. "I think this (game) showed the progress we're making as a program."

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