One can't blame Menlo-Atherton football coach Adhir Ravipati if he soon lobbies for replay review for high school football. The Bears had two key calls go against them in the second half on their way to a gut-wrenching 31-25 loss to North Coast Section power Marin Catholic at Coach Parks Field on Saturday afternoon.
Menlo-Atherton, which lost to Central Coast Section power Bellarmine in week one, may be the best 0-2 team in the CCS. M-A made key mistakes in a 34-20 loss to the Bells, but had closed to 27-20 entering the fourth quarter.
"We should have won the game for the second week in a row," Ravipati said. "Marin Catholic is a first-class program and has had years of experience. Turnovers killed us. Defensively, same thing as last week. Sometimes, our guys' eyes are in the wrong place and they give up the big play."
The Bears led 12-7 at halftime over the Wildcats (1-1), who received the second half kickoff after deferring to start the game. The Bears pooched a kick that was mishandled with M-A's Devon Dundas recovering. The officiating crew threw a late flag, citing the Marin Catholic receiver raised his arm for a fair catch.
M-A argued the Marin Catholic player was first hit by his own teammates before any M-A player made contact. The penalty against the Bears placed the ball at the M-A 45.
Two plays later, the Bears were called for holding on a short pass play, compounding things with a dead-ball personal foul call as Bears fans in the stands voiced their displeasure.
"They called fair-catch interference on our player," Ravipati said. "The refs didn't decide the game."
With the ball at the 17-yard line, Wildcats quarterback Spencer Petras connected with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Jack Hogeboom as Marin Catholic grabbed a 14-12 lead.
M-A linebacker Stavro Papadakis blitzed Petras on the next series, lowering the boom from the blind side, forcing a fumble. Dundas, who played an outstanding game from his linebacker position,
pounced on the ball at the MC 30-yard line.
Three plays later, Jordan Mims bellied to the outside on a pitch play, taking it in for an 8 yard touchdown. The Bears went for two points, but an attempted run failed.
The Wildcats took all of four plays to answer as Petras threw to Hogeboom for a 50-yard touchdown. Petras, who threw for 267 yards and four touchdowns, opened the scoring with a 50-yard TD pass to Peter Brown on a seam pass with 7:35 to play in the first quarter.
In a topsy-turvy affair, the Bears marched seven plays to regain the lead. Bears quarterback Aajon Johnson threw to Tate Tussing for 11 yards. On fourth-and-four, Johnson threw to Aaron Johnson for a 10-yard gain to the Wildcats 24-yard line.
Mims broke loose on the next play for a touchdown with 4:07 remaining. Mims had an even 100 yards rushing on 18 carries.
Marin Catholic retook the lead early in the fourth quarter on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Petras to Roman Jacques, the Marin Catholic record-holder in the 100 meters.
In another bad break for the Bears, Mims took a pitch, then cut inside right tackle and was off to the races for a 78-yard touchdown run. The Bears, however, were called for an illegal block and Mims' long run was nullified.
Another of several fumbles by the Bears was recovered by the Wildcats, who turned it into a 39-yard field goal by Sean McKeough with 6:12 remaining.
The Bears had plenty of time to score the go-ahead touchdown and nearly did so in heroic fashion. On third-and-29 at the Bears' 13-yard line, Aajon Johnson dropped back and threw a Hail Mary pass that was somehow caught by Aaron Johnson for 39 yards and a first down at the Marin Catholic 45.
Mims ran for 3 yards, then Aajon Johnson threw two incomplete passes. On fourth-and-seven, Johnson went for all the marbles, but threw the ball out of the back of the end zone.
"It was a check," said Ravipati of the fourth down play. "We have to execute that. We have to deliver the ball so the guy can make the catch. It looked like the game was decided on that play, but it wasn't."
Johnson, who scampered for a 39-yard touchdown early in the second quarter, finished 17 for 28 for 211 yards. Johnson had tossed a 44-yard touchdown to Tate Tussing with 9:40 to play in the first half.
The Bears gained the respect of Marin Catholic coach Mazi Moayed.
"It was a heart-attack game," Moayed said. "We had to fight til the end. Menlo-Atherton has an explosive team. They're scary, very scary. We were fortunate to get away with one."
The Wildcats have a Colorado-bound player in linebacker-tight end Sebastian Oliver, who got injured and had to exit the game. Left tackle Chantz Russell -- at 6-foot-6, 270 pounds -- has a Division I frame. Petras, a junior, is 6-5 with a lot of college interest.
The Bears must circle the wagons and get ready for Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco at Kezar Stadium on Friday night.
"Our kids never quit," Ravipati said "They battled all the way to the end. We have to do the little things, like take care of the football."
Notes: Mekhi Blackmon had an interception for the Bears . . . M-A had the benefit of a fifth down, unnoticed by the officiating crew, in the first half.