Senior lineman Epeli Mataele didn't have much of a plan but he certainly had motivation. His defensive mindset? "I don't like quarterbacks," he said. "I just had to do what I could do."
Mataele teamed with sophomore Noa Ngalu to bring down Los Gatos quarterback Kyle Reid seven yards behind the line of scrimmage on a fourth-down play that kept the Wildcats from scoring the potential tying -- or winning -- touchdown late in the game.
Menlo-Atherton made enough mistakes to turn a full head of a young coaches' hair gray in seconds. The Bears also did a lot of things right, resulting in a 35-28 nonleague football victory Friday night over a well-coached and classy group of Wildcats.
"We were fortunate to come out with a win considering all the mistakes we made," Bears coach Adhir Ravipati said. "But we made two huge stops in the red zone that showed our character."
There was enough credit to spread around that it would be easier to list the players who had nothing to do with Menlo-Atherton's victory.
See how easy that was?
This is a tough-minded group of young men who have already been on the wrong end of too many lop-sided defeats. Last year the Bears opened 1-3 and were outscored 123-68.
This year, with 17 returning starters, M-A is 2-2 entering its bye week and have outscored opponents 129-93.
"The coaches gave us the schedule and we played good teams," Bears senior middle linebacker Stavro Papadakis said. "That helped us grow as a team and we regrouped for success. I think this year we've shown just how much we've turned things around, even playing better teams."
The middle linebacker, typically, is the team's toughest, roughest, meanest player who would rather step on a bed of nails in bare feet than give an inch to the opposing running back, and who growls rather than uses words.
Papadakis is not a prototypical linebacker. For one thing, he's very cordial and speaks calmly. He even smiles. Seriously.
He does have one trait shared by the best of linebackers. He loves contact. As a running back -- he scored twice against the Wildcats -- Papadakis (a very generous 5-foot-11, 200-pounder) puts his head down and barrels through any obstacle, whether a brick wall or defensive lineman.
He plays linebacker the same way and heaven help the 6-5, 280-pound lineman who tries to get in his way.
He's a perfect complement to running back Jordan Mims, who carries the workload for Menlo-Atherton.
Mims can get it done in small chunks or can turn a simple dive play into a 50-yard touchdown run. He took the ball 23 times and turned it into 205 yards.
He scored both his touchdowns on successive offensive plays in the second quarter, displaying the bulldozer of a 5-yard scoring run and then busting through the line and gliding for a 50-yard score.
For the second time this season he also had a long touchdown run called back because of a penalty. The one time he got a chance to return a kickoff, he went 43 yards with it.
"You saw what Jordan did," Papadakis said. "He's a tremendous back. I told the coaches I can get it in if I get it, but I'd prefer to play defense and help Jordan. It was a great win. The defensive line played great."
Mataele thought the defense wasn't so great in the early going but woke up and "came together like a family."
Those two red zone stops Ravipati mentioned both came in the final three minutes of the game. After the Bears secondary was riddled for some 261 yards, they forced four consecutive incompletions when the Wildcats were within 17 yards of the end zone.
M-A was unable to move the chains though and were forced to punt. The low snap caused a fumble and Los Gatos recovered on the M-A 3-yard line.
Two penalties forced the ball back to the 27 but the Wildcats completed a 24-yard pass to the 3. Another penalty moved the ball back five yards. Will Forydce gained seven yards to put it on the one-yard line.
Papadakis, who bowled his way into the backfield to make a tackle for a loss, Mataele and Ngalu made sure that was Los Gatos' last positive play.
Mekhi Blackmon also deserves a few minutes in the limelight.
He gave the Bears possession by recovering a fumble and ended the possession on the receiving end of a 46-yard scoring play from M-A's savvy senior quarterback Aajon Johnson, who also rushed for 63 yards while throwing for 108.