Menlo-Atherton won the third Central Coast Section football championship in school history with a 17-0 victory over Milpitas on Nov. 25.
Now the Bears have the opportunity to win a Northern California Division 3-AA regional championship and advance to a state championship game with a win over Manteca. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday at M-A.
"We'll have to play the best we have all year in order to be successful,'' M-A coach Adhir Ravipati said.
Manteca (12-1), which has gone 43-9 over the last four years, has scored 531 points this season for an average of over 40 points per game.
"What stands out is their size and physicality on the line,'' Ravipati said.
Menlo-Atherton (11-2) had a week off after winning the CCS Open Division I title.
"It was both good and bad,'' Ravipati said. "Now we need to fight off rust because you get into a rhythm of playing every week on Friday. But it's nice to have a chance to get some guys healthy and to be able to reflect on what we've accomplished.''
M-A has won 11 in a row, but the last two will have in particular etched themselves deeply into the program's memory banks: back-to-back shutout wins over Bellarmine (21-0) and Milpitas (17-0) in the CCS Open Division I semifinals and finals.
What brought on the sudden defensive greatness? Ravipati and M-A's defensive coaches credit the reinforcements received when several players were brought up from the JV team for the playoffs. Usually when JV players are brought up for a varsity post-season game it's just to watch. But not with M-A.
"We wanted all our sophomores to play JV football,'' Ravipati said. "We felt we had enough depth on the varsity to give those kids a chance to grow and develop.''
All the sophomores, that is, except for 250-pound defensive lineman Noa Ngalu, a varsity starter.
"It was best for everyone's safety to keep him on the varsity,'' Ravipati said.
Inside linebacker Daniel Heimuli joined the varsity for the playoffs and made a big impact. He was in on 20 tackles against Milpitas, 7.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. His emergence at inside backer allowed senior standout Stavro Papadakis to move to outside linebacker and defensive end, adding to the unit's overall strength.
Another exemplary defensive effort will be needed against Manteca. QB Gino Campiotti has thrown 21 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. He has also rushed for eight TDs.
"He reminds me of Brett Favre,'' Ravipati said.
RB Kameron Beamon has rushed for 1,246 yards and 16 touchdowns.
M-A will counter with the senior tandem of running back Jordan Mims and quarterback Aajon Johnson. Mims broke up a defensive battle against Milpitas with a pair of scintillating touchdown runs; one of 72 yards and the other from 76 yards. He has 1,981 yards rushing on the season and 24 touchdowns. Johnson has rushed for 961 yards and 14 touchdowns while passing for 1,901 yards and 18 TDs.
"If you focus too much on one the other will make you pay,'' Ravipati said.