Prep football: Bragging rights in Atherton up for grabs

Menlo-Atherton relies on linemen such as David Tafuna (50) to lead its running attack. Photo by Bob Dahlberg.

It's the battle of the Menlos Friday when Menlo School plays at Menlo-Atherton in a 7:30 p.m. start. The two schools sharing the Menlo appellation in their name haven't played since 2014.

The game has meaning in regard to the outcome of the Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division race. M-A (4-2 overall) is 2-0 in the PAL Bay. Menlo (also 4-2 overall) is 1-0 in league.

Jack Alexander

Raymond Price III
Menlo won that last meeting, 28-20. M-A has won eight of the last 10 in the series.

"We're excited for it,'' Menlo coach Josh Bowie said. "It will be a great challenge. When you play games that are a challenge you get better. It will be a tall order, but our boys love to compete.''

Then there's the geographical and neighborhood significance. Sacred Heart Prep (6-0, 1-0) looms on M-A's schedule as its next opponent after Menlo.

"The next two weeks we play for the city championship,'' M-A coach Adhir Ravipati said of playing the other two schools with Atherton mailing addresses. "It's cool to play both of them. The kids always ask when are they playing them, that they want to play Menlo and Sacred Heart Prep. A lot go to the same schools growing up.''

Players on the Menlo School team know all about M-A.

"With us both being in Atherton a lot of people know everybody,'' Bowie said. "Some of our kids have relatives on their team. And then on social media, with M-A being highly-publicized with their recruits, a lot of our guys know who they are and want to know how we stack up against a team with 14 Division I prospects, how our team with 22 can compete with Goliath. What they did to Terra Nova is a testament to how good they are.''

M-A's defense has played extremely well the first two PAL games in wins over Aragon (41-0) and over previously undefeated Terra Nova (30-8). The first points scored against the Bears in league play didn't come about until there were three minutes left in the Terra Nova game.

"Our offensive line has to protect (quarterback) Kevin Alarcon,'' Bowie said. "And we have to at least be productive in the run game. I don't think we can beat M-A being one-dimensional. But we have the athletes to compete.''

Regardless of how his defense has played, Ravipati is plenty concerned about the Menlo offense.

"I've been impressed watching them, they could be (6-0),'' Ravipati said. "Their quarterback is very accurate. And their receiving corps, number 5 and number 9 (Jaden Richardson and Kevin Chen), are special. We'll have our hands full stopping their skill guys. We've got to be able to get pressure on their quarterback. It was good we got to see Terra Nova last week and got a taste of playing a pass-first offense.''

Ravipati hopes his own offense gets a boost from the return from injury of quarterback Jack Alexander.

"He's cleared to go,'' Ravipati said. "With Jack at quarterback we'll be able to run more of our own offense.''

After a 2-0 lead at halftime, M-A scored second-half touchdowns on plays of 50, 75, 80 and 96 yards against Terra Nova.

"We have to be very mindful of the playmakers they have on the field,'' Bowie said. "If we can limit their big plays I think defensively we'll be OK.''

Cleaning up his team's execution was a priority in practice this week for Ravipati. M-A was penalized 10 times for 124 yards against Terra Nova.

"We have a lot of work to do playing smarter,'' Ravipati said. "I don't want to take away our guys playing physical, but we've got to be smart about it. We've got to be able to handle movement in the box.''

Palo Alto at Fremont, 7 p.m.

This game might not be much of a competitive matchup on the field with Fremont 1-5 and Palo Alto 6-1, but it will be an emotional homecoming for Palo Alto coach Nelson Gifford, formerly the head coach at Fremont.

"It's going to be a tough one,'' Gifford said. "I was in that district half a decade, built a lot of great relationships. I know all the kids in that program. When the Palo Alto job came open I had to sit down and make a list of pros and cons. It wasn't a no-brainer, it was an agonizing decision. This is not the NFL. You build relationships with kids as a mentor.''

He's not only returning to the place he coached until last year, but he's doing so on homecoming week.

Palo Alto began a very front-loaded schedule this season going 5-1 the first six games against what looked like a formidable lineup of opposing teams -- St. Ignatius, Half Moon Bay, McClymonds, Aragon, Milpitas and Wilcox. The Vikings suffered no letdown last week in a game in which it was heavily favored, building a 42-0 halftime lead en route to a 49-0 win over Cupertino.

"I want this to be the same as for Cupertino, focusing on our own selves,'' Gifford said. "The kids played at a high level. Jackson (Chryst) was super efficient, the kids blocked real well. That's what I'd like to see again this week.''

Fremont, which moved up from the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League's El Camino Division to the De Anza Division after a 6-4 season in which it averaged 43 points per game under Gifford last year, lost to Cupertino in its De Anza opener, 44-11.

Fremont made a similar move up to the De Anza Division in 2015, Gifford's final year as offensive coordinator. That was the last time the Firebirds played Palo Alto, losing 62-13.

"They beat us like we stole something,'' Gifford said. "I feel for (first-year Fremont coach) Jake (Herald).''

Sacred Heart Prep at Half Moon Bay, 7:30 p.m.

The Gators will be favored to continue its undefeated run this season, to go to 7-0 overall and 2-0 in PAL Bay play, but not by a whole lot.

HMB (3-3, 0-1) was hit heavily by graduation after going 14-1 a year ago, winning the PAL Bay and Central Coast Section Open Division III titles and playing for a state championship.

But going by the scores against common opponents, it should be a competitive game: SHP beat Burlingame 15-13, HMB lost to Burlingame 27-26; SHP beat San Mateo 44-0, HMB defeated San Mateo 26-7.

"I think Half Moon Bay is well-coached and does some things on both sides of the ball that present problems, whether blitzing on defense or using multiple alignments on offense.'' SHP coach Mark Grieb said. "They limit you in a number of ways. They are a tough, hard-working group.''

SHP has been a run-dominant team thus far on offense, both to take advantage of its traditional strength and to bring along slowly a talented young quarterback in sophomore Raymond Price III. Price had his best game last time out, completing 7 of 10 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns in a 36-14 win over Aragon.

Half Moon Bay built a 17-0 lead only to end up on the losing end in its PAL Bay opener to Menlo 44-25.

"It looked like Menlo was able to exploit some things in Half Moon Bay's defense with its passing game,'' Grieb said. "The key for us is can we be efficient in the passing game to complement what we do on the ground.''

Saratoga at Gunn, 7 p.m.

Gunn (2-4, 0-2) is coming off its bye week, hopefully rested and healed up for the stretch drive.

"It gave us an opportunity to get healthier,'' Gunn coach Jason Miller said. "The guys are anxious to get back after it.''

This is Saratoga's first year in the SCVAL El Camino Division after a number of years in the De Anza. The Falcons run a pass-first offense out of the spread.

"They have a prolific passing attack, by far the best passing attack we'll have faced all year,'' Miller said. "I've got to make sure we're prepared for that.''

Saratoga (2-3, 2-1) has scored a combined 103 points the last two weeks in wins over Mountain View and Monta Vista, two teams Gunn suffered losses against. The Titans are scoring enough to win, with 178 points scored in five games on the field, an average of 36 points per game. But they've allowed 205 points, an average of 41 per game.

"You can get tired chasing quarterbacks,'' Miller said. "Our game plan is to play smart and not be chasing things you shouldn't be chasing. Eye discipline is important against teams that run screens. We need to tackle well and get off the field on third down.''

Woodside at Mills, 7:30 p.m.

After a big win in its PAL Lake Division opener against defending champion Jefferson, Woodside (4-2, 1-1) had a disappointing loss to El Camino last week, 13-7.

"Our offense was out of sync the whole game,'' Woodside coach Justin Andrews said. "The defense did a good job except on two fluky scores.''

It was Woodside's first full game with Trevor Cook at quarterback replacing the injured Brody Crowley, when Cook came off the bench to lead the win over Jefferson.

"We had some growing pains in that department,'' Andrews said. "I think we were trying to do a little too much. He's showed he's definitely capable of doing it, but got a little lost in the lights. He had a lot on his plate.''

Mills is off to a 2-3 start, 0-1 in the PAL Lake after losing its opener to Jefferson.

"They have some players who pop out on film,'' Andrews said. "Their running back is a playmaker, their quarterback's a good athlete.''

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