Menlo-Atherton keeping its focus on NorCal football game

Daniel Heimuli (5) and Noa Ngalu (52) are two big reasons Menlo-Atherton is playing Friday night. Photo by Bob Dahlberg.

After the events of the last few days Menlo-Atherton football coach Adhir Ravipati is all in on keeping his team’s focus on the game ahead, the Northern California 3-AA bowl game against Eureka at McKinleyville High School on Friday at 7 p.m.

Last Friday the Bears won their second Central Coast Section Open Division I championship in the last three years in almost surreal fashion, rallying from a 28-14 deficit with a 19-point burst in a five-minute span of the fourth quarter to beat Wilcox 33-28. Freshman quarterback Matt MacLeod came off the bench to spark the comeback, Division I skill-position recruits Justin Anderson and Troy Franklin made big plays and the M-A defense came up with four fourth-quarter turnovers.

Then on Sunday the team learned it was being sent over 300 miles to Eureka, which won a coin flip to extend its season, for its NorCal playoff game, while Wilcox was getting a home game against Capital Christian of Sacramento.

Monday the all-Peninsula Athletic League selections came out and M-A players, as expected, were well represented. Lineman and University of Washington-commit Noa Ngalu was named Bay Division MVP. Highly-recruited linebacker Daniel Heimuli was named defensive player of the year for the second consecutive season. Franklin, Anderson, OL David Tafuna, RB Deston Hawkins, LB Joe Posthauer and DB Malik Johnson were all first-team choices.

On Monday evening the CIF announced the game with Eureka was being moved to McKinleyville, 15 miles north of Eureka, on account of poor field conditions at Eureka High.

A lot of distractions. So Ravipati has attempted to remain steadfast in getting his team ready to play a 12-0 Eureka team with a Montana at quarterback -- Cruz Montana, who has thrown 25 touchdown passes and only three interceptions this season.

“He’s an athletic kid with a good arm,’’ Ravipati said. “He’s accurate and can throw on the run. They’re a base Wing-T team that runs a lot of spread. They’re well-rounded, real multiple, a big challenge for our defense. They’re a little different from what we’ve seen so far this year.’’

As far as the M-A quarterback situation is concerned, junior Jack Alexander won the job in pre-season practice but has only played five games due to injuries. He started the Wilcox game at less than full strength and Ravipati made the unusual move of bringing in a freshman quarterback in a CCS championship game.

“Jack was playing through an injury,’’ Ravipati said. “He’s a big reason we’re here. I tried something different to try to get a spark. Football is a game of momentum. Matt did a great job and I’m proud of how Jack handled it. He was doing everything he could to coach Matt up.’’

MacLeod completed 10 of 18 passes for 116 yards.

On Tuesday Ravipati said he was not ready to name a starter for the Eureka game.

“I’m trying to temper expectations,’’ Ravipati said. “I want to see how Jack feels and let them compete in practice.’’

The defense came up with seven turnovers in all against Wilcox, three fumbles and four interceptions, the big reason a comeback from a 21-0 first-half deficit was possible.

“We practiced trying to rake the football out,’’ Ravipati said. “And we thought that if they were forced to throw that we would match up well and get some turnovers through the air.’’

Anderson intercepted two passes, caught a touchdown pass from MacLeod and had a 17-yard punt return that set up the winning touchdown. Franklin caught a touchdown pass from Alexander in the first half that was set up by a Heimuli interception, and scored the winning touchdown with 3:33 left on a 17-yard run after taking a pitch from MacLeod.

"Big-time players,’’ Ravipati said. “In the playoffs you need stars to play like stars.’’

The team will travel to Eureka on Thursday.

“We’ll practice Thursday evening and stay the night,’’ Ravipati said. “On Friday we’ll do a study hall, a film session and a walk-through before the game.’’

It’s a long trip. But the Bears made an even longer one during the regular season, going to Colorado to play the top team in that state, Valor Christian. And if they can come out on top of Eureka they will come back home to host the 3-AA state championship game next week against Lincoln of San Diego, most likely at Foothill College.

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