The last piece of the puzzle was put in place and a four-month long journey reached its desired destination.
Say hello to the state champions.
Menlo-Atherton defeated Lincoln of San Diego 21-7 for the CIF 3-AA state football championship Saturday at Sequoia High for the first state football championship in school history.
What a way to go out for the Menlo-Atherton seniors. There were some powerful emotions on display in the wild post-game celebration.
“I am so happy,’’ star lineman Noa Ngalu said. “But at the same time I’m sad, because this is the last time I’ll wear a Bears jersey.’’
Ngalu, who is headed to the University of Washington to play his college football, served as an appropriate spokesman, because he and the rest of the M-A line absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage.
Lincoln, which scored 54 points in winning the Southern California 3-AA championship, had a diverse attack with two quarterbacks who combined to throw 32 touchdown passes and a 1,200-yard rusher who scored another 16 TDs.
But once again, as has happened so often this season, M-A’s outstanding front seven completely shut down the run. The Hornets quickly gave up on moving the ball on the ground and went strictly to the air. They finished with only 14 rushing attempts for a net 16 yards and put the ball in the air 48 times.
Once that dynamic became apparent, the M-A defense, recognizing a one-dimensional opposing offense, unleashed its pass rush and knocked both Lincoln quarterbacks out of the game.
“We stopped every run game we faced this season,’’ Ngalu said. “In the locker room we said we know they’re going to pass, so we’ll punch them in the mouth.’’
Lincoln (11-5) had terrific speed at the skill positions, an attribute that concerned M-A coach Adhir Ravipati. The Hornets showed that speed on their first possession when Chris Davila connected with Jamahd Monroe on a 74-yard touchdown pass. The M-A defense adjusted after that and didn’t allow any more big plays the remainder of the game.
“I thought if we could adjust to their speed after the first couple of drives we’d be OK,’’ Ravipati said. “They had a lot of athletic guys. Fortunately we have a lot of athletic guys as well.’’
Sophomore Troy Franklin is exhibit A when it comes to athletic guys on the M-A roster. He brought the Bears even when he caught a 50-yard touchdown pass from Jack Alexander with 8:15 left in the second quarter. Alexander knows all he has to do is put the ball up high and Franklin will go up and get it, like a springy-legged basketball forward soaring for a rebound.
The long pass to Franklin was set up by M-A’s ground game. Fourteen of M-A’s first 17 plays from scrimmage were running plays, with Deston Hawkins carrying 11 times. M-A kept handing the ball to Hawkins the rest of the game on a power blast play up the middle with great success.
“We were trying to hammer them and make them bring more guys into the box,’’ Ravipati said.
On Lincoln’s first play after Franklin’s touchdown, Treavon Norton came up with an interception and the Bears were in business at the Lincoln 43. After three running plays, Alexander hit Malik Johnson with a 25-yard pass completion and a first down at the 3. Hawkins ran it into the end zone on the next play as M-A took a 14-7 lead.
Hawkins was the focal point of M-A’s rushing attack all game long. He carried 23 times for 134 yards and also scored M-A’s third touchdown on another 3-yard run in the fourth quarter.
“It’s my senior year, I wanted to do it for my brothers,’’ Hawkins said. “I wanted to leave it all on the field. The line was executing their blocks and I had big holes to run through.’’
His big game on the ground took Hawkins past the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
That fourth-quarter touchdown, which gave M-A some breathing room and a 14-point lead, was set up by another wrinkle devised by Ravipati to utilize Franklin’s talents in unanticipated ways.
Franklin had scored the winning touchdown the last two weeks -- in the Central Coast Section and NorCal championship games -- after going in motion from his wide receiver position and taking a pitch from the quarterback. Against Lincoln, Ravipati had Franklin taking a direct snap in the Wildcat formation. The first time Franklin took the direct snap he raced 62 yards for an apparent touchdown. But the play was called back on a penalty.
In the fourth quarter, after taking over at the Lincoln 35, Franklin came in at quarterback. On the first play he handed off to the motion man, De’Marshaun Payton, who ran 11 yards for a first down. On the next play Franklin faked a handoff and took off on his own, a tackle-busting 21-yard run for a first down at the 3. Hawkins scored on the next play.
Then it was a matter of turning it over to the defense. Johnson’s interception ended one Lincoln possession and Daniel Heimuli’s sack put an end to the final possession.
Then it was time to celebrate. What a way to go out for M-A’s seniors.
“It’s unbelievable,’’ said Heimuli, M-A’s highly-recruited inside linebacker. “I’ve been with coach Adhir all four years. It’s a real honor winning this last game. I want to give it to him as an early Christmas present.’’
Visit our Facebook page: Palo Alto Online Sports