by Craig Wentz
Two brothers are behind the success story that the Menlo College football team is writing this season. Yet, this is not your typical brothers-playing-football kind of tale, just like Menlo is not penning your typical bad-team-turns-good epic.
Eric Scharrenberg is Menlo's defensive coordinator. Matt Scharrenberg, Eric's younger brother, is the Oaks' starting free safety. Both have played roles behind the scenes while the offense has churned much of the glory this season.
Both, however, figured prominently is Menlo's 27-0 victory over Whittier last Saturday in Atherton that made for a great Homecoming event. The victory also improved the Oaks' record to 5-1, their best start since 1990. Menlo never has begun a season 6-1.
All this sets up Saturday's showdown with powerful Azusa Pacific on Menlo's Conner Field at 1 p.m. The Oaks' home finale should be their toughest game of the year. Azusa Pacific also is 5-1, ranked among the top 20 nationally in the NAIA rankings. A victory came against Redlands, the only team to defeat Menlo this season.
This matchup places an even greater importance on the Menlo defense this week, and perhaps puts the spotlight on the Scharrenberg brothers.
In his first season at Menlo following a successful stint of two years as Mountain View High's defensive coordinator, Eric gradually has molded a young defense into a feared bunch that has yielded just 17.5 points and 313 yards per game. Though those numbers aren't overwhelming, consider that last season Menlo gave up 50.4 points and 453 yards per contest.
"What we talk about is setting a style of play and setting a standard as a team," said Eric, who was the Central Coast Section's high school Player of the Year in 1985 while playing for St. Francis High. "A standard of effort and play in practice and games while believing in each other."
Eric and defensive back coach Kenny Pope, a former standout defensive back at Menlo-Atherton High in the early 1980s, have directed a young secondary (three freshmen, no seniors) that has allowed just 190 passing yards per game, 173 against Whittier. Freshman cornerback Kaleo Wong leads the team in tackles and fellow corner Bryan Fernandez, the only returning starter in the secondary, had two interceptions last Saturday to give him six for the year.
"We try not to give up the big plays," Eric Scharrenberg said. "Our philosophy is not to give up the big one."
Matt is not only happy to be playing for his brother, but also feels fortunate just to be competing on the football field. After a stellar career at St. Francis, Matt played basketball at Foothill College last year before coming to Menlo this season at the request of Eric.
"I didn't know what Menlo was until my brother recruited me," said Matt, whose four interceptions this season ranks 11th in NCAA Division III. "The (famous) coaches wasn't a draw to come here. I wanted to work with my brother and play football again, that was the selling point."
Coming into the Whittier game, Matt had seven tackles to go with his four pickoffs and is providing leadership for an enthusiastic defense.
"We are pretty much a close unit on defense and we accomplished our goal of shutting them out," Matt said. "It's pretty awesome being 5-1.
"But we have to score, our goal on defense is to score a touchdown."
While the defense kept the late Richard Nixon's alma mater out of the end zone, the offense was up to its high octane self--gaining 318 net yards. Junior quarterback Shilo Smith completed 18 of 28 passes for 266 yards and three scores, two of them to junior wideout Cornelius Ruff.
Ruff had seven receptions for 150 yards against Whittier and now has 40 catches for 809 yards and nine touchdowns on the year with three games remaining in the season. The nine TD receptions is a single-season school record.
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