At the end of a tough 42-14 loss on the road at powerhouse Serra High School, Half Moon Bay High School’s varsity football head coach Keith Holden was in a literary frame of mind. His now 10-1 Cougars had played determined, disciplined football against a team sprinkled with Division I college recruits. It all left Holden feeling a bit Dickensian in the aftermath.

“It was the tale of two halves,” he said with a slight smirk.

Indeed, it was the best of halves, it was the worst of halves for Holden’s young charges.

The Cougars were the best team by far in each of their previous 10 games. Consequently, they earned the respect of the schedule makers. Half Moon Bay became the eighth seed in the daunting Central Coast Section Open Division. That meant a trip to Serra, where the stacked No. 1 seed, 9-1 Padres awaited in a stadium bearing the name of an NFL MVP. Not that the Cougars were shrinking from the challenge.

“We were the only undefeated team in the section,” Holden said. “So, who else were they going to put there?"

He would get no argument from anyone who saw the first half of the game at Brady Family Stadium on Saturday.

As they lined up at scrimmage for the very first time, the Padre defensive line resembled skyscrapers in some foreign metropolis. The Cougars appeared unlikely visitors on this stage. But that changed quickly.

The Cougars bunched into their Jumbo package from the very beginning. Quick pitches to Connor Quosig followed by bull work by Tristan Hofmann up the middle began to move the chains. Quosig, Hofmann, quarterback William Moffitt and back Christian Haro continued to stagger the Padres for 5 yards, 3 yards, a foot. Again and again, the Cougars mauled their way forward on the backs of a stout offensive line.

The opening drive included three successful fourth-down conversions. A fourth-and-1 from midfield seemed preordained by that point. Then Moffitt hit wideout Cade Duncan over the middle on a fourth-and-9 from the Serra 41. Hofmann followed blockers for 5 yards on a fourth-and-3 from the Padre 25.

The opening drive consumed the entire first quarter. The Cougars scored on the first play of the second quarter when Hofmann hammered his way in from the Padre 3-yard line.

The Cougars, up 7-0, then held the talented Padres to three and out in the next possession. Following a punt, Half Moon Bay took over with first and 10 from their own 35. Again, the Cougars chewed up the turf in small bites. Quosig scored the second Cougar touchdown with 4:44 remaining in the half, and Half Moon Bay was off to a stunning 14-0 lead.

In their next possession, the Padres found their footing. Quarterback Dominique Lampkin found Terence Loville downfield on a 57-yard fly that took the Padres to the Half Moon Bay 13. Serra ran it in two plays later and it was 14-7 at the half.

The Cougars couldn’t have asked for anything more at the break.

“We owned the clock,” Holden said in an understatement. “I wouldn’t say (it was) flawless. We got beat over the top when we know it’s coming. We spot them 7.

“We played the first half the way we wanted to play,” he said.

Whatever Padres coaches told their rattled team in the locker room worked wonders.

Serra scored 35 points in the second half and the Padre defense kept the Cougars out of the end zone. As a result, the Padres earned the right to host Wilcox on Saturday in the second round of the CCS playoffs. The Chargers from Santa Clara dispatched Menlo-Atherton, 42-35, to advance.

Regardless of the loss, Holden said he was proud of his game troops, who were outnumbered on the sidelines 2 to 1.

“Absolutely,” he said, adding that he wasn’t among Half Moon Bay fans who felt the team was penalized for an undefeated record and made to play superior talent in the section playoffs.

“I mean, it is what it is. The math is what it is,” he said. “I think we showed today that this is where we should be."

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