The Half Moon Bay High School varsity football team returned for its first home game under the Friday night lights in more than a year on Friday, edging the Burlingame Panthers in a grind-it-out 19-10 win that hung in the balance until the waning minutes.
The game’s most pivotal moments came with less than five minutes remaining after Burlingame scored its first touchdown to make it 13-10. The Cougars were holding the slim lead and looking to bleed the clock.
Eventually, Connor Quosig found the hole and the blocking the team had needed all night and ran 50 yards into the end-zone to essentially seal the game at 2:28. A missed extra point left it at 19-10, and the Cougars hung on to get their first win of this highly unusual football season.
The high school implemented a series of safety protocols throughout the game. Spectators, who were spaced out in the bleachers, had to be on preregistered lists, and players could register only two people as spectators per game. Safety questionnaires and temperature checks were required at the game, and masks must be worn at all times.
“It’s nice to be at home and our fans are great,” head coach Keith Holden said. “There was some noise, but usually the whole town’s here.”
The Cougars out-gained the Panthers on yards, 301 to 225, and first downs, 14 to 11. Burlingame came out strong in the first series but the Cougars forced a missed field goal. Half Moon Bay put points on the board first, at the beginning of the second quarter, when quarterback William Moffitt found Luke James.
Burlingame chewed the clock for most of the second quarter before hitting a field goal.
Running back Tristan Hofmann ran in a 30-yard score after a pass from Moffitt up the middle. That put the Cougars up 13-3 with 44 seconds left in the first half.
The score stayed 13-3 throughout the third quarter, and neither team gained much momentum or looked sharp. The Cougars fumbled multiple times in their own territory, resulting in poor field position and turnovers. But time and again, the team’s defense held Burlingame in check.
“It comes with reps,” Hofmann said of the team’s ball security issues. “This is our first game and we’re a little rusty. We’ve got a lot to work on and Burlingame gave us a really good fight. There’s a lot of little things, and we need to be more physical.”
Hofmann finished with 16 carries for 64 yards. One particularly strange sequence occurred midway through the third quarter. The Cougars botched two handoffs inside their own territory and a delay of game penalty put them inside the 11-yard line. Then Moffitt unleashed a 30-yard bomb to wide receiver Luke James. Moffitt then converted on third-and-14 by rumbling down the left sideline only to throw an interception several plays later on fourth-and-7 that set up the Panthers on their 37-yard line.
But Cougars defensive back Nohea Sharp picked off Wyatt McGovern's pass and returned it 42 yards and into good field position. The Cougars had to punt at fourth-and-18 after more miscommunication and a chop block penalty.
Maybe the errors are to be expected after such a long time away from the game. Holden and the coaches attributed the sloppy play to series of different mistakes. Holden saw flashes of aggression on Moffitt and encourages the quarterback to be aggressive. Moffitt completed 6 of 11 passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns. But he also had an interception and two fumbles.
“The same consistent problem was turning the ball over, but I don’t believe it was the same every time," Holden said. "It’s the first game and all that, but I have higher expectations.”
Last season, the Cougars handled the Panthers at home, 45-26. Burlingame finished the season 6-6, including 2-3 in the PAL. The Cougars know they have a target on their back after going 10-0 in the PAL last year.
With just five regular season games in total, players are determined to make the most of their time left on the field.
“It’s amazing,” Hofmann said. “It’s football season.”