Question: What do you call an undefeated football team that has dispatched its last three opponents without allowing a single point and is widely recognized as one of the best in the region?
Of course, that is true only if you were listening to the Half Moon Bay High School varsity football coaches in the moments after the Cougars pounded another challenger into submission. Friday’s 25-0 victory at previously unbeaten San Mateo was the first real test of a 5-0 season that is starting to look special. Just don’t tell that to the coaching staff.
“We gave up some big plays and the thing that just kills me is like, if we gave up big plays and it was something they did different than they had done in the past (that’s one thing), but it’s the things we have been working on over and over and over,” said Cougars’ head coach Keith Holden at game’s end.
The Bearcats managed a long run, recovered a Cougar fumble and completed several long passes – none of which resulting in any points for the home team. Holden was unconvinced.
“It looks good in practice, then we come out here on Friday night and they throw a deep ball on us and don’t even cover the guy,” Holden mused. “All week we worked on it. The only thing that is different tonight is the lights are on and San Mateo is across from us.”
Holden’s ambivalence must be understood in context. The Cougars have become one of those sporting outfits that measures the height of its achievements against the weight of its potential. It’s an unforgiving calculus and it’s hard to earn an A grade when you are in that class. Nevertheless, the expectations certainly mess up the curve for the competition.
On Friday, it began as it often does with a soul-stealing, bone-crushing long drive. On the first possession of the game, the Cougars traveled 80 yards on 10 plays before a human battering ram called Tristan Hofmann barreled the final 18 yards for a touchdown. The extra point made it 7-0 before the Bearcats ever touched the ball.
San Mateo started the next series on their own 36 and promptly set out to prove Holden right. Lucas Castillo took the ball up the middle and ran past the stout Half Moon Bay defense for 50 yards before being hauled town. But the Cougars stiffened. They gave up nothing on the next three downs and the Bearcat field goal attempt sailed wide.
The Cougars made it 13-0 on a William Moffitt to Cade Duncan 12-yard touchdown pass that ended with Duncan crumpling a Bearcat defender like a Diet Pepsi can at the goal line. The big play in the drive was a halfback pass that Cristian Haro completed by hitting Nohea Sharp for 30 yards.
A Half Moon Bay fumble ended one second-quarter drive. Then San Mateo quarterback Luke Bergstrom hit Michael Vendel for 60 yards and it appeared the Bearcats were in business at the Half Moon Bay 13. But, again, the Cougars got tough and San Mateo left with nothing to show for it.
“We played well in the red zone, and that is always a plus,” Holden said.
The most stylish of the Cougars’ touchdowns came with only 17 seconds left in the half. After crumbling the Bearcat defense with one Hofmann run after another out of the Jumbo package, Half Moon Bay faced a fourth and goal from the San Mateo 3. This time, they opened up and sent two receivers wide to the left. It was a decoy. Moffitt kept the ball and ran right and right into the end zone for a 19-0 halftime lead.
The final touchdown belonged to Hofmann, who took a pitch around the right corner and rumbled 60 yards for a score.
When it was over, Holden admonished his players to be at practice bright and early the next morning. Even if he knows the team can play better, he acknowledges where the team is now.
“I’ve seen it all. I’ve been around programs that are very successful and I’ve been on the other end,” he said. “We’ll take it.”