ATHERTON — Menlo School had eight returning defensive starters on the field for its first-ever meeting with Palma of Salinas Saturday afternoon.
The Knights’ experience paid off for most of the contest, but the Chieftains had enough to pull away for a 29-14 nonleague victory.
It took a 64-yard touchdown jaunt by Palma’s Anthony Villegas with 2:33 remaining to put the game on ice. Villegas ended the day with 151 yards on 25 carries. However, Villegas had just 40 yards on 10 attempts in the first half as Palma was limited to just 93 yards of total offense.
“Our defense has a lot of experience,” said Menlo coach Mark Newton, in his 14th season. “They did a great job, especially in the first half. We got tired at the end.”
Playing stellar on the defensive front for the Knights were JH Tevis, Ty Corley, Cooper Stewart, Mafi Latu and Brian Mhatre.
“Cooper Stewart is a great player,” Newton said. “Ty Corley is a warrior. He never leaves the field. This is arguably the best defensive line I’ve had.”
Tevis, a 6-foot-5, 227-pound defensive end, closed out the first quarter with a sack of Palma quarterback Grant Sergent.
“We fought hard,” said Tevis, who is verbally committed to Cal. “It didn’t come out the way we wanted to. Palma is a great team, but we have to execute better.”
Menlo (2-2) had some costly breakdowns on special teams, or else it may have pulled off the upset against the Chieftains (1-2), winners of 11 Central Coast Section football titles.
“We have to get rid of the mistakes,” Newton said. “We’re making eight to 10 major mistakes a game. We made a couple of special teams mistakes.”
Palma’s Liam Short played a huge role on special teams. With the score tied 6-6 and the Knights backed up on their on 2-yard line, Short came in untouched to block Dillon Grady’s punt. The ball rolled out the back of the end zone for a safety.
On Menlo’s next series, backup punter Emilio Simbeck couldn’t handle a bad snap and was tackled at the 3-yard line by Short. Villegas went over the line on the next play for a 15-6 Palma lead with 1:29 left in the third period.
Palma’s Gabe Nale nailed two first-half field goals in the first half, one from 31 yards, the other from 32 yards out as the first half came to a close.
Menlo got a needed jolt when Grady picked off Sergent’s pass, taking it 35 yards for a touchdown at the 8:57 mark of the third quarter. The Knights made the PAT, but it was nullified on a rare call for a player not having a mouthpiece in his mouth at the start of play. That special teams mistake cost the Knights a point when Palma’s Michael Lizaola blocked Grady’s kick.
Menlo had a productive game from running back Aidan Israelski, who caught 10 passes for 143 yards. Israelski, who sat out the third period with leg cramps, returned in the fourth quarter and gave the Chieftains fits.
Down 22-6, Israelski had receptions of 30, 8, 17 and 9 yards, the last catch a touchdown with 2:47 to play. Simbeck then threw a low pass to Israelski in the end zone, one Israelski caught f for the two-point conversion, the Knights within eight points.
Israelski, generously listed at 5-foot-7 160-pounds, is a three-year varsity player.
“Colleges underestimate me for my size,” Israelski said. “I’m 5-6, 155. Try and bring me down. It has been a big motivator for me ever since my sophomore year. I’ve never running back before this year, so it has been an adjustment. I put my heart into everything I do.”
The Knights had one last gasp as Simbeck connected with Israelski on for completions of 26 and 28 yards, the ball placed at the Palma 20.
Simbeck, whose first pass of the day was intercepted by Palma’s Sam Lathos, finished 15 of 29 for 183 yards.
With the ball at the Chieftains 9-yard line, Simbeck appeared to have connected with Brody LaPorte in the right corner of the end zone. Defensive pass interference was called, but it was ruled LaPorte was out of bounds when he made the catch.
LaPorte was shown a cellphone video of the play right after the game.
“It was clearly I had two feet in-bounds,” LaPorte said. “The pylon ref put his hands up, but the other ref came in and ruled incomplete.”
LaPorte, who started at free safety, offered a quick analysis of the game.
“We played well on defense in the first half,” LaPorte said. “We shot ourselves in the foot early. We turned things on offensively when we were forced to. We had some missed tackles in the second half and had some communication breakdowns.”
That about sums it up from the Knights’ perspective.
Palma 3 3 9 14 — 29
Menlo School 0 0 6 8 — 14
P — FG Nale 31, 10:07
P — FG Nale 32, 0:00
MS — Grady 35 interception return (kick failed), 8:57
P — Safety, 5:15
P — Villegas 3 run (Nale kick), 1:29
P — Berring 3 run (Nale kick), 6:00
MS — Israelski 9 pass from Simbeck (Israelski pass from Simbeck), 2:47
P — Villegas 64 run (Nale kick), 2:33
RUSHING—Palma, Villegas 25-151, Sergent 4-(-16), Berring 4-23. Menlo School, Israelski 9-38, Shiff
3-(-1), Simbeck 6-(-14), Kinder 3-3, Grady 1-(-2).
PASSING—Palma, Sergent 6-17-2 68. Menlo School, Simbeck 15-29-1 183.
RECEIVING—Palma, Berring 2-17, Lathos 1-12, Edwards 3-41. Menlo School, Israelski 10-143, Dorosin 1-11, Chen 2-20, Dickinson 1-5, Flower 1-11.
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