MOUNTAIN VIEW—Aptos High went into Friday night’s Central Coast Section Division I quarterfinals in what some were calling an unwinnable game from the beginning.
For a while, it seemed like the No. 8 Mariners were on the verge of pulling off a David versus Goliath upset against No. 1 St. Francis in front of a packed house at Ron Calcagno Stadium.
But senior Viliami Teu and the Lancers’ potent rushing attack was too much for Aptos to handle in a 56-28 loss on Nov. 12. The standout running back finished with 247 yards rushing and five touchdowns on 23 carries for St. Francis.
The Lancers will play No. 5 Menlo-Atherton in the semifinals on Nov. 19 after the Bears beat No. 4 Salinas, 35-31, in their quarterfinal game on Friday.
As for the Mariners, their season comes to an end. But head coach Randy Blankenship said he was proud of his players for putting up a fight against the top seed of the entire CCS and one of the best teams in California.
“I’m really proud of them,” he said. “I’m kind of at a loss for words because I just couldn’t believe what was going on, but then the bottom fell out.”
Aptos senior quarterback Nick Forbes said reaching the CCS playoffs was their goal since he was on a freshman team that finished with a 3-7 overall record.
“That’s a great team and it’s an honor playing with all these guys in a hard fight,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
Aptos caught a very early break to start the game after St. Francis fumbled the opening kickoff. Senior kicker Jake Galster recovered the loose ball on the Lancers’ 39-yard line.
The Mariners punched the Lancers in the mouth again when Forbes connected with receiver Rio Cruz for a 39-yard pass for a touchdown, giving them a quick 7-0 lead.
“The energy was definitely through the roof,” Forbes said. “We knew we weren’t going to give up, we knew we always had a shot. But that was just a little extra electricity, that was just the spark we needed.”
St. Francis would swing right back, however, after Teu sprinted into the end zone from 27 yards out for his first score of the evening.
After that, both teams went on a scoring frenzy. They exchanged the lead four times before Joshua Perry found Andrew Adkison for an 11-yard touchdown to give Lancers a 28-21 lead going into halftime.
Coming out of the break, Aptos orchestrated a 14-play, 67-yard drive capped off by a 2-yard touchdown from senior Seamus Carey to tie it at 28-all.
The Lancers responded again by putting together a lengthy drive of their own, which was nearly stalled after they were put in a fourth-down situation on the Mariners’ 2-yard line.
But senior running back Camilo Arquette put St. Francis back in the lead, 35-28, as he barreled his way for the touchdown.
Blankenship said that’s when he looked at the clock with 9 minutes left in the game.
“I really thought we could do a nine minute drive and go for two, and walk out of here like we swallowed the canary,” he said. “We had a flinch. In the first half a flinch cost us a touchdown and they got a touchdown … The final score wasn’t the game.”
Blankenship said that St. Francis coach Greg Calcagno complimented them by saying Friday night’s game was the toughest one they’ve had all season.
“But we weren’t looking for a compliment, we were trying to shock the world,” Blankenship said. “We were right there.”
The Mariners’ offense went into panic mode and shut down in the fourth, starting with a false start penalty that pushed them back to their own 19-yard line.
Then they called two times outs, including one on fourth down after there was some confusion with personnel changes.
After the 30 second break, Forbes took the snap and scrambled to his right to find an open receiver. But a safety blitz rushed an errant throw that resulted in an incomplete pass and a turnover on downs.
St. Francis went on to score 21 more unanswered points in the final stanza, including two touchdowns by Teu.
“We went a little bit away from our base stuff but we were still able to execute,” Forbes said. “We just kind of wore down a little bit, I guess.”
Cruz said they left everything on the field after a hard week of practice.
“We knew we could win,” he said. “We saw the media, ‘Unwinnable game.’ Absolutely not, we could’ve won that. We did all we could and they’re a great team.”
Cruz heard Calcagno’s comment about Friday night being the hardest game of the year for St. Francis and he’s glad to earn that respect.
The season has come to an end for the Mariners, but there was a time when it looked like there wasn’t going to be one at all. Especially with the uncertainty of Covid-19 protocols and ongoing cancellations.
“Perseverance, it taught me a lot,” Cruz said. “I’m going to take all the lessons that we learned here into life and that’s what football does for you. I’m happy about how it ended, this was a great game.”