It wasn’t exactly the party everyone came to see. But at the end of the 2012 Battle of the Strip, Capuchino High School still had plenty of reason to celebrate.
With a 52-33 win over rival Mills High School, the Mustangs locked up their first outright Peninsula Athletic League championship since 1958. At a perfect 5-0 in Lake Division play, Capuchino will represent the PAL in the Central Coast Section playoffs next week in Division IV.
"It feels great,” said Capuchino head coach Adam Hyndman. "And these guys totally deserve it. We’ve been through a lot of turmoil over the year, a lot of adversity, but this is a special group of kids. I’m going to let these guys bask in the moment a little and enjoy what they’ve accomplished.”
It definitely was a historic afternoon for the boys from San Bruno. While the league title was the first thing on the players’ minds, every other set of eyes was on Capuchino running back Justin Ewing, who came in to the game with a realistic chance of breaking the CCS record for most rushing yards in a single season. Ewing needed 279 yards — just about his season average per game — to eclipse the 2,798-yard record set in 1997. Everyone knew it and the Vikings played like a team that was hell-bent on making sure it didn’t happen against them and on their home field.
"We talked about it all week,” said Mills head coach Mike Krieger. "We had a good game plan on defense. They’re more one-dimensional than most of the teams we’ve played year and we knew they were going to try and go for the record and we knew we had to do what we can to stop it. It’s our Super Bowl. It’s our league championship type of game. That was the mentality all week in practice.”
Mills’ efforts on defense were good enough to put the record on hold for another week. Still, Ewing rushed for 229 yards on 44 carries, gaining 151 of those in the first half. He also found the end zone four times.
"At halftime, we tried to get it out of his head,” Hyndman said, "we weren’t looking to break any records. We needed him to run the ball hard in the second half and he come out and did it. Hats off to coach Krieger and his staff. They did a very good job. I think this the first time we saw a team tackle Justin at his legs. Hats off to them, they did a good job preparing.”
Mills didn’t make it easy for Ewing or the Mustangs. The Vikings jumped out to a 13-6 advantage only to see it drawn on a Ewing touchdown with 6:28 left in the first half. The Mustangs scored the next two touchdowns with Anthony Pellegrini finding the end zone first and Ewing adding another shortly after. But the Mustangs gave up a long Antonio Jeffrey kickoff return deep into Capuchino territory late in the half and moments later, Harshall Lal hooked up with Victor Beglitsoff on a 25-yard touchdown pass to make it 26-20 at recess.
The six-point difference got to five after the teams exchanged touchdowns to begin the second half.
But after another Ewing touchdown, the Capuchino defense forced a trio of Mills turnovers. First, Royal Ale intercepted a pass that turned into a Paea Dauwe touchdown run. Then Xeryus Collins fulfilled a bit of a self-prophecy with a 29-yard pick-6 with 11:46 left in the game to make it 52-27. Billy Balderas completed the turnover trifecta with a fumble recovery midday through the fourth quarter.
"It’s kind of been a problem the whole year,” Krieger said. "We get some momentum, closer on the scoreboard and then, missed opportunities and turnovers. It’s very difficult as a high school football team to overcome a turnover, much less multiple turnovers.”
"Our defense got some crucial turnovers,” Hyndman said, pointing out Collins’ score as the lineman’s four-year football dream come true. Hyndman said Collins went as far as predicting the score in the Mustang News the week before.
Lal and Josh Sved added a touchdown late for Mills for the final outcome.
"By far, the best display of pride for the whole year and I think for the Mills football program in the last several years,” Krieger said. "It’s been our mantra — that we wanted to finish the season. We preached finishing every rep, every drill, every snap and finish every game. And our kids, like we told them postgame, they did finish. The scoreboard might not say that they won, but I think it was a moral victory for us and it certainly is building a new foundation for Mills football.”
Ewing needs 51 yards in the opening game of CCS to earn the new single-season record.
"CCS is a new season,” Hyndman said. "We play the best of the best. We’re going in and not change what we do. We have to go with what got us here. I know whoever we do play, we have a good group of kids that are going to fight ‘till the bitter end.”