There is a position on the football field that holds the key to wins and losses. It’s not so much a player but a spot on the field that is constantly changing. A team can change its fortune on every snap by winning this battle.
Nathan Mollat/Daily Journal
Burlingame offensive lineman Benji Palu, right, escorts Keone Keahi toward the end zone during the Panthers' 41-13 win over San Mateo in the 85th Little Big Game Saturday.
It’s the line of scrimmage and the squad that can consistently push the opposition out of the way more effectively, will be the winner.
In the 85th Little Big Game, the Burlingame football team dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage in a 41-13 win over San Mateo Saturday afternoon in Burlingame. The Panthers’ offensive line of Abe Guzman, Austin Flowers, Peter Johnson, Benji Palu and Tyler Nolan consistently put the San Mateo defense on its heels as that quintet paved the way to 351 rushing yards.
"They have been absolutely unbelievable,” said Burlingame coach John Philipopoulos about his offensive line. "Nobody works harder than they do. We’re going to ride them through the [Central Coast Section] playoffs.”
Led by the offensive line, the Panthers scored on three of five drives in the first half and three of four possessions in the second half. Running back Joe Mahe was the main recipient of the Panthers’ push up front as the senior rushed for 168 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, almost all of which came on blasts right up the gut. He also caught a seven-yard scoring pass from quarterback Kevin Navas.
Mahe, who was hurt for a majority of the season, didn’t expect to be the focus of the offense Saturday.
"I just got off an injury. I didn’t think I would get as many carries, but when I did, I gave it 110 percent,” Mahe said.
Part of the reason Mahe ran inside so effectively is because the Bearcats were concentrating on taking away the Panthers’ sweep.
"We stopped what we planned on stopping,” said San Mateo coach Jeff Scheller. "Unfortunately, we gave up the inside too much.”
Philipopoulos agreed with Scheller’s assessment. He admitted the Bearcats limited the Panthers’ effectiveness on the outside.
"[San Mateo] did a good job early of taking away the edge,” Philipopoulos said. "But if you take away something, something else is open.”
Burlingame (5-5 overall) received the opening kickoff and got to midfield before the drive stalled, forcing a punt -- the Panthers’ only punt of the first half. After stopping San Mateo on its first drive, the Panthers got their offense in gear. Starting from their own 45, they needed just five plays to cover 55 yards with Mahe gaining 54 of those. He had runs of 18 and 29 yards and then plunged into the end zone from two yards out to put the Panthers up 6-0.
After forcing another three and out by the Bearcats, Burlingame went on a 67-yard, seven-play drive, which was aided by a personal foul penalty against San Mateo. Keone Keahi capped the drive with a 12-yard off right tackle with Palu escorting him into the end zone for a 13-0 Burlingame lead.
The Panthers upped their lead to 20-0 with 7:19 left in the first half, needing only five plays to cover 92 yards. From his own 48, Navas dropped back and found Evan Struck wide open over the middle. With no defender within 10 yards of him, Struck easily sped into the end zone for the score.
The Panthers extended their lead to 27-0 on their first drive of the third quarter as Navas hit Mahe with a seven-yard scoring pass to cap a six-play, 61-yard drive.
San Mateo finally scored on its ensuing possession following an 89-yard kickoff return by Larry Campbell, but the Bearcats’ defense still could not stop the Panthers as they needed 10 plays to go 69 yards with Mahe scoring from three yards out for a 34-7 lead. A one-yard scoring run with 7:13 left to play rounded out the scoring for Burlingame.
San Mateo scored a touchdown in both the third and fourth quarters. Taylor Sanft threw an eight-yard scoring pass in the third and Kevin Garcia-Rodela scored on a one-yard plunge with just over a second left to play.
The Panthers’ defensive front four were equally as impressive as their offensive counterparts at the line of scrimmage. The quartet of Joe Johnson, Kyle Potts, Kevin Mohr and Palu blunted the San Mateo attack almost from the get go. The Bearcats managed only 231 yards of offense for the game, with 82 coming on their last drive of the game against the Panthers’ second-string defense. Through most of the game, however, that Burlingame quartet bottled up the San Mateo offense.
"We just couldn’t get anything going, momentum wise,” Scheller said.
San Mateo didn’t pick up its initial first down until there were just 17 seconds left in the first quarter. The Bearcats managed just seven first downs before picking up five more on their final drive and the Burlingame defense stuffed San Mateo on fourth down three times, including once inside the 5-yard line.
"Our defensive line is as good as any ‘D’ line in the Bay Division,” Philipopoulos said. "This may be the best ‘D’ line we’ve had here in quite some time.”