Branham's Matt Cordova hauls in a touchdown during the win over Willow Glen
Ryan McCarthy

CCS Notebook: Branham wins battle of unbeatens, Gunn shocks Saratoga

October 17, 2019

The battle of the final two undefeated teams in the Blossom Valley Athletic League went the way of the Branham Bruins, who led nearly wire-to-wire en route to a 42-27 win at Willow Glen to take control of the Santa Teresa Division race. They’re now tied with Overfelt for first place, and a win this week would put them in the driver’s seat.

“I think that game showed our offense is for real,” second-year head coach Stephen Johnson said. “We scored 55 on Hill, 50 on Sobrato, 46 on Del Mar and now did it against Willow Glen.”

Johnson and his staff are almost all under 30 years old, meshing well with an experienced roster that includes four three-year starters, including three linemen. Among those linemen is three-star Nevada commit Frank Poso, whose younger brother, Mateo, made his varsity debut last week as a freshman.

The elder Poso, along with fellow three-year starters Sammy Aguirre and Ethan Norris, combined provide tons of time for quarterback Nick Bandanza, who went 17-for-24 on passes, racking up 249 yards and five touchdowns. Matt Cordova and Nick Parise each had two receiving touchdowns as Willow Glen committed to stopping running back Cameron Rynhard, who still managed to pick up 105 yards on 11 carries, but had minimal ability to slow the Bruins through the air.

“There were a lot of holding penalties, which was really annoying, but we still managed to convert after first-and-20 or first-and-25,” Johnson said.

Gunn defense stymies Falcons

Saratoga’s offense has given opponents fits throughout the season as Payton Stokes has reinforced his status as one of the top passers in the section, but Gunn managed to pick up a shocking 35-21 win on the Falcons’ home field to throw a wrench into the SCVAL El Camino race.

“I’ve never had a gameplan go as perfectly as that did,” Titans head coach Jason Miller said. “It went exactly the way we envisioned it and exactly how we needed it to go.”

While every opponent that Saratoga has faced has tried to limit Stokes and the Falcon passing attack, none did so with the effectiveness that Gunn displayed, leading 28-7 in the third quarter and holding on down the stretch.

“Our entire team went to the Saratoga-Monta Vista game during our bye week so we knew what we were in for,” Miller said. “We matched them up 1-on-1 like a man-to-man basketball defense. We played bump-and-run and didn’t give those guys an inch. It was like an old-school street football game plus a safety over the top.”

Gunn ran 75 plays to Saratoga’s 32, controlling the clock for almost the entirety of the game. The Titans threw just one pass, a 37-yard completion on 4th-and-7 from their own 30in the second quarter. Unwilling to give the ball back to Stokes, Aiden Everett found a streaking Kylen Liu for a critical gain, and on the rare occasions when the Falcons did have the ball, they found that their receivers were under tight coverage.

“Our outside linebackers covered their tight ends and we had a middle linebacker set to spy their quarterback,” Miller elaborated. “We also handled some of their weapons like how the Rams defended Alvin Kamara in last year’s NFC Championship Game. We had defensive tackles ready to peel off to cover their running backs.”

The defensive performance marks a stunning turnaround for the Titans, who allowed 33 points per game last year but have smoothed things out in Miller’s second season.

“Last year we focused entirely on our offense, and our defense was embarrassing,” he said. “This year we actually had enough players for 7-on-7 in the summer so we were able to work a lot on our pass defense.”

Another intriguing game in the El Camino Division was played at Foothill College, where Los Altos squeaked out a 39-34 win over Monta Vista.

Bellarmine wins overtime thriller

The Bellarmine football program has been under .500 for the last two years and appears to be headed to a third straight year with a losing record, but the Bells did manage to extend their winning streak over Riordan to 19 years with a 39-34 double overtime thriller last Friday night. Trailing 14-7 with three minutes left, Bellarmine (2-4, 1-2 WCAL) got an interception by Nicho Domine to set up great field position and lead to Aizon Henry’s game-tying one-yard touchdown run with 1:01 left. Fazon Ruth put Riordan (2-4, 0-3) back in front with a 10-yard touchdown run on the first play of overtime, but the Bells tied it on a one-yard Joaquin Moreno run and took the lead to start the second overtime on another Henry touchdown. The Crusaders answered with an Azaan Ledbetter pass to Leo Maranghi, but the potential game-winning two-point conversion pass was tipped away, allowing the Bells to storm the field and celebrate.

Blowouts galore in De Anza

Parity, or lack thereof, has been a glaring issue in the SCVAL for years as the league has just two divisions to contain three distinct tiers of teams, meaning the teams that fit in the middle typically get stuck either trying to conquer the giants of the De Anza or going through the El Camino Division relatively untested. All three De Anza games this week helped demonstrate this, with the closest one being Wilcox’s 42-3 win over Mountain View. In all fairness, the Spartans could have easily been within one or two scores at halftime instead of trailing 28-3, but advocates for realignment, perhaps in the form of merging the SCVAL with other local leagues to form a super league and create more even competition, will be able to point to last week’s results as evidence supporting their argument.

Unbeaten watch

Branham, Half Moon Bay, King’s Academy, Seaside, Serra and Valley Christian are the six remaining undefeated teams in the section. Mountain View was knocked from the ranks with a 42-3 loss to Wilcox, while Willow Glen was defeated by Branham. Serra and Valley Christian’s Nov. 2 matchup has been circled since before the season even began.

Hard work pays off

Woodside emerged from the cellar this week with a 36-16 win over El Camino, a rewarding homecoming victory for the Wildcats after dealing with a devastating array of injuries throughout nonleague play. The program’s numbers were decimated so heavily that they had to forfeit the fourth quarter of a loss at Seaside and a game against Burlingame the following week, but with a bye week before opening league play, the Wildcats were able to heal much of their roster. Josh Peterson hammered away at the Colts throughout the night with 13 carries for 129 yards and a pair of touchdowns while both Chris Andrade and Ethan Mooney intercepted passes on defense. Kyle Knudson led Woodside (1-5, 1-0 PAL Lake) with 11 tackles and recovered a fumble. Peterson’s 61-yard touchdown run put the game away after El Camino (0-6, 0-1) had rattled off 16 unanswered points to make it a one-score game.

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