King's Academy used three touchdowns of 70-plus yards to take down Burlingame.
Ethan Kassel

Big plays push King's Academy to 6-0

October 13, 2019

SUNNYVALE — King’s Academy hadn’t lost a game in nearly a year, a 31-20 defeat at Burlingame in the de facto PAL Ocean Division championship game. The Knights had a chance for revenge at home when they opened PAL play with the Panthers on Friday, and they used their return to the Bay Division as a chance to show off their big play abilities, rattling off three touchdowns of 70-plus yards to win 27-20.

“We’re a big-play team,” head coach Pete Lavorato said.

A 70-yard screen pass to Noah Short on the Knights’ first offensive play, a 92-yard Jayden Frazier kickoff return to open the second half and a 77-yard run by Short on a double reverse both wowed the fans and provided the separation needed to exact revenge on Burlingame, an element that wasn’t lost on any of TKA’s players.

“I definitely had a little something extra going into this game,” said Short, who ran for 123 yards and racked up 10 tackles.

Short and Frazier both put up valiant efforts in that 2018 loss, as did quarterback Antonio Gonzalez, who was filling in at the time for the injured Caleb Tan, but perhaps the player with the most interesting desire to get back at the Panthers was Siupeli Netane, who had transferred to King’s Academy from Carlmont. As a sophomore, he started at quarterback for the Scots and was on the receiving end of a 38-0 beatdown in the CCS Division IV Championship.

“I had this game circled on my calendar,” the quarterback-turned-linebacker said. “It’s something off my shoulders. One of the main reasons I wanted to come here was to play Burlingame and get back at them.”

Netane finished with four tackles on the night, combining with Short, who has an offer from Washington State and interest from other Pac-12 schools, to make a fearsome tandem at linebacker.

Even with two excellent defenders in his way, Burlingame running back Lucas Meredith was unfazed, choosing to run straight through defenders rather than go around them. After putting up 180 yards against the Knights as a sophomore, the junior finished with 188 yards on 32 carries and scored all three Panther touchdowns.

“Lucas is an absolute workhorse,” Burlingame head coach John Philipopoulos said. “He’s got it all. He can run you over, he’s got great balance and his hands have really developed the last couple years as well.”

King’s Academy (6-0, 1-0 PAL Bay) was well aware that Meredith would have the ball all night and prepared for him all week, but the junior still managed to rack up his yards and keep the Panthers in the game despite trailing for almost the entire night. He trucked a pair of defenders on a 14-yard run after Short scored the game’s opening touchdown, but Burlingame (3-3, 1-1) would come up empty-handed on the drive after a rare missed field goal from Taylor Kaufman, who had missed three games due to injury.

A three-and-out combined with a short punt gave Burlingame a chance to make up for the squandered red zone opportunity, and Meredith’s four-yard run a minute into the second quarter allowed the Panthers to do just that, but they’d trail going into halftime as King’s Academy was able to reverse the field position battle over the course of the second quarter. Interceptions on back-to-back plays, first by Burlingame’s Gino Lopiccolo and then by David Cho, effectively washed each other out and led to a difference of two net yards before the Knights would ultimately punt. Nico Sage more than made up for his earlier poor kick, pinning the Panthers at the one and setting his team up in position to score before the half after the defense quickly forced a three-and-out.

The 39-yard drive that closed the first half would be the only one all night in which TKA scored without the use of a massive explosive play, instead getting a 13-yard completion to Kevin Sielski and a 10-yard run by Frazier, who would eventually punch it in from two yards out. Frazier then took the opening kickoff of the third quarter to the house, and a Panther turnover on downs at midfield thanks to a huge hit by Short gave the Knights a chance to go up three scores and take total control.

They looked to be in position to do just that, even though a Zach Paszkeicz touchdown on a reverse was wiped out by a holding call, but Kaufman, on a mission to make up for his earlier miss, punched the ball out from Frazier on the next play, with sophomore Xavier Breuning recovering the loose pigskin. On a night where the Panthers made a handful of costly mistakes, they were bailed out for much of the third quarter, recovering from the failed fourth-and-1 with the fumble and then scoring despite committing a false start at the goal line. An incomplete pass followed the flag, setting up fourth-and-goal at the 6, but the Knights returned the favor with an offsides penalty to set up a three-yard score for Meredith.

Looking to once again take back momentum, King’s Academy did so with a play that had been in Lavorato’s back pocket all year, a gutsy double reverse call on third-and-7 that Short took 70 yards up the near sideline. A 24-yard kick return by Meredith and 20-yard pass from Jordan Malashus to Devon Malashus led to another three-yard Meredith touchdown, and though the Knights would run five minutes off the clock on their next drive, consecutive holding penalties put them in no-man’s land.

Rather than take a shot at the end zone on fourth-and-25, Lavorato made the unorthodox decision of punting from the Burlingame 28, and his confidence in Sage was quickly rewarded as the punt went out-of-bounds at the 10. Meredith gained 22 on the first play of the drive to get the Panthers out of the doghouse, and they’d cross midfield with a 26-yard Jordan Malashus pass to Will Uhrich, but Short wasn’t going to let them get any further.

Just two plays after the pass to Uhrich, which had allowed the Panthers to convert a second-and-24 after a holding call, Malashus tried to throw once again over the middle, where Short was eagerly awaiting the pass like a center fielder tracking a line drive. The interception, combined with a 34-yard run on a sweep by Paszkeicz for the game-sealing first down, allowed the Knights to maintain their perfect record while Burlingame was left to dwell on mistakes in a similar game to the Panthers’ season-opening loss to Live Oak.

“The big play has really haunted us in our couple of losses,” Philipopoulos said. “We felt like we played well enough to win, but we made just enough mistakes to lose. To be honest, it’s a Monday-to-Thursday issue, not a Friday night issue. We need to practice faster and better.”

King’s Academy travels to Aragon (1-5, 0-2) next week while Burlingame will host Terra Nova (3-3, 0-2).

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