High school football: Bellarmine holds off late Menlo-Atherton charge to pull out win

Former NFL player and coach David Diaz-Infante gets a win in his first game as head coach at his alma mater Bellarmine

SAN JOSE, Calif. — After failing to penetrate the Menlo-Atherton defense in the first half, Bellarmine asserted itself in the second and held on to defeat the Bears, 17-14, in David Diaz-Infante’s coaching debut at his alma mater.

Diaz-Infante was content to spend his self-described “semi-retirement” in his Arizona bubble after a 14-year pro playing career that included two Super Bowl victories and six seasons as an NFL assistant.

Diaz-Infante was uninterested when Bellarmine contacted him about a coaching position. After a month of discussions and deliberation, he changed his mind and returned to the San Jose campus of the school that was a dominant force in football during his playing career.

“Bellarmine’s meant everything to me,” he explained. “Coming back has probably been one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

When Diaz-Infante returned, he discovered that the Bells were no longer the dominant force they once were, particularly in the powerful West Catholic Athletic League.

“I think when Bellarmine is good, the whole league is better,” Diaz-Infante said. “The league has really stepped up, and we have to keep up.”

It’s a work in progress, as evidenced by the loss to Menlo-Atherton in the season opener at San Jose City College. The Bells were held to minus-7 yards on offense and failed to earn a first down against a ferocious M-A defense in the first half.

Despite this, the Bells led 3-0 at halftime on a 55-yard field goal by Connor Tripp, who attempted two 55-yarders in the first half, the second of which was just wide.

“I’m good from 60 yards in,” Tripp told his coach before the game, and Diaz-Infante had no problem turning to his kicker on the Bells’ first possession.

Bellarmine required a strong defensive effort of its own to maintain a stalemate. Linebacker Charles Swall had two sacks, one of which forced a fumble, against an M-A offense led by versatile M-A junior quarterback Xander Eschelman and his 6-foot-7 target Alec Marshall.

Marshall, despite being listed as a tight end, lined up wide the majority of the game in mismatches against smaller defenders. Marshall was not a major weapon as a junior, but he is now. He gained 95 yards on eight receptions and scored on a 2-yard reception.

His great hands were complemented by his jumping and size advantage on fades, as well as his ability to get position. Marshall made a fingertip catch of a low pass on a 30-yard play to spark the Bears’ first touchdown drive, and his TD catch started an M-A comeback from a 17-0 deficit.

Bellarmine’s offense got back on track thanks to some blocking adjustments and Reece McKeever’s hard running. McKeever rushed 29 times for 113 yards, all but 10 in the second half, to lead the Bells’ comeback, which culminated with quarterback Parker Threatt’s 23-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter.

M-A responded with a touchdown, followed by Oskar Flodh’s second interception of the game, to set up a short drive that brought M-A within three points on Eschelman’s 2-yard sneak with 7:17 remaining. The Bells, on the other hand, used 15 plays and two timely 15-yard M-A penalties to run out the clock and give Diaz-Infante his debut victory and a purpose – making an impact on young people, just as Bellarmine did on him so many years ago.

“It’s all about being great,” Diaz-Infante explained. “That is what we are aiming for.” We have a long history of success. I was a part of that history, and I want to return us to it.”

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