Defense dominates, veer offense rolls as Wilcox cruises to victory in a PAL Bay Division game
ATHERTON — The first big football matchup since the merger of two super leagues sparked excitement.
Menlo-Atherton and Wilcox, two of the Central Coast Section’s dominant public high school football programs, are now rivals in the Peninsula Athletic League’s Bay Division.
Wilcox defeated the Bears 41-3 in its first non-playoff game in San Mateo County in 11 years on Friday night.
Wilcox’s aggressive defensive effort punctured the M-A ground game early on, forcing the Bears to abandon their game, both running and passing.
As a result, the game was one-sided and ended with a running clock. Wilcox (4-2 overall) finished with a 2-0 league record, leaving M-A (2-4, 0-1) in the dark.
Wilcox quarterback Tyson Bonilla executed the Chargers’ split-back veer offense flawlessly, rushing for two touchdowns and throwing for another – a first-blood 22-yard touchdown pass to Will Ruff.
The Chargers rushed for 266 yards and led 34-0 midway through the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Wilcox held M-A to 36 yards on the ground in 22 carries and only 25 yards total offense in the first half, throwing the Bears completely off guard and into chaos.
“Wilcox is known for its physicality,” said Jeremiah Lewis, a senior middle linebacker and captain for Wilcox. “It’s the pressure we put on ourselves.” If our linemen don’t get them, our defensive backs will. Once that occurs, they have no choice but to throw the ball.”
M-A’s normally dynamic quarterback, Serra transfer Xander Eschelman, was pressured out of his passing game rhythm as its rushing attack was stifled. Alek Marshall, the team’s best weapon at 6-foot-7 tight end/receiver, was not even targeted until the final minute of the first half.
Eschelman went to Marshall on a slant on the first play of the second half, hoping to involve him more, only for cornerback Ri’yon Cooper to strip him of the ball, giving the Chargers possession on the M-A 28-yard line. This set up Bonilla’s 12-yard touchdown run, giving Wilcox a 27-0 lead.
Marshall was held to two catches for 12 yards despite having offers from eight Division I programs, including Houston, San Jose State, and Air Force, according to his X (formerly Twitter) account. Cooper was in charge of man coverage, with help from above. Marshall had a game average of six catches and 84 yards.
“Our defense was definitely locked in,” Wilcox coach Paul Rosa said after the game. “Whenever we’re locked in against the run, and we’re able to cover guys, we’re pretty good.”
Wilcox’s timing and precision on offense kept the M-A defense off balance. Elijah Walker rushed for 80 yards and scored from 23 yards on 15 carries, while Jamontay Amataga gained 74 yards on eight carries.
The opposing coaches viewed the PAL-Santa Clara Valley Athletic League merger favorably following the game.
“I like playing against tough teams,” Rosa explained. “And M-A is a formidable opponent. The score didn’t reflect it, but it was a tough game on the field. That’s exactly what you want. You want to play these games so that when it comes time to play teams, you’ll be ready.”
The leagues are stronger together, according to M-A coach Chris Saunders. “It’s for the best,” he said.
However, as he prepares his team to face defending PAL Bay champion Sacred Heart Prep next week, Saunders hopes his team does not lose confidence following a tough loss.
“That’s why some people love football, because it’s full of adversity and learning opportunities, and chances for maturing and becoming a young man,” he went on to say. “That’s what we’re up against. “How do we deal with this disappointment, these emotions?”