The Half Moon Bay High School varsity football team might be able to blame the fog for losing the diminutive Terra Nova halfback Zachery Perez as he skittered left, right and through the Cougar defense on Friday night. But that doesn’t explain how a 6-4, 205-pound quarterback with a misnomer for a name was able to run with abandon on the road.
In short, Mason Mini came up big.
Terra Nova (8-3 and 3-1 in the Peninsula Ocean Division) finished on top of a back and forth affair, winning 36-29. The annual “Skull Game” pitting Coastside rivals drew the biggest crowd of the year to the Half Moon Bay campus. It was filled to capacity with fans on both sides of the field spilling out of the bleachers and lining the fences from goal line to goal line.
The Tigers got off on the right foot and for a quarter looked like they would run away from the Cougars.
After Half Moon Bay turned over the opening drives on downs, the Tigers made quick work of the short field. Perez and Mini carried the ball two times each in a four-play drive that left Terra Nova leading 7-0 with 8:56 left in the first quarter.
Half Moon Bay went three and out in the ensuing drive, the highlight of which was a 39-yard punt by senior Julian Jimenez who kicked from the back of the end zone to give his defense some breathing room. But the next drive featured more of the David and Goliath act of Perez and Mini. The big quarterback took it the final four yards and it was 14-0, Tigers, still in the first quarter.
But the Cougars wouldn’t go quietly. After another good special teams play, a 30-yard kickoff return by Ryan Harrington, the home team found its footing. The drive included three passes from quarterback Liam Harrington to halfback Dio Lucido, the last of which was a shuffle pass deep in enemy territory that scored the Cougars’ first touchdown of the game. Down 14-6, the Cougars went for a daring 2-point conversion. Working from a quick set, Lucido took the ball and scampered over the right end and into the end zone and it was 14-8.
As the fog thickened the going got tougher for both teams in the second quarter. Tigers’ defensive back Damian Brenner made a highlight-reel play in breaking up Harrington long bomb that would have set up the Cougars for a score. On the offensive side, Tigers’ quarterback Mini couldn’t get anything going and got lucky once when teammates fell on a fumble.
The Cougars struck next when Harrington found 6-5 receiver Nolan Mullins in the back of the end zone for a touchdown that the fog all-but obscured from the Cougar sidelines. With the Jimenez extra point, it was 15-14
Mini answered before the halftime gun. He called his own number and ran 32 yards around the left side for his second touchdown of the game and it was 21-15 at the half.
The Tigers continued to put on the pressure in the third quarter. Big receiver Frank Ward caught a Mini pass over the middle and couldn’t be stopped, finishing the 52-yard pass play in the end zone to make it 28-15 and the Tigers seemed to be in control.
But nothing comes easy in the Skull Game. A Harrington-to Harrison Tobias strike put the Cougars goal-to-go and Lucido finished it to make it 28-22. Liam Harrington scored the easiest touchdown of the night in the fourth quarter when he kept the ball and ran untouched 28 yards and into the Tiger end zone. The resulting 29-28 lead with 8 minutes remaining would be the Cougars’ last.
A long pass play and a steady diet of Perez off tackle put the Tigers in position to score one last time. Rocco Gentile took the TD honors this time, making it 34-29. Then, after either some confusion or misdirection, the Tigers opted to go for 2. Mini came off the field looking confused and senior Dylan Uter calmly walked to the line and handed off for the final two points of the game.
The Tigers defense deserves a game ball for stopping the Cougars on fourth down and three from the Terra Nova 34 with a minute remaining in the game. All that remained for the Tigers was to take a knee and enjoy a joyous drive home along Highway 1.
This version corrects the spelling of Dylan Uter.