Football: Falcons lose opener to Half Moon Bay 27-26

August 28, 2016 — by Siva Sambasivam

Falcons and Half Moon Bay team face off.

After exhaustive summer training sessions, the Falcons football team made their 2016 season debut against the Half Moon Bay Cougars on Aug. 26 at Benny Pierce Field. The Falcons had tough competition in the CSS Division 5 defending champion Cougars. Despite having a 20-7 lead at halftime, the Falcons came up short in a heartbreaking 27-26 defeat.

Senior and 3-year varsity wide receiver Kian Ghelichkhani led the way for the Falcons, with nine receptions, 226 yards and two touchdowns.

Entering the game, the Falcons were widely anticipated to be contenders in the De Anza division. With multiple varsity veterans and returning all leaguers (Ghelichkhani, offensive and defensive lineman Jesse Chung, quarterback and free safety William Liddle and defensive end Aaron Vogel), the Falcons’ roster features talent at almost every position, with their main strengths being their passing game, secondary and offensive line.

But as the game began, the Falcons were missing one of their most important offensive weapons: starting quarterback William Liddle. Due to Liddle’s pink eye earlier in the week, Coach Tim Lugo made the decision to start junior Nikolas Rositano over the 3-year varsity veteran, despite the fact that Liddle was ready to play.

Rositano wasted no time showing everyone that he too could perform under the bright lights. From the second the whistle blew, he showed his veteran side and abilities — staying calm under pressure, never rushing passes and trusting his offensive line — skills that young and inexperienced quarterbacks often struggle with.

It was these skills that helped him score the Falcons’ first touchdown of the season. Within the first minute of the game, as Half Moon Bay blitzed, he threw a perfectly targeted 82-yard pass to Ghelichkhani. After the touchdown, kicker Quinn Dozier missed the extra point.

The Cougars and the Falcons traded drives for the rest of the first quarter and the beginning of the second. However, when the opportunity presented itself, the Cougars cashed in on their first major scoring chance. They were able to eke ahead by converting a controversial pass interference call into an easy 5-yard running touchdown and extra point, giving the Cougars a 7-6 lead and plenty of momentum.

Immediately after the touchdown, the Cougars’ blitz-heavy defense got into the Falcons backfield, and forced a fumble from running back Nolan Chao. Chao recovered the ball, but it confirmed Coach Lugo’s pre-game had fears about the Cougars’ well-executed run-blitz, and after the fumble, he no longer wanted to run the ball as much.

With a necessity to put the ball in the air, Lugo decided to forgo the fact that Liddle had missed some of the game plan installation, and substituted him into the game during the second quarter. The Falcon co-captain was able to quickly get the team back on track. During the play after the fumble recovery, Liddle threw a 71-yard pass to junior wide receiver Will Turpin. After Dozier’s extra point, the Falcons had a 13-7, and regained the momentum.

After the TD, the Falcon defense came up with a quick stop, giving the the ball back to Liddle and the offense with 2:02 left, hoping that they could deliver one last score before halftime. Once again, Liddle exceeded expectations. On the second play of the drive, he threw a 74-yard pass to Ghelichkhani, giving the Falcons a 20-7 lead. The Cougars missed a field goal on their next drive, and the Falcons went into the locker room feeling good at halftime with a 13-point lead.  

However, the Cougars were not throwing in the towel yet. At the start of the second half, they came out at the top of their game. They ran the ball 11 consecutive times, 12 total for the drive, and slowly and surely, moved the ball 77 yards, capping the drive off with a 3-yard touchdown run, making the score 20-14.

After the long touchdown drive, the Cougars started constantly getting past the Falcons’ offensive line, forcing Liddle to throw the ball quickly. Although Liddle was still able to convert a couple of passes, the pressure started getting to him, and the Falcons had to punt the ball. The Cougars were able to score once again on a 63-yard pass, but they missed the extra point, which evened the score at 20.

The fourth quarter started slowly with both teams exchanging drives, but it was the Cougars who drew first blood with a 28-yard touchdown run and extra point conversion. On the next drive, Liddle connected with Ghelichkhani five times, getting the ball to the 4-yard line. Liddle, then handed the ball off to Chao, who pounded the ball in for a 4-yard touchdown, making the score 27-26 with just under 2 minutes left in the game.

Down by 1, Lugo had an important decision to make. Either go for the 2-point conversion and the win, or go for the extra point, tie the game, and go into overtime. He made the decision to go for the win, mainly because of overtime rules: Each team gets four plays from the 10-yard line and whoever is ahead after a possession is the winner.

“Based on how much success [the Cougars] double-wing formation had in the second half, I didn’t feel we could win in that format,”  Lugo said.

Betting instead on Liddle's second-half success, Lugo felt confident in his quarterback’s ability to convert one more time in the clutch, and knew that the Falcon defense could come up with one final stop if they scored on the play

During the 2-point conversion play, the Falcons got the open look they wanted; however, the two intended receivers accidentally collided, forcing Liddle to scramble and run the ball on his own. He was eventually tackled, ending the Falcons’ chances for the win.

After the game, Lugo said he isn’t worried about the impact of the tough loss on his team. With a little polishing up of fundamentals, he is sure his team will bounce back strong. Said Lugo: “We have great leadership; I know we will respond with a win Friday night at Silver Creek.”

 

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