In a down-to-the-wire thriller befitting of the Peninsula’s oldest football rivalry, Burlingame High staved off host San Mateo’s determined rally to escape with a 33-28 victory in the 84th Little Big Game on Saturday.
San Mateo (1-8-1) drove the length of the field and took two shots at the end zone from the 8-yard line in the final seconds, but Burlingame (5-5) denied both passes to retain possession of the Paw Trophy.
“I almost had a heart attack. I was standing on the sideline just praying to God that we could hold them,” Burlingame High running back Daidyn Stewart said. “I’m feeling dizzy. It’s so great.”
In a frantic fourth quarter reminiscent of the rivals’ battle on the same field two years ago, San Mateo took its first lead at 28-27 when Michael Latu found Andrew Ho with a 42-yard touchdown on a halfback pass with 8 minutes, 8 seconds left.
But then Burlingame answered with a 14-play, 80-yard drive capped by a 6-yard touchdown run from Stewart to go ahead 33-28 with 2:22 remaining. Stewart finished with a game-high 163 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 20 attempts.
With a capacity crowd on its feet, San Mateo quarterback Trevor Brill calmly led the hosts down the field in connecting four times with Ho for 48 yards to move inside the Panthers’ 10.
But then Burlingame’s Keoni Keahi broke up a pass intended for Larry Campbell at the goal line to set up the climactic play.
On fourth-and-7 from the 8, Brill lofted a pass to Ho in the right corner of the end zone. The star receiver touched the ball but couldn’t hold on in the face of coverage from Zach LaHaye and Keahi, and the incompletion gave Burlingame possession with a turnover on downs with 17.5 seconds left.
Panthers quarterback Kevin Navas took a knee to set off Burlingame’s raucous celebration.
“We should’ve had it,” said Ho, who amassed 180 yards on 12 receptions. “This whole season we were against all odds. … That’s all we wanted to do was win. We played a helluva game.”
Burlingame, which had already clinched a spot in the Central Coast Section playoffs as the fourth-place finisher in the Peninsula Athletic League’s top-tier Bay Division, nearly lost the valuable momentum it had built with wins over Jefferson and The King’s Academy. Instead, the Panthers can breathe a sigh of relief and turn their attention to claiming their first postseason victory since 2006.
“There’s a lot of things we need to fix, clearly,” said Burlingame coach John Philipopoulos, whose team improved to 48-32-4 in the Little Big Game series by winning for the 14th time in the last 17 years. “More than anything, we need to get some stops on defense.”
San Mateo, which finished 1-4 in the lowest-tier PAL Lake Division, gave Burlingame all it could handle. The Bearcats outgained their rival 422-274 and confidently shook off an early 14-0 deficit to later pull even at 14-14 and 21-all.
“We thought it would happen – just one play short,” said San Mateo coach Jeff Scheller, reflecting on the Bearcats’ wild 25-20 win in the 2009 Little Big Game. “It’s always been like that all year.”
Brill finished 17-of-29 passing for 224 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for a 7-yard touchdown. Alex Strathearn (76 yards on five receptions) had a pair of 16-yard touchdown catches. And Latu rushed 26 times for 119 yards.
Immediately after San Mateo tied the game at 21 on Stathearn’s second score, the visitors answered. Burlingame’s Cody Johnson returned the ensuing kickoff 83 yards for a touchdown to give the Panthers a 27-21 lead with 10:45 left in the game.
In the first quarter, Johnson intercepted a Brill pass, a takeaway that led to a Stewart 7-yard touchdown run and a 14-0 Burlingame lead.
Brock Harmon added an interception for the Panthers.
San Mateo’s Kevin Gruber had a fumble recovery, and Drew Carreon had a 10-yard sack.
Burlingame 33, San Mateo 28
B – 7 7 7 12 -- 33
SM – 0 7 7 14 – 28
B – Mahe 20 run (Graham kick)
B – Stewart 7 run (Graham kick)
SM – Strathearn 16 pass from Brill (Ho kick)
SM – Brill 7 run (Ho kick)
B – Stewart 26 run (Graham kick)
SM – Strathearn 16 pass from Brill (Ho kick)
B – Johnson 83 kick return (kick failed)
S – Ho 42 pass from Latu (Ho kick)
B – Stewart 6 run (run failed)
RUSHING: B: Mahe 10-57, Webb 7-36, Fallon 1-5, Stewart 20-163, Navas 4-(minus)-6. Totals: 42-255. SM: Latu 26-119, Garcia-Rodela 10-54, Brill 4-(minus)-8, team 2-(minus)-9. Totals: 42-156.
PASSING: B: Navas 3-4-0-19. SM: Brill 17-29-2-224, Latu 1-1-0-42. Totals: 18-30-2-266.
RECEIVING: B: Johnson 1-9, Bruni 1-9, Webb 1-1. SM: Ho 12-180, Strathearn 5-76, Campbell 1-10.