It’s amazing what a win can do for a football team that hadn’t tasted victory in a month. There was more than a sense of relief amid the Los Altos High Eagles after they clipped Cupertino 28-20 – there was even a hint of swagger.
“I think this win was good for our confidence,” said Cedric Smith, who caught a touchdown pass and made three interceptions in Saturday’s home game. “Now we know we can beat anybody.”
Coach Dave DeGeronimo wouldn’t go that far, but he was pleased that his squad put the last three games – all lopsided losses – behind them and played the SCVAL El Camino Division opener with renewed vigor.
“That’s exactly what we told the team – league is a fresh start,” he said. “The last three weeks were tough – we played some good teams – and we’re going through our growing pains and we’re a little bit injured. Today we did a good job against a well-coached team that kept fighting.”
Los Altos (2-3 overall) seemed well on its way to victory after going up 21-0 with a nine-play, 77-yard drive to open the second half. Charlie Kinne scored on a 1-yard quarterback keeper – set up by fullback David Arista’s 29-yard catch and run a play earlier – with 9:46 left in the third quarter.
But after the teams traded turnovers, then punts, the Pioneers (1-4) took advantage of a short field. Starting at its own 49, Cupertino needed just two plays to score. Yuma Raux-Moriwaki made an over-the-shoulder catch for a 37-yard TD; the extra point created a 14-point game with 1:47 left in the third.
The teams began the fourth quarter by again trading turnovers. The Pioneers weren’t fooled by Aaron Parker’s long halfback pass, intercepted by defensive back Harry Singh, but Smith got the ball for the Eagles three plays later by snaring Demarcus Oandasan’s underthrown deep ball for his third pick of the afternoon.
“I just try to bait them, make a guy look open and as soon as that ball comes out, I try to take it or bat it down,” Smith said of his approach to playing defensive back.
But Los Altos not only failed to take advantage of the turnover – its drive ended in disaster. A high snap to punter Kinne gave Cupertino’s Jontae Wilson just enough time to block the kick, which teammate Louis Ah returned to the 2. Oandasan lunged across the goal line on the next play, and Wilson’s extra point trimmed the Pioneers’ deficit to 21-14 with 8:08 left.
The Eagles changed that score in a hurry. Parker returned the ensuing kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown, receiving the ball on the right side of the field and weaving left for the score.
“As soon as he caught the ball, I saw a hole,” said Smith, Los Altos’ other return man on the play, “and I knew he would find it and make something happen.”
Parker made something else happen seconds later, plucking Oandasan’s long pass out of the air. The interception marked the fifth turnover created by the Eagles.
“The defense did a great job getting us the ball back,” DeGeronimo said. “They really picked us up as a whole.”
The defense did give up a late touchdown, but only after the offense failed to chew up much of the clock with five straight run plays and had to punt. Starting at their own 15 with 4:03 remaining, the Pioneers went on a 13-play drive that culminated in Oandasan’s 11-yard TD toss to Raux-Moriwaki.
Cupertino missed the extra point, though, leaving Los Altos’ lead at 28-20 with 1:35 to go. The Pioneers attempted an onside kick, but Los Altos’ Justin Fernandes pounced on the ball at midfield to seal the win.
The Eagles narrowly outgained Cupertino (378 yards to 375), but they committed three fewer turnovers.
Smith forced the game’s first turnover – intercepting a pass at the goal line late in the opening quarter – and scored two plays later on a pass from Kinne. Smith juked three defenders before racing down the left sideline for a 60-yard touchdown.
“I was just trying to get to the end zone,” the junior said. “I feel like every time I get the ball, I can make something happen.”
Smith finished the day with a team-best two catches for 79 yards. Parker led the ground attack with 16 carries for 108 yards, 40 of them coming on a second-quarter TD in which he dragged a defender into the end zone.
“We know what Aaron brings, for sure,” DeGeronimo said. “He’s a very talented player and the main focus of our offense.”
The Eagles are slated to visit Homestead 7 p.m. Friday.