Spartans lock down playoff spot

Ken Flax/Special to the Town Crier
Receiver Austin Flax scores on Mountain View’s first offensive play. He had two touchdowns in the 54-7 win over Fremont.

While life is often rough for football teams transitioning from the friendly confines of the El Camino Division to the demanding De Anza Division of the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League, Mountain View High has made an almost seamless transition this year.

The Spartans improved to 3-1 in the De Anza and 7-1 overall with Friday’s 54-7 thumping of Fremont. The homecoming win assured Mountain View a top-four finish in the division – which qualifies the team for the playoffs – with two league games remaining in the regular season.

Coach Shelley Smith couldn’t recall the last time the Spartans were in such an enviable position, though he was sure it was long before he took over the program in 2013.

“It’s been a long time,” he said. “I’m sure it was in the ’90s – maybe when Ray Calcagno was here (as coach) and they went to CCS, but I don’t know the exact year. Unfortunately, we don’t keep a lot of history around here.”

What’s known is that it’s been more than 20 years since Mountain View finished better than 4-2-1 in the De Anza, and the 2011 team with that record lost in the opening round of the Central Coast Section playoffs. The Spartans haven’t advanced beyond the first round of CCS since 2002.

Smith believes this team is capable of doing both and making its own history.

“In the De Anza we were always getting kicked around and just trying to survive, and now the kids want to play,” he said. “This group of kids, they’re not intimidated. There’s no challenge too big for them.”

Receiver Austin Flax, who scored a pair of touchdowns against Fremont, embraces what’s ahead for his Spartans.

“We’re amped up,” he said. “We’re excited for playoffs – and whoever we see in the playoffs, we’re going to be ready for it.”

Mountain View certainly came ready to play Friday, and that was bad news for a struggling Fremont squad that sank to 0-4 in league and 1-7 overall. The Spartans scored on their first offensive play when quarterback Trent Steffen connected with Flax on a 54-yard pass. The junior quickly beat his defender to get open, then caught the ball on the left side of the field and dashed into the end zone.

“We planned that one on Monday, actually,” Flax said. “We knew they were going to be pressing, so we were just, like, ‘Let’s take a shot early,’ and it was there and we got it.”

After the Mountain View defense again held Fremont to a three-and-out series, the offense struck again. Halfback Julian Daniels capped an eight-play, 55-yard drive by lunging across the goal line on a 5-yard run. Josh Lillie’s extra point made it 14-0 with 4:03 left in the opening quarter.

Just more than a minute later, the Spartans added to that advantage – courtesy of their defense. Cornerback Ryan Cambouris scooped up a fumble caused by defensive end David Chavez-Pena and raced 52 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown.

The Spartans’ next score came early in the second quarter after safety Andrew Bice intercepted a Fremont pass near midfield and returned it 43 yards. A play later, Daniels darted into the end zone untouched from 10 yards out. The extra point by Lillie, whose previous PAT missed, inflated Mountain View’s lead to 27-0 with 10:43 remaining in the half.

The Spartans’ ensuing possession resulted in a punt – their only one of the night – but the offense wasn’t on the sideline for long. Chavez-Pena’s second sack of the game put the Firebirds in a third-and-long situation and after Mountain View sniffed out a reverse (no gain), linebacker Cae Cox blocked their punt – which safety Gustav Vu pounced on.

Two plays later, halfback Michael Nyarko ran right, then reversed field to evade a flock of Firebirds en route to a 30-yard touchdown. The extra point pushed the lead to 34-0 with just under a minute to play in the half.

The Spartans didn’t seem to lose any momentum during the extra-long halftime due to homecoming festivities. Flax returned the second-half kickoff 94 yards down the right sideline for a TD.

“I wasn’t actually supposed to get that,” Flax said. “I was talking to the other returner (Daniels) and just asked him if I could get it because he’s normally on that side. He said ‘yeah,’ so I just ran it and the blocking was there and I got in untouched.”

Slade Turner’s 7-yard scamper to cap the Spartans’ next drive made it 47-0 and the game went to a running clock from there.

Mountain View is set to visit Palo Alto 7 p.m. Friday.

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