MOUNTAIN VIEW — With its top two defenders sidelined and constant rotation on both offensive and defensive fronts, reigning CIF Division 2-AA champion San Mateo-Serra couldn’t keep up with southern California power Gardena-Serra on Saturday.
Within the first 10 plays, linebacker E.J. Lahlouh went down with a sprained ankle, and for much of the game, he was on the sideline getting treatment.
Without Lahlouh or Nusi Malani — who tore his ACL last spring — the Padres couldn’t hold back the combination of Cavaliers quarterback Doug Brumfield and receiver Melquan Stovall, as Gardena-Serra cruised to a 41-22 win at Mountain View-St. Francis in the season-opening Honor Bowl.
“They have a great front,” said head coach Patrick Walsh. “They’ve got some big guys up front, and we never could maintain a line of scrimmage, whether it was running the football or getting to their passer. They were throwing the ball pretty much at will. We couldn’t seem to penetrate and get pressure.”
While the Padres only rushed for just 72 yards, the Cavaliers rushed for 110 to go along with a robust passing game. Brumfield started the game completing one of his first six passing attempts, but finished the game 19-for-31 for 347 yards and four touchdowns, with one interception.
“[Losing Lahlouh] really hurts, especially with a young defense,” Walsh said. “We have nine new players on there, and he’s the glue of the whole thing, and he was hurt.”
Stovall, the younger brother of former Cal receiver Melquise, caught eight balls for 147 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for five yards and a third score.
The Padres were able to hold the Cavaliers in check for the first quarter, until a pressured Luke Bottari threw wildly out of bounds, but floated the pass enough that Mason Williams intercepted it at the 15 with 4:05 to go in the period. Brumfield kept the drive alive with a second-down scramble for a first down on a high snap, and after two incompletions, found a leaping Stovall for 26 yards. Four plays later, Jaylon Armstead plowed his way in from 11 yards out for the first score of the game, with 11.6 seconds left in the first.
San Mateo-Serra went three-and-out, setting up Stovall’s first touchdown — a 15-yard catch in double coverage with 10:23 to go in the half. The Padres answered right back, with a 47-yard halfback pass by Patrick Simon to Terence Loville setting up a four-yard touchdown run by senior David Coker with 7:24 to go before halftime.
Coker was a workhorse behind a patchwork offensive line, rushing 15 times for 30 yards against a tough Cavaliers defensive line that harassed Bottari all evening, and particularly in the first half. Before the break, Bottari went 3-for-8 for 27 yards and one interception.
Once Bottari got behind some semblance of his starting line — with his starting guards Lucas Ottobani and Tommy Barrett — in the second half, he completed seven of his first nine. He had trouble finding a rhythm, though, as San Mateo-Serra played nine offensive linemen on the night.
Gardena-Serra scored one more touchdown before half — a 26-yard pass to Justin Lockhart — and another on their first drive of the second, despite a sack by Fynn Williams. Following a leaping end-around by Stovall, Bottari led a 64-yard touchdown drive, diving into the end zone on a two-yard QB sneak with 2:51 to go in the third.
On that drive, Bottari hit Loville — who took home team MVP honors — three times for 45 yards. He would finish the day with 132 yards on seven catches.
Brumfield then led a quick six-play drive ending in a 25-yard Lockhart touchdown with 33.4 seconds to go in the third to take a commanding 35-14 lead. With the game quickly slipping away, the Padres went for it on fourth-and-six on their next drive, only to see Bottari get sandwiched for a 10-yard sack. Gardena-Serra marched down and promptly scored on a 22-yard slant to Stovall with 7:52 left in the fourth quarter to all but seal the game.
The Padres answered that with a seven-play scoring drive that saw Bottari hit a touch pass up the seam to junior Matt Rollandi for 39 yards, and a 25-yard double-move scoring grab by Patrick Simon with 5:58 to go. Simon finished the night with five catches for 40 yards, and two rushes for eight yards.
“We’re just trying to find ourselves right now,” Walsh said. “We have a brand new team, a lot of inexperience out there, so it was more like, ‘Hey, let’s get a lot of people a lot of reps, and figure out who we are.’ That’s why we schedule games like this.”
Bottari hung in until the final moments, and it nearly cost San Mateo-Serra, as on a QB keeper, he hit his hand on an opposing helmet. It was just a bruised pinky, but could have been much worse. Bottari finished 17-for-26 for 198 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He rushed nine times for 29 yards.
The Padres will next see action on Sept. 1, when they host Elk Grove (0-1) at 1 p.m. Mulani — who subbed late last year for the injured Atonio Mafi — could possibly return as early as that game, but may join the fray as late as midseason.
“He definitely would have helped us tonight,” Walsh said.