San Mateo looks to hand Burlingame its first defeat in Little Big Game

For eight seasons, Jeff Scheller has coached the San Mateo High School football team in hopes of toppling rival Burlingame.

And only once has Scheller left the Little Big Game gridiron the victor.

“It’s getting frustrating,” said Scheller, recalling 2009, the only time during his coaching stint that his team bested the Panthers, a season the Bearcats claimed the Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division title as their own. “But they’re always a good team.”

Indeed.

Heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale in San Mateo, Burlingame has already secured the PAL Ocean crown, pummeling opposing defenses with an unrelenting rushing style of play, which has kept them unbeaten at 9-0.

“Anytime you play the Little Big Game, you can only win just that game, and it would be some sort of satisfaction,” said Scheller, whose team sits at 4-5. “And for us, we have no playoffs after this. To beat an undefeated team would be awesome. To be that one mark on their record would be fantastic.”

But if Scheller and Co. are to avoid being Burlingame’s red carpet into the playoffs, they’ll have to invest in their own steady ground game.

“Keep the ball away from their offense, and move the ball quietly,” said Scheller, whose team has over 1,500 rushing yards this season on the backs of Line Latu, Watson Filikitonga and Finau Hafoka. “Their offense scores a lot and their defense give up a lot, so it’s the biggest mountain we have to climb this year.”

And if the Bearcats hope to compete Saturday with the Panthers — who between running backs Manase Palu, Robbie Baumgarten and Keone Keahi have more than 1,700 yards on the ground — they’ll have to play sound defense, specifically linebacker Jason Gonzalez and cornerback Christian Zarco, the team’s captains.

“We have to be disciplined,” Scheller said. “And we have to be game tacklers.”

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