On Nov. 4, the Burlingame High School Panthers and the San Mateo High School Bearcats went to head-to-head for the 90th Little Big Game. The Panthers came out on top, winning 20-10 and sealing their ninth straight win.
The game, however, didn’t start off in the Panthers’ favor. The Panthers chose to receive, but after turning the ball over on downs, the Bearcats scored an early field goal to set the score at 3-0. Burlingame’s next two drives were unsuccessful: a fumble recovered by the Bearcats and several big penalties kept the Panthers from scoring in the first half.
“We came out relatively slow during the first half,” senior Jake Scigliano said. “We missed on a couple of offensive plays in crucial moments that would've likely led to scores. Just a few penalties and poorly executed plays killed our momentum early on.”
Defense held the Bearcats to just their first quarter field goal, ending the first half with a score of 3-0.
“We felt awful and super embarrassed because we all knew that those were the worst 2 quarters of football that we’ve played all year and it happened to be on the biggest stage of the season,” senior captain Savaun Brown said.
During halftime, Coach John Philipopoulos rallied the boys, getting them fired up for the second half.
“Coach Philipopoulos gave us a wake up call and adjusted our focus for the next half in play-calling and energy,” Scigliano said. “I think halftime really cleared our minds and brought us back to par with our standard of play.”
“Our routine halftime chat got us uptight in a good way,” senior captain John Dryden said. “It put a chip on our shoulder which made us come out stronger on defense and a lot stronger on offense.”
Burlingame kicked off to San Mateo in the second half. After unsuccessful drives by both teams, San Mateo quarterback Jose Ontiveros threw an interception to senior Alec Meredith, putting the ball in the Panther’s hands on their own 13-yard line. Meredith ran the ball in for Burlingame’s first touchdown of the game, putting the Panthers in the lead with a score of 6-3.
“We were essentially battling ourselves in the first half,” Scigliano said. “Once we shaped up at half time and returned to our own brand of football, we outperformed them in basically every way.”
The Bearcats struggled with injuries during the entire game. Starting quarterback Ontiveros came out of the game with injuries in the third quarter, but had to come back in to finish the game after backup quarterback Matt Angel also suffered from an injury in the fourth quarter.
The rivalry between San Mateo and Burlingame is deep-rooted and strong, and tensions were evident in the second half. During a drive in the third quarter, San Mateo senior Da’Hareeha Allen, no. 1 on the field, tackled Brown after the play was over, provoking both teams.
“No. 1 [Allen] hit me after I was already out of bounds so that itself was a flag, but then when my teammates came to back me up, everyone got all riled up and it was just a heated moment for both teams,” Brown said. “What no. 1 did was super dirty so I don’t blame my team for doing what they did. Things just escalated super quickly, and it made us want to win even more.”
The moment on the sidelines also hyped up fans in the student section, making the game even more intense and competitive.
“Considering the history behind the game, it's almost always entertaining to watch,” Scigliano said. “The rivalry tends to tighten the score. On the field, gameplay can and did become pretty intense.”
The Panthers kicked it into high gear early into the fourth quarter, as Brown scored a rushing touchdown to extend the lead to 13-3.
With eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Bearcats fumbled; junior Dylan Neeley recovered the ball and ran it in for the touchdown. Senior Gabe Hyman’s second successful PAT widened the gap to 20-3.
“The biggest play we had was the defensive sack that led to a recovery and a touchdown,” Dryden said. “That hyped everyone up and secured our win later on in the game.”
With under a minute to go, the Bearcats scored on a 25-yard pass, making the final score 20-10. When the clock hit 00:00 and the Panthers’ victory was official, Burlingame principal Paul Belzer raised “The Paw” to the crowd, met with screams and cheers from the student section.
For the seniors on the team, this completes their four years of wins against the Bearcats, a bittersweet finale.
“It’s super sad that that was our last Little Big Game and it’s hitting super hard right now,” Brown said. “But that’s just a part of being a senior, it’s basically our last everything so we’re taking advantage of every moment. I’m thankful that we ended on a W and never experienced a loss out of our four years at BHS.”
“I’m upset that it’s my last Little Big Game, but I’m more happy I was able to be a part of it,” Dryden said. “The hardest part is not going to be able to play with this team after this season. They’re what made everything so fun. We are all really close and that’s something to hold onto forever.”
Both Brown and Dryden also had messages for the juniors playing in next year’s Little Big Game.
“Never be the one to tell yourself ‘I’ll do better tomorrow at practice’ because when it’s your last year in high school football those tomorrows run out too fast.” Dryden said.
“To the juniors,” Brown said, “don’t lose.”