It was never realistic for the Burlingame football team to win nine regular season games this season, as they did the last two years. The Panthers simply don’t have as much talent as those teams. But as they always do, the Panthers have gotten the most out of their players, and have secured a Central Coast Section playoff spot for the eighth year in a row.
Heading into the Little Big Game on Saturday against rival San Mateo, Burlingame is 5-4 overall and finished their league schedule in the Peninsula Athletic League’s top tier, the Bay division, at 3-2. Their three league wins all came at home and were all decided by one score. Late defensive stops sealed victories for the Panthers against Sacred Heart Prep, Hillsdale and Terra Nova.
“Early in the year, offensively we were clicking and moving, and we were a little worried about our defense,” head coach John Philipopoulos said. “All of a sudden, our defense has really played big the last couple weeks. We’re really coming into our own on the defensive side of the ball, and we’re going to need that if we’re going to make some noise in CCS.”
Top defensive performers include John Dryden, who leads the team with 72 tackles, Andrew Slaboda, with 12 tackles for a loss, and Robert Uhrich, who has come up with three interceptions. Overall, the defense has been somewhat inconsistent, having allowed 40 points or more three times, but the Panthers have also given up fewer than 17 points five times, including in each of their four home games. Burlingame is 4-0 at home but just 1-4 on the road.
“During the preseason, we had a couple games that we felt we could have won,” senior captain Lucas Flygare said. “After [losing to South San Francisco], the entire team brought up the intensity of practices and started taking it more seriously. Because of the practices, we ended up performing a lot better in games.”
Offensively, the Panthers struggled in league play, averaging under 15 points per game and only scoring 20 points once in five league games. But they are still capable of putting up big offensive numbers, as they did in their first four games. Burlingame has historically had a run-heavy offense, and this year is no exception, led by senior Sean Saunders and junior Alec Meredith. Saunders has 769 yards on the season, averaging 6.4 yards per carry, with seven touchdowns, and Meredith has rushed for 810 yards on 5.6 yards per carry and seven touchdowns.
Junior Carlo Lopiccolo is the quarterback, and he has improved steadily over the course of the season despite a poor performance last week against Aragon. His biggest highlight was a long, fourth-quarter touchdown pass to senior Gray Goodman that was the difference in Burlingame’s win over Terra Nova on Senior Night. Goodman, along with Saunders and senior Cole Friedlander, have been Lopiccolo’s top targets.
“We have a couple spots we need to improve on,” Lopiccolo said. “We have great team chemistry, and our seniors really step up when we need them.”
Although they are never the biggest team on the field, the Panthers pride themselves on mental toughness and prepare intensely for each opponent, studying film and playing against a scout team made up of both starters and reserves. The coaching staff is a major reason that Burlingame has consistently been among the top public school football programs on the Peninsula.
“We always have really good technique, really good form, really good execution,” Flygare said. “That always helps us be successful against teams that are bigger than us, faster than us, who are expected to do better. We’re coached well, and we execute properly.”
Next up, the Panthers will try to win their seventh straight over San Mateo on Saturday in the 89th Little Big Game, a rivalry that dates back to 1927. The Bearcats will come in having won six in a row and are champions of the PAL’s lowest tier, the Lake Division. Kickoff at Burlingame is set for 11 a.m.