If the word resilience could be defined by a single image, a snapshot of Gino Lopiccolo leaning back, arm outstretched OBJ style, making the interception of his life and devastating the entire Half Moon Bay sideline in the process, would probably be it.
Lopiccolo’s miraculous one-handed pick with 4:25 left in the game propelled Burlingame to a 27-26 win over Half Moon Bay in a quintessential barnburner. There were moments when both teams looked like they were going to pull away, and when the momentum shifted, it did so seismically.
“I just turned around and stuck my hand up and I got the ball and came down with it. I don’t really know how I caught it, but it was a game-changer,” Lopiccolo said.
Half Moon Bay eventually got another chance to win with 2:25 remaining following a Burlingame punt, but the Cougars were unable to move the ball, throwing three straight incomplete passes followed by an interception. Burlingame then ran a couple of running plays before kneeling out the last 30 seconds of the game.
“It was exciting, nerve-wracking, but all in all, we made plays when we had to,” said Burlingame head coach John Philipopoulos.
The game began with a Half Moon Bay blunder, as the Cougars ceded possession to the Panthers on a turnover on downs. The Cougars questionably faked a punt on fourth-and-15, resulting in an incomplete pass, and Burlingame started its first drive on Half Moon Bay’s 42-yard line. Half Moon Bay’s refusal to punt, and later kick field goals and extra points, would be a recurrent theme in the game. What was practically a special teams absence proved costly in a game decided by one point.
The Panthers capitalized off of the advantageous field possession, pounding their way into the end zone with a two-yard touchdown run by Lucas Meredith with 3:49 remaining in the first quarter. Meredith finished with over 70 more yards rushing, caught a touchdown pass, and returned a kickoff for 38 yards.
Half Moon Bay and Burlingame then traded possessions, neither able to break through the other’s defense, until Burlingame quarterback Jordan Malashus connected with Meredith for a 12-yard touchdown pass with 8:32 remaining in the second quarter. The touchdown was the first attempted pass of the game by Malashus, who finished 7-of-11 for 84 yards, a touchdown, and an interception.
Then, with 5:57 remaining in the half, Half Moon Bay’s Cade Duncan broke into the end zone for a two-yard rushing touchdown of his own, putting the Cougars on the board. The Cougars, who never attempted an extra point after each of their four touchdowns, failed to convert a two-point conversion.
Half Moon Bay scored again later in the first half on a 35-yard rushing touchdown from Duncan, and Burlingame responded with a 42-yard touchdown pass from Malashus to running back Curtis Lauti to make the score 14-12 with 1:18 left.
On Half Moon Bay’s next possession, Burlingame lineman Noah Lavulo intercepted quarterback Tristan Hofmann to give the Panthers a chance to enter the break with a two-score lead. It looked like they were going to do just that until Malashus was intercepted at Half Moon Bay’s 27-yard line with 22 seconds to go in the first half, causing a dramatic momentum shift.
The Panthers were called for a personal foul at the end of the same play, and on Half Moon Bay’s ensuing possession, with 10 seconds remaining, Hofmann hit receiver Nohea Sharp for a 45-yard touchdown bomb. This time, the Cougars converted on the two-point attempt, and the teams entered the locker room with Burlingame clinging to a 21-20 lead.
The second half began as miserably as the first half ended for the Panthers, when a fumbled kickoff return led to a 22-yard Hofmann touchdown. The teams then traded possessions until Meredith broke through for a 28-yard touchdown run for Burlingame, putting the Panthers up 27-26 with 6:24 left in the fourth quarter.
Half Moon Bay began its next drive with a 10-yard run from Hofmann. After a rush for no gain, the Cougars lined up for second-and-10 with 4:25 left in the game - just enough time to march the 50 yards necessary to secure a win. That was when Hofmann, who had completed a number of deep passes before then, proceeded to loft a soaring ball down the right sideline. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion as Lopiccolo, falling backward, made a spectacular one-handed grab to decisively shift the momentum back in Burlingame’s favor.
“We refused to lose. Our kids refused to lose today and that’s huge for us. It’s gonna be great for our psyche,” said Philipopoulos.
Burlingame and Half Moon Bay will both have byes next week before returning to action against South San Francisco and Menlo, respectively.
Originally written for Prep2Prep