With a 3-2 record entering the bye week, the Panther varsity football team looks confident and ready to make a statement in the local high school football scene. After a decisive opening night blowout win over Alvarez (San Jose), the Panthers competed well against a tough Sacred Heart Prep (Atherton) team in a tight Week 2 road contest. However, disappointing mental mistakes on offense and defense proved costly, as SHP squeaked out a victory despite a superb defensive performance headed by Dylan Neeley and Noah Lavulo. Facing a beatable Live Oak (Morgan Hill) team, the BHS offense looked sloppy, discombobulated and inexperienced, surrendering numerous turnovers from which they could not recover. Desperately needing a win to build momentum before league play, the Panthers kicked it into high gear against Watsonville, crushing the Wildcats 49-7. Last Friday, the Panthers showed toughness and poise by staving off a pesky Half Moon Bay team a year removed from a Division 3 CIF State title game appearance. Despite losing star running back Curtis Lauti to a knee injury, the Panthers rode three Luke Meredith touchdowns to a 27-26 victory. A talented senior class and strong front 7 will help the Panthers contend for an Ocean Division title and provide plenty of entertainment for BHS football fans.
After losing multiple important contributors from the 2017 campaign, including quarterback Carlo Lopiccolo, Linebacker John Dryden, and running back Alec Meredith, the Panthers began the 2018 season with considerably less talent across the board than previous seasons. When asked about the mass exodus of players away from the sport of football, Coach P noted the physical difficulties and time commitment associated with the sport. “I think health risks are a part of it, I think a changing demographic in the area is part of it, I think that football is hard and it’s a big commitment and committing to that level isn’t always a top priority for students,” explained Coach P before the Week 3 matchup against Live Oak.
Although they return talented athletes in Youcef Benchohra, Curtis Lauti, Neeley, and Lavulo, the rest of the roster consistently looks physically overmatched. Coach P has attempted to overcome his offensive line’s physical limitations by running the wing-t offense, a scheme he says is characterized by linemen “pulling and kicking people out.” The run-heavy offense “lends to undersized-type linemen” and allows the Panthers to not have to block head-on. By running a lot of misdirection runs to deceive the defense, the Panthers effectively set up the play-action, which is well-suited to their ultra-mobile junior quarterback, Jordan Malashus.
With his speed and gut instinct, Malashus doesn’t need a clean pocket to make plays and excels at creating opportunities when plays break down. However, the most vital part of the offense is the play of the three halfbacks lined up behind Malashus - Sophomore Luke Meredith and Seniors Lauti and Benchora - who have already combined for more than 500 rushing yards. Once the ground game gets going, the Panthers control the tempo of the game by staging long drives that eat up the clock, as they did against Alvarez and SHP. After using a run-first approach for more than 20 years, Philipopoulos likely will continue to do so well into the future, especially considering the bevy of talent he has at his disposal.
Defensively, the front 7 has impressed with a nightmarish pass rush and fantastic run-stopping ability. With Benchohra and Neeley manning the defensive end positions, Jack Martinelli and Lavulo playing defensive tackle, and Lauti, Scottie Atkinson, and Ibrahim Yaldiz at linebacker, the Panthers have terrified opposing offenses up front. Even after losing their entire 2017 starting secondary to graduation, the Panthers’ ferocious pass rush has helped the young secondary by harassing opposing quarterbacks and forcing them to throw the ball quickly. Coach P went so far as to say that Benchora and Neeley “might be the best combination of defensive ends we’ve ever had here” and that Lavulo has “clearly been one of the better defensive tackles on the Peninsula; he could start at any school on the Peninsula.”
Neeley’s stellar play up front has led college coaches to take notice. Without providing specifics, Philipopoulos noted that “there are a few schools out there that are kind of keeping an eye on Dylan.” If he ends up playing Division 1 college football, Neeley would be the first Panther since Benji Palu (UC Berkeley) to play at such a high level.
Returning to the prominence of the 2003 CCS championship team or the 2013 CCS Division 3 number-1 seeded team is a long shot, but an Ocean Division title will put Burlingame on everyone’s radar around the Peninsula.