After suffering their first loss last week against Half Moon Bay, the Dons (8-1 overall, 3-1 Peninsula Athletic League) faced Hillsdale (7-2 overall, 3-1 PAL) in the annual Homecoming game on Nov. 3. Despite trailing early, the Dons were able to come back and defeat the Knights in a 15-12 nailbiter.
“The loss last week motivated us,” said senior linebacker Dante Pacini. “Our season was going to be defined by beating Hillsdale. If [we] don’t beat Hillsdale, the season is a disappointment, no matter how much we accomplished.”
Early in the game, the Dons were unable to get anything going on offense, as they had six penalties, varying from offensive holding to false starts. As a result, they went three-and-out on their first two drives.
“We had a number of silly things,” said head coach Steve Sell. “We hurt ourselves with penalties and stupid mistakes that killed drives.”
On defense, the Dons were having trouble stopping the threats of Hillsdale senior quarterback Jeremy Teteak and senior running back Nick Hulman, who led the Knights to a quick nine points on their first two drives.
“We came in and weren’t playing assignments in our spread [defense],” Pacini said.
However, the Dons countered the read-options of Teteak and Hulman by inserting junior Gustaf Unga at middle linebacker.
“What we were doing was not working,” Sell said. “By putting in Unga, we were able to move [junior] Camron Grant to outside linebacker, his natural position.”
Grant recognized the change in tactics and the change provided dividends.
“Once I moved to the outside, the defense worked more efficiently,” he said. “There was a little confusion on the defensive side of the ball but we fixed it and got back to business.”
On Hillsdale’s next drive, senior defensive back Davion Cox intercepted Teteak, which set up a 15-yard touchdown run by Grant halfway through the second quarter.
“It felt a little better than a regular touchdown just because it’s our rivals,” Grant said.
Besides Cox’s interception, the Dons’ defense forced two more turnovers, one of which came with 1:47 remaining in the third quarter. Pacini stripped Hulman, setting up the Dons in the red zone and putting Grant in position to rush for a two-yard touchdown.
“By forcing the fumble, it gave the offense field position to score,” Pacini said. “It was the best feeling to make an impact on the game.”
However, the Knights had multiple chances to take the game. With 5:52 left in the game, the Dons stopped Hulman on a fourth-and-1 play, turning the ball back over to the Dons.
However, the Knights quickly recovered, advancing to the Aragon half of the field before getting stopped on third down. Hillsdale senior kicker Ben Nestor had a chance to tie the game with 1:53 left fourth quarter, but hooked his 40-yard field goal attempt wide left, turning the ball back over to the Dons, who held onto their three-point lead until the game clock showed triple zeros.
“I was relieved,” Sell said. “The game should have never came down to that field goal. But, I knew we still had to get the 1st down to win the game.”
The Dons were able to do so, as junior running back Paul Lautaimi rushed for a new set of downs. Lautaimi finished the game with consecutive runs of 28 and 38 yards, sealing a win for the Dons in the 2017 edition of the “Battle of the Fleas.”
With senior quarterback Gabe Campos only passing for 42 yards on 4-16 attempts, Lautaimi led the offense by rushing the ball 19 times for 184 yards.
Up next, the Dons will face Menlo-Atherton (6-3 overall, 3-1 PAL) on Nov. 8 in a game that was rescheduled from Oct. 15 due to the Northern California fires.