CIF football: How Colorado trip prepared M-A for trek to Eureka

EAST PALO ALTO — If Menlo-Atherton required any extra measure
of motivation, the California Interscholastic Federation obliged on
Sunday.

M-A coach Adhir Ravipati told his players to take it as a sign
of disrespect that the Central Coast Section Open Division I
champions not only were denied a chance to host Friday night’s
CIF NorCal Division 3-AA championship game, but the Bears must
travel almost to the Oregon border to face Eureka.

“All of us were pretty shocked, but we’re all very thankful
that we’re able to play this game,” M-A junior Joe Posthauer
said. “We were just disappointed that we have to go so
far.”

Meanwhile, to make matters more head-scratching, Wilcox —
which M-A
defeated 33-28
for the CCS title — will get to stay home this
weekend.

“We weren’t angry, but we were surprised,” said M-A senior
Noa Ngalu, the Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division MVP. “We
heard Wilcox would have a home game and I heard about the coin toss
that Eureka had, and we just felt like it wasn’t fair. But it’s
all good, though. We’ll play anybody, anywhere, anytime.”

That certainly proved to be the case Sept. 21.

The Bears (11-2) boarded a plane with a final destination of
Highlands Ranch, Colorado, located roughly 1,300 miles away.

M-A hasn’t lost since suffering a 27-0 shutout at Valor
Christian, the state 5A champion coached by ex-Stanford wide
receiver Ed McCaffrey.

“It was a wake-up call playing Valor,” Ngalu said. “And at
the hotel and stuff, for us it was more team bonding. But going
into NorCals we’re all going to be treating it differently. I’m
not saying we’re not going to have fun, but for most of the part
we’re going to be locked in ready to go.”

For the 300-plus mile trek to Eureka (12-0), the North Coast
Section
Division III coin-toss
winner, the Bears booked a two-night
stay at a nearby hotel and plan to depart Thursday on a pair of
charter buses.

“Going to Eureka and staying in a hotel for two nights, I
think there won’t be a problem about it,” M-A senior Daniel
Heimuli said. “After that trip (to Colorado) we got comfortable
in that type of situation.”

The Bears already faced extenuating circumstances this
postseason, forced to travel 80 miles to Salinas High for a
first-round game after postponements due to poor air quality caused
by the Camp Fire near Chico.

One of the reasons M-A didn’t get to stay at home is because
its locker rooms are under construction. Eureka won’t play at its
own grass field, either, due to subpar conditions.

On Tuesday, the CIF moved the game another 15 miles north to
McKinleyville High.

It will be the first time the Bears will play on grass this
season, most recently straying away from field turf in last
year’s CCS playoffs at San Benito.

“That was way different,” Posthauer said. “People were
slipping and sliding everywhere.”

“It’s going to be harder to plant, harder to do things that
we usually do on turf,” Heimuli said. “So for sure it’s going
to be a big difference, but hopefully it doesn’t change our
game.”

Ravipati called an audible Tuesday night and took the team to
Ronald McNair Academy in East Palo Alto for a practice under the
lights on the grass field.

“This is a good idea,” Posthauer said. “It will get us
prepared.”

“Playing on grass I don’t think is going to faze us,”
Ngalu said. “I mean, I’m just glad that we got to come here.
This field is where I started playing football on. That’s crazy.
This brings back a lot of memories. This just reminds me to keep
humble and stay focused on the mission.”

It’s been a two-year mission for Ngalu, a two-way lineman and
Washington commit, and Heimuli, a four-star recruit at inside
linebacker considering offers from Alabama, Oregon, UCLA, Utah and
Washington.

Both played key roles as sophomores in a CIF state runner-up
finish by M-A in 2016, along with fellow seniors Feleti Malupo and
David Tafuna.

“It’s the same energy and everything, but I feel like we
could do a little bit better than sophomore year,” Ngalu said.
“I feel like we could take it to state, like we could take it all
this year.”

The 2016 season
culminated with a 350-mile
trip to Lancaster. This one could
end with a return to the Bay Area to host a state championship game
after a two-night stay near the Oregon border.

“I think it was about the sixth game when I started saying to
myself, ‘This is like déjà vu,’ ” Heimuli said. “I just
remember all the moments that I had sophomore year coming into
varsity, and this year we have kind of the same chemistry. Everyone
loves each other and we’d die for each other, so it’s crazy to
think that we’re doing the same thing we did sophomore year.

“Hopefully we finish what we couldn’t finish.”

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CIF football: How Colorado trip prepared M-A for trek to Eureka