By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Mark Newton understands how a high school quarterback can put too much pressure on himself when it comes to making his starting debut. The Menlo School grad and current football coach has been there, done that.
Menlo School senior Robert Wickers stepped onto a football field for the first time as a starting quarterback. His statistics were sparkling, completing 21 of 33 passes for 253 yards and a touchdown.
He wasn't so pleased, though, after the Knights suffered a 13-9 setback to host Hillsdale in the season opener for both teams on Friday night.
"It was really just mental mistakes more than anything physical," said Wickers, who also threw three interceptions. "I've got a lot to learn. Coming in I think I got a little too confident."
Still, Wickers gave Menlo every possible chance to win. The game went down to the final play, when a final pass floated agonizingly long in the end zone.
He completed his first three passes, which included an eight-yard touchdown pass to Tim Benton about 90 seconds into the contest.
"I feel for him," Newton said. "Robert has a great deal of potential and he just needs to settle into his position. He put a lot of pressure on himself with some high expectations and I think he felt that."
Wickers may feel bad about failing to get his team into the end zone after making it look so easy in the beginning, but he did move the offense and showed an uncanny ability to gain yardage where none seemed to exist.
"I know how capable he is," Newton said. "He worked hard and had a great summer. He's a great leader and a great kid and he's going to be fine."
Wickers spread the wealth around, using five different receivers. Benton caught seven of those passes for 85 yards. Phil Anderson made six receptions for 53 yards.
The game was remarkable in that both teams were big on passing the ball last year and in putting up startling offensive numbers. Hillsdale averaged 34 points a game last year. Menlo scored at a 32.5 clip.
The Knights finished with negative rushing yards (actually, just one) but that's misleading. Wickers rushed for nearly 70 yards when he wasn't getting sacked. A couple of snaps that got away also put an extra burden on the rushing attack.
"There were so many big things that went wrong," Newton said. "We shot ourselves in the foot."
Menlo's defense, with seniors Jordan Williams, Brad Eckert and Mafileo Tupou leading the way, held Hillsdale to 113 total yards, 49 coming on one scoring play.