By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
They won a combined 19 games this season and advanced all the way to their respective Central Coast Section championship games before seeing their seasons end in losses.
The Palo Alto and Menlo-Atherton football teams have something else in common, too.
The Vikings are losing 20 seniors off their 10-3 squad that dropped a 41-13 decision to Bellarmine in the CCS Open Division final on Dec. 2 at San Jose City College. The Bears are losing 19 seniors off a 9-4 team that lost to Serra, 42-21, in the CCS Division I title game at Terra Nova High in Pacifica on Dec. 3.
While each team has a nucleus to build around, clearly there is a lot of rebuilding to do.
Palo Alto, for example, is losing its top scorer and wide receiver in B.J. Boyd. He caught 36 passes for 1,109 yards and scored 25 touchdowns via running, receiving and kickoff returns.
In the loss to Bellarmine, Boyd showed his explosiveness by returning a kickoff 98 yards to put the Vikings in front, 7-6. But by the time he caught a 48-yard TD pass to close the scoring, the game was long over.
Gone, too, will be the Vikings' leading rusher in Dre Hill (175 carries, 1,078 yards) and No. 2 rusher in Morris Gates-Mouton. And say goodbye to linemen Michael Lyzwa, Tory Prati, Sam Moses, Chris Ramirez, Chris Martinez plus defenders like Brennan Miller, Gabe Landa, Nathan Hubbard and Austin Braff.
With the exception of Braff, all had a hand in Palo Alto's successful two-year run that saw the Vikings go 24-3 and win a state title.
While this year's team recorded only the eighth double-digit win season in 101 years of playing football, seven have come under Hansen during his 24 years at Paly and six have come during the past decade as the Vikings have gone 96-28-2.
The question now is how to keep the success going? Has the cupboard been left bare?
Hansen will have 23 players back, including standout sophomore quarterback Keller Chryst. In his first season with the varsity after transferring from North Carolina, Chryst completed 112 of 224 passes for 2,168 yards and 27 touchdowns with only 11 interceptions. At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Chryst has the size, arm strength and apparent durability to be one of the finest quarterbacks in school history.
He'll have the Gates-Mouton twins back for one more season -- Jayshawn and Justin. After that, it'll be up to the JV squad grads. The JV team went 7-3 this season -- losing to Mitty, Wilcox and Los Gatos.
Protecting Chryst is another issue. The Vikings' veteran line had a hard time doing that against Bellarmine as Chryst suffered numerous sacks (for a minus 22 yards) and hurries. It also didn't help that seven passes were dropped and that two others were intercepted.
The Bells were able to pressure Chryst because they were able to shut down the Vikings' running game, which netted just 44 yards.
This was not the same Bellarmine team that Paly beat, 35-0, in last year's CCS Open Division final. Nor was this the same Palo Alto team that compiled that record-breaking 14-0 mark in 2010.
Not only did the Bells avenge that defeat, but they used it to finish 12-1 and likely earn a berth in the CIF Division I state bowl playoff game -- which Paly won last season.
Palo Alto simply could not stop Bellarmine senior quarterback Travis McHugh, who rushed for 208 yards on 20 carries and accounted for four touchdowns while having a hand in 29 of his team's 41 points.
The Paly defense had no answer for the Bell's double-wing offense as it gave up a total of 402 yards -- 334 on the ground. McHugh had 138 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the first half when the Bells grabbed a 27-7 lead.
"We had high hopes going into the season, obviously, because our success last year," said senior linebacker Brennan Miller. "We had a good season, but it sucks to end it like this."
Menlo-Atherton probably had similar thoughts after falling to Serra in the Division I finale. The top-seeded Padres (11-2) won their first section title in 21 years by running for 380 yards against the second-seeded Bears.
Menlo-Atherton actually scored first when senior running back Cameron Moody tallied an 11-yard touchdown on the Bears' first series.
Serra answered with a 45-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Joey Erdie, but the Bears remained tough in the second quarter when senior cornerback Max Culhane picked off Erdie and took M-A to the Serra 12. The Bears scored on their first play after the turnover when senior quarterback Willy Fonua threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Evan Perkins to go into the half tied at 21.
M-A committed several key mistakes in the third quarter that turned out to change the course of the game, shifting the momentum to Serra. The Bears were whistled for five penalties totaling 40 yards in the third quarter. There also were several bad snaps from center in the shotgun formation that Fonua had to chase down, resulting in tackles for losses by Serra.
"You gotta tip your hat to a team like that," said M-A coach Sione Ta'ufo'ou. "They played well -- mistake-free football -- and we made some mistakes."
Menlo-Atherton will lose the heart of its offense -- Fonua at quarterback plus the running back tandem of Moody and Taylor Mashack, each of whom rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season.
Placekicker/punter Sam Falkenhagen will be a big loss as will the versatile Dustin Nascimento plus receivers Richard Cornew and Culhane. Two-way players like Luke Pinkston, Ricky Vea, and Connor Sweetnam will be hard to replace.
Ta'ufo'ou, does return a number of key linemen like Tom Bucka and Nicky Mullen but 2012 will be an interesting third season for Ta'ufo'ou as he pieces together a lineup he hopes will keep the Bears competitive and a playoff contender.
Andrew Preimesberger contributed