With a team that's out-numbered and out-sized by most opponents, Menlo School has a short answer for its undefeated football record:
"We trust each other a lot."
That was the sentiment from junior cornerback Ty Richardson, whose three interceptions earned him coach Todd Smith's player of the game honor ("Write about that kid!") after the visiting Knights beat Aragon, 48-7, to knock back one more Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division contender.
Combined with Hillsdale beating Capuchino 42-41, Menlo is the lone unbeaten team left standing in its division.
Menlo (7-0 overall, 3-0 PAL Ocean) forced four turnovers and recovered an onside kick to gather momentum, and quarterback Sergio Beltran shouldered the load thereafter. Beltran threw five touchdown passes, ran for two others, and passed for a two-point conversion. He completed 21 of 34 passes for 331 yards and ran for 111 yards on 15 carries.
Beltran has 1,999 yards passing this season and 509 yards rushing.
Let's talk records: With 35 touchdown passes, Beltran is two away from tying Menlo School’s regular-season record of 37, shared by John Paye (1982) and Jack Heneghan (2013). The Central Coast Section record is 41, by Monta Vista’s Ryan Hancock in 1989.
The CCS and Menlo School TD pass records for an entire season, including playoffs, are 49 by Terra Nova’s Anthony Gordon (2013) and 45 by Jim Noriega (1990).
Here's where trust comes in. It can be illustrated in a single play – Beltran’s second-quarter heave down the right sideline toward Bob Enright on a streak. The ball seemed to be overthrown, but Enright corralled it with one hand before falling to the artificial turf for a 39-yard gain.
"Me and all the receivers have a saying: It's not a 50-50 ball, it's a 90-10 ball," Beltran said. "So, I know if I can put the ball just up, I can trust him to come down with it."
Enright caught six passes for 103 yards and returned two consecutive Aragon punts for another 73 yards. But it's Beltran’s versatility that allows the Menlo offense to click. He can run or throw, and throw short or throw deep.
"Him being able to scramble forces defenses to keep people in the box, which allows us receivers to work more one on one," Enright said. "And we’re able to work more out in space. That's just huge for us, because it's easier to get open and he puts the ball in the perfect spot."
Richardson said having half its lineup go both ways, gives Menlo an edge.
"There's a lot of chemistry both ways, because we’re all playing so much with each other," Richardson said. "We know each other's strengths and each other's weaknesses. We're confident in each other, and we know each other really well. That’s how Sergio knows how a lineman blocks and decides which way he’s going to go."
For a while, it didn't appear the Knights would approach their average scoring output of 47 points. Aragon (4-3, 1-1), a traditionally strong program that has struggled in recent years and is trying to regain its footing, used an onside kick on the opening kickoff to gain possession and drive downfield.
Though a fumbled snap, recovered by Menlo's Jack Giesler at the Knights 13-yard-line stopped the threat, Aragon punched first when Alan Tanielu smothered a Menlo punt, snagged the ball, and ran into the end zone.
Menlo's WR/CB Ben Banatao was shaken up on the game’s second play and did not return, and the Knights went nowhere with their first two drives. Something needed to happen, and Giesler provided it with a 34-yard scoring play off a screen pass to spark the Menlo surge.
Beltran threw touchdown passes of 34, 6, 56, 31, and 1 yards, and ran for TDs from 17 and 16. His elusiveness allowed Menlo to do many things and, as Smith said, "gets us out of a lot of stuff.
"I talk to our team about play development and play breakdown," Smith said. "He allows us to look really good when the play breaks down. I've been the coach now for eight years, and I don't think I've seen a kid with better field awareness and vision than him."
By halftime, Beltran had accounted for five touchdowns and passed for 262 yards. Of course, other contributors made it all work, such as Eron Chen’s strip and fumble recovery when Aragon playmaker Solomone Hokafonu took a pass for 20 yards and cut left as Chen knocked the ball loose with Aragon in position to tie at Menlo's 17.
Richardson's first interception was tipped at the line by Avery Romain. His next came when Aidan Zhou hit QB Dylan Daniel as he threw, giving Richardson an easy opportunity.
"Do your job," Smith said. "We talk about doing your job and being responsible for your job. Our kids take a lot of pride in that. I can't say this enough, but we care about each other. We talk about that exceptionally. You've got to care about it more than other people do. That’s how we’re winning football games."