Falcons dominate in last two regular season victories over Gunn and Lynbrook

November 20, 2023 — by Nika Svizhenko and Caitlin Stoiber
Linebacker Keion Ashjaee-Marshall charges down the field.
With strong defense and star offense players, the Falcons reigned victorious in their second-to-last game of the season.

The Falcons didn’t make CCS, but they ended their season on a high note with two consecutive dominating wins: 45-0 at Lynbrook on Nov. 4 and a 24-0 win at Gunn on Oct. 27. Their final record was 4-6 and they finished in 5th place in the Peninsula-Lake division. 

As has been the case in recent years, the biggest issue was having enough healthy players. While a typical high school football roster consists of 40 to 50 players, the Falcons’ team of 26 allowed little room for rest, leaving players fatigued. A small roster also amplified the effect of injuries on the whole team, as the Falcons forfeited against South San Francisco earlier in the season due to a lack of healthy players.

The team’s defense was shaky early in the season, costing them games against Cupertino and Harbor. Led by coach Stephen Matos, assistant coaches Archie Ljepava and Andrew Beatie and assistant coach and varsity offensive coordinator Darrell Adams, the team leveled up their defense for the final two games of the season. 

Senior defensive back Tristan Hoang said a struggling defense was linked to an offense that at first couldn’t sustain drives.

“Without our offense, our defense started to take a hit,” he said. “Once our office started to score more, our defense was able to solidify.”

Despite these challenges, the team was able to achieve four shutoffs in all of its victories against Lynbrook, Gunn, Monta Vista and Santa Cruz. 

The Falcons’ second-to-last game was a 24-0 demolition of Gunn, and showcased both the team’s strengths and limitations: a confident defense, yet a lack of players due to a small roster and injuries. 

Throughout the first quarter, the Titans’ attempts at running into the Falcons’ endzone were stopped by a strong defense. Linebacker Keion Ashjaee-Marshall proved to be key in preventing the Titans from scoring.

The season was an improvement from last year’s 1-4 record

“What helps our defense the most are the leaders on and off the field,” Ashjaee-Marshall said. “Players like myself and juniors [linebacker and tight end] Doug Bettinger and [cornerback and wide receiver] Charlie Arman are able to take control of the field and if need be, make quick adjustments before a play. That way, we’re able to play to the best of our ability.”

After a field goal in the first quarter by senior defensive end, kicker and punter Yul Hong, the Falcons led 3-0. After the Falcons moved back to defense, the Titans’ receiver nearly scored a touchdown, but he was halted by freshman linebacker, running back and offensive lineman Mo Pahulu.

The second half started out on a low note for the team with two failed field goals and a fumble. The Falcons were becoming exhausted after being on the field for so much time.

“We have multiple people playing both ways the entire game while also playing specialty, so our stamina wasn’t the best,” Hoang said.

However, after a complete pass by Hoang to the 10-yard line, the Falcons were back in the game. With their momentum returning, the scoreboard read 10-0 after a touchdown by Call and an extra point by Hong.

With 20 seconds left in the quarter, however, the Falcons’ game began to slip up. On defense, they allowed the Titans to gain 40 yards before ending the down allowing time to run out. 

“We were tired because we had no substitutions that game due to injuries, but we were able to rally behind our veteran members,” Hoang said.

The fourth quarter started strong for the Falcons, with a ball interception and touchdown by sophomore running back and linebacker Brennan Pak. It was followed up by Hong’s third field goal of the game. In similar fashion to the previous quarter, Call picked up a loose ball and scored a touchdown. 

“I did a flip into the endzone to score; I was feeling pretty good,” Call said. “Our defense was really confident.”

While the Falcons flourished, the Titans struggled with an injury and multiple failed catches by receivers.

Ashjaee-Marshall’s first-quarter energy shined once again as he charged 35 yards to the 15-yard line. The Falcons kept the game in their hands and let time run out with a final score of 24-0. 

“One thing that was definitely special was the energy that the whole team brought,” Ashjaee-Marshall said. “It was our last seniors game under the lights [the following game was in the afternoon] and I think that the fact that we’re able to bring so much energy and leave it all out on the field for our seniors definitely contributed to the win.”

On Nov. 4, the Falcons reigned victorious over Lynbrook 45-0. Hong kicked a field goal six extra points. Ashjaee-Marshall, Hoang and Pak combined for 4 rushing touchdowns and Call and senior wide receiver Kali Duvvuri caught 2 touchdown passes. Ashjaee-Marshall totaled 103 rushing yards.

“It wasn’t the best season, but it wasn’t the worst season,” senior wide receiver Cooper Call said. “In all of our wins, we shut the opponent out and it was a pretty good season overall.”

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