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With the clock winding down and Los Gatos closing in on the end zone Friday night, Milpitas dug in and held its ground to stay unbeaten. Victor Rodriguez intercepted a fourth-down pass a few yards from the goal line with just under a minute to play, securing a 27-21 victory that all but clinches the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League’s De Anza Division championship for Milpitas, the Mercury News’ top-ranked team. “We worked too hard to come this far to lose,” defensive lineman Tevita Musika said after the victory celebration. “It was either now or never.” Milpitas (8-0, 4-0) had yielded just six points in its previous four games. But Friday, Los Gatos struck for 14 in the game’s opening minutes.
The fourth-ranked Wildcats (6-2, 3-1) went 76 yards on their opening series, converting two third-down plays, and running back Joey Wood capped off the drive with a 2-yard run to make it 7-0. Milpitas fumbled on its first offensive play, and Los Gatos struck right away as Dru Brown fired a 45-yard strike to Matt Wilcox to make it 14-0 with 8:10 left in the first quarter. “We scored those two quick ones and then offensively we kind of sputtered through the second and third quarters,” Los Gatos coach Mark Krail said. “They’re very stout up front, and it was tough running the ball. We gave it our best. They’re a good team, obviously.”
Milpitas answered the two early touchdowns with a 73-yard drive to pull to within 14-6. Christian Rodriguez scored the touchdown from 3 yards out. Christian Rita made it 14-13 when he returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter, and John Keller’s 46-yard pass down the middle to Dion Leonard gave Milpitas a 19-14 lead three minutes later. Keller said his teammates kept their composure after Los Gatos’ early strikes, telling themselves, “We’re still in this game. This is just the first quarter. There is nothing we can’t overcome.”
Los Gatos reached the Milpitas 16 late in the first half but was stopped on downs. Leading 19-14 at halftime, Milpitas stretched its advantage to 27-14 in the third quarter when Rita turned a quick pass to the sideline into an 11-yard scoring play. But Los Gatos quickly responded. On a razzle-dazzle play, Brown caught a backward pass and then threw a 38-yard pass to Nick Occhipinti to cut the Trojans’ lead to 27-21 heading to the fourth quarter. Wilcox’s interception in the end zone gave Los Gatos one final chance as the Wildcats took over at their 20 with 4:49 left.
Brown, a scrambler, consistently had Milpitas’ huge linemen chasing him all over the backfield but the quarterback kept making big plays. “It was like trying to catch a mouse,” Musika said. “It was hard.” The Wildcats reached the Milpitas 13 but a fumbled snap, two incomplete passes and the interception kept Milpitas perfect on the season. “We were telling ourselves, this is our senior night, this might be our last home game,” defensive end Jason Scrempos said. “You’ve got to put it all on the line.”
MILPITAS 27, LOS GATOS 21