PADECKY: Big-play Maher and Co. prove Tigers’ mettle

By BOB PADECKY
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

MORAGA — Give them something to remember, that’s what Analy did Friday night. They didn’t back into the victory, didn’t get lucky all of a sudden, or have the other team give it to them. The Analy Tigers did it the way champions do. They answered every challenge. They never wilted. They never lost direction or focus. They played so well, were so clutch, the boys played like men out there. Man up, they did.

The Tigers have reached the NCS semifinals with a game that will live long after this season. The memory of all it all — the blocked PAT, The Catch by Aaron Maher, the Kerr Johnson Jr. Redemption, I could go on and on — will make this 38-34 victory required reading by anyone who wants to know anything about Analy sports. Yes, the game was that significant, for this is how a 12-0 team plays, for this is how every coach wishes a 12-0 team plays.

“Coach always says big-time players make big-time plays in big-time game,” Maher said. “That’s what we did tonight. It feels surreal.”

Surreal? Oh yes. Campolindo is the defending NCS Division 3 champion. The Cougars are a NCS given, always in the playoffs. Analy, meanwhile, is 1-7 in its last eight playoffs. The Tigers had baggage. Not anymore. They chucked that sucker away. That 1-7 record might as well belong to another school after Friday night.

“It’s still a dream right now,” said Maher, who had seven catches for 198 yards and two touchdowns, “and it’ll probably stay a dream tonight. But then when I wake up tomorrow it’ll be reality.”

And the grin on Maher’s face said it all — He can’t wait for Saturday morning. Wait until he starts getting some feedback about Friday night. The secret that maybe Analy or Maher once were, is no more. Not after what he did, what they did. Friday night was no fluke and one might as well start with Maher and, as his coach Dan Bourdon said, seems like all things good for Analy start with this 6-foot-3 and half wide receiver.

“I think it kinda falls to me because I am a third-year receiver,” Maher said.

Interesting choice of words “it kinda falls to me.” That’s Maher’s expertise, he lets Darin Newman’s passes fall toward him. It’s a genius kind of thing these two guys have going for them — Newman throws it 10 miles and Maher chases it down. And there will never be a moment, ever, that the pair will work any better than with 6:27 left in Friday’s game.

The set-up: Campolindo had just scored — pesky, those guys. Analy looked as if it had put the game in the bag just three minutes earlier when Kerr Johnson Jr. caught his first touchdown pass of the season. That’s because Johnson was on junior varsity all season. His catch was worth a sonnet because, on the play before his 7-yard touchdown catch, Johnson had a Newman pass sail through his hands in the end zone. So Johnson rebounded, big-time. Analy 31, Campo 21. Game over.

But then gutty Campo scored to make it 31-28. Oops. That’s when Analy got the ball back on its 20. First-down. Eighty yards to go. Run the ball. Run the clock. Run Campo out of the game. That seemed most logical. Analy knew it.

“We thought they would be playing the run,” Newman said.

So Newman dropped and threw it 10 miles downfield to Maher on a streak. Their philosophy is quite simple.

“Throw it far enough,” Newman said, “so if Aaron can’t get it, no one can.”

As the ball was in mid-air, Maher seemed to be in no position to catch it. That, actually, had occurred a few times in the game, Newman making sure no wrong-colored jersey would receive.

“But I know Aaron’s basket,” Newman said.

“And Darin knows how to drop it in my basket.”

On about the 20 Maher looked straight and watched the ball fly over his head and into his waiting arms. From the far end of the field it looked exactly like the famous catch Willie Mays made in the 1954 World Series. Exactly.

“It just dropped into my lap,” Maher said. Yes, he admitted, he’s made that catch more than once this season. But this time, well, this is the cherry on top. Maher took the pass and ran the last 20 yards into the end zone. It happened so quickly, it felt like a smack-down. Bourdon doesn’t like to play it safe, likes to go outside the box, and this 80-yarder will be on every team’s scouting report for the rest of this season and at least the next 10.

That play provided the deciding points but it was far from over. Give Campo credit. Before its season was half-over the Cougars lost their starting quarterback, running back and best defensive player. Campo needed just five plays to score again, but Analy’s Andrew Wollmer blocked a PAT. That left the score, 38-34, and Campo would need to score a touchdown on its final drive.

After the Analy offense went three and out, Campo started at the 50 with 4:10 left. In a game in which Analy’s defense surrendered 34 points and 340 yards passing, this time the Tigers, as previously mentioned, rose to the challenge. Campo advanced to Analy’s 24 before turning the ball over on downs — the last pass an incompletion, the Campo receiver covered by Maher.

When the final gun went off, as the Analy players rushed the field wanting to create the biggest dog pile in the history of celebrations, Will Freeman began barking again. Freeman is Analy’s junior varsity running back coach and he barks like a hound dog after big Analy plays. The Tigers just advanced to the NCS semifinals and Freeman barked like he was chasing a pork chop, quite real he was.

Helmets went flying, Newman lost his. Coaches jumps into the arms of players. Analy not only created history Friday night — it had never advanced this far in NCS football — but the Tigers did it spectacularly. People who were here might forget the score of this game but they will never forget how every time Campo made a run at Analy, the Tigers threw out a stiff arm. It was theater at its best and Maher wanted to make sure he soaked it all in.

That’s why, at his earliest convenience, Maher said he was going to find a videotape of that Willie Mays catch. Hey, when you’re living the dream, like Analy is right now, why not go all the way and indulge yourself in the moment, when you and Willie Mays are in the same sentence?

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.