Holding back tears, Los Gatos High football coach Mark Krail delivered a brief yet emotionally charged speech in the aftermath of a riveting 24-21 win over Wilcox High on Oct. 27.
He didn’t have to say much to let his players know how proud he was of their effort and performance, one that clinched at least a share of the Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division championship – the program’s fourth consecutive title overall.
Krail emphasized the value of winning an A-league championship is paramount for the program.
“That’s our first goal every year is to win a league championship,” Krail said, “and then what happens after that is gravy. Our playoff system, we can talk all night for what it is, but for a public school I’m pretty darn proud for sure.”
Formerly of the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division, Los Gatos and Wilcox have been the main players duking it out for league supremacy. When the SCVAL and PAL combined to form a football super league starting play in 2022, there was a lot of reshuffling amongst the 50-plus teams. And yet, here was Los Gatos (7-2 overall, 4-0 PAL Bay) and Wilcox (6-3, 4-1) meeting again with league bragging rights at stake, this time with the PAL Bay Division.
“This is such a fun, intense rivalry we have going,” said Krail, whose team can clinch an outright Bay Division championship in the regular-season finale against Menlo-Atherton on Nov. 3. “We have so much respect for those guys. Their guys laid it on the field, our guys laid it on the field. It was a great high school football game.”
That’s part of the reason why Krail and his coaching staff were visibly animated and all smiles afterward.
“A lot goes into this,” he said. “And this rivalry is special and it’s one that’s marked on our calendar all year from the minute we get the schedule. And again, it’s just a beautiful rivalry. These players and coaches, we put a lot into it. It’s sleepless nights, looking at film hours on end, it’s a lot of sacrifice. Some of our players came up big tonight.”
Some of those standouts included quarterback AJ Minyard, running back Boxer Kopcsak-Yeung and safeties Jaylen Thomas and Scott Garwood. Thomas punctuated the game with an interception on the final play, and Garwood had a team-best three tackles for losses.
Wilcox took its only lead of the game, 21-17, with 2 minutes, 27 seconds remaining. That left Los Gatos plenty of time to mount a game-winning drive. Starting at its own 21-yard line, Minyard connected with Owen Panu for 16 yards and then Thomas for 11 more.
Kopcsak-Yeung rushed for a 26-yard gain that advanced the ball to the Wilcox 24-yard line. An 8-yard completion to Thomas was sandwiched by a pair of incompletions, making it 4th-and-1 from the 16. Krail called on Minyard to run a naked bootleg which netted nine yards and a first down.
On the very next play, Kopcsak-Yeung scored on a 7-yard run with 23.5 seconds left to seal the outcome.
The key fourth-down conversion was actually the first time the team had used that particular play in a game this season.
“But we practice it a lot,” Krail said.
Before the team’s final offensive possession, there was a sense of calm among the players because every Wednesday night they practice a two-minute drill for situations exactly like the one they found themselves with against Wilcox and Liberty High earlier in the season.
“So the routine is there and the guys are comfortable,” Krail said. “I told them let’s go 80 yards and win the game. That’s our mentality, that’s what we did against Liberty, it’s the same kind of deal. There’s no panic, they just know what to do.”
Especially Kopcsak-Yeung, who totaled a game-high 117 yards on 15 carries, a hefty 7.8 yards per rush. The 5-foot-10, 172-pound senior had just five carries for 26 yards in the first half before getting unleashed in the third and fourth quarter.
Of the 10 times he carried the ball in the second half, Kopcsak-Yeung gashed Wilcox for gains of 12, 15, 19 and 26 yards. What was the key to the success of the run game in the second half after the first-half struggles?
“That’s partly on me,” Krail said. “If you notice in the run game late third quarter, fourth quarter, we kind of started going right at them instead of dipsy doing a bunch of stuff. Then we ran a couple of traps which is what we do but what I hadn’t done. We got back to what we do, we’re a misdirection team, and Boxer was running hard tonight. Every yard he earned was tough, and they’re a physical defense and we knew it.”
Kopcsak-Yeung also made his presence felt on special teams, returning a Panu blocked punt 10 yards for a TD to give the Wildcats a 14-0 lead with 1:24 left in the first quarter.
“That was a pure effort play by the guy who blocked it [Panu],” Kopcsak-Yeung said. “That was just amazing of him. We practice that every single day in practice, making sure everyone knows their assignments. He gave it his all and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and made the big catch and ran it in. But it was all because of him. … Any opportunity to get on the field is something I’ll take, and special teams is a great way to flip the game.”
Staked to a 14-0 lead after the blocked punt TD, Los Gatos looked as if it could run away with things. However, Wilcox completely changed the narrative in the second quarter, scoring 14 unanswered points of its own to make it 14-14 entering halftime.
The Chargers totaled 202 yards of offense in the first half, doubling the Wildcats’ 101. Even when things weren’t going their way—the team was livid with some of the calls and non-calls throughout—they persevered and remained resolute to the end.
Minyard took a couple of big hits on plays out of the pocket but immediately sprung back up each time. The senior signal-caller’s numbers weren’t impressive—he completed 6-of-15 passes for 115 yards—but he played turnover-free ball and displayed toughness and leadership yet again.
Speaking of toughness, Kopcsak-Yeung fell hard on his elbow going up for an attempted catch early in the second quarter and missed the next series before returning. As Krail said, “You’re not going to keep that kid out unless there’s a bone sticking out of him. He’s so tough, he’s phenomenal.”
Said Kopcsak-Yeung: “I ended up getting rolled up on, landed funky and the guy landed on my elbow and it bent the wrong way. But you know that’s what Saturdays are for. You can feel the pain then so I just figured to tough it out, my guys need me. I know they give me everything they’ve got so I’m going to give them everything I’ve got.”
Defensively, Henry Masters led the way with 16 tackles. Jake Gerber, Frank White III and Garwood had 14 tackles each, and Spencer Burg had 11.