*The San Francisco 49ers Charlie Wedemeyer Memorial Coach of the Week award for the opening week of the season goes to Mike Janda, Head Coach for Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose, CA. *
The Bellarmine Bells pulled off a nine-point comeback win in the fourth quarter to defeat the Menlo-Atherton Bears Friday night by a score of 21-16. The Bells start the season off 1-0, after getting a big win against a familiar foe.
After suffering a playoff defeat to Menlo-Atherton last year, the Bells were able to stay focused and finish the game strong to avenge last season's defeat. This exciting rematch had a little bit of everything you could want in a football game; a kickoff returned for a score, explosive offensive plays, turnovers that swung momentum, and a great defensive stand to end the game. Both teams came in well prepared, but the conditioning down the stretch was what propelled the Bells to victory.
"Our conditioning was critical to our success," said Bellarmine head coach Mike Janda. "The conditioning kept our guys strong throughout the end of the game." Coach Janda believes that the conditioning that the players went through in the offseason "really paid off" in the warm Friday night game.
The first half was a close game that saw two touchdowns come off of explosive plays. Menlo-Atherton took the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown to put the Bells behind 7-0. Austin Ajiake, running back for the Bells, scored on a run of 45 yards on the next possession to tie things up in the first quarter. Coach Janda knew the importance of the ensuing touchdown by Austin "We needed something good to happen early to keep us in the game.
A defensive battle in the first half would keep both teams from scoring again until a Menlo-Atherton field goal pushed the Bears lead to 10-7 going into halftime. At the half, Coach Janda figured out exactly where adjustments needed to be made for the Bells to succeed. The Bells were running successfully in the first half, but decided to tweak the blocking assignments for the line. By switching the point of attack, the line was able to create a better running lane for the backs in the second half.
Another adjustment was eliminating big plays for Menlo-Atherton. One way to do that was to keep the ball out of the kick returners hands by squib kicking any time they got the chance.
The final adjustment came on defense where the coaches emphasized that the team could win if they could sure up the tackling. These adjustments proved to be beneficial throughout the second half.
Menlo-Atherton struck first in the 3rd quarter after capitalizing on a fumble by the Bells. This score would put the Bells down by 9 points, with a score of 16-7. Coach Janda's squad knew that they still had a chance to win this game as long as they played smart and limited mistakes going forward. He also knew his team needed a few big plays to swing momentum in their favor.
Bellarmine wide out, Noah Laine, would prove to be the catalyst for these big plays, helping the Bells start their march toward a comeback victory. The Bells found the first momentum swing with a 30 yard pass from Harry Mingrone to Noah Laine.
"Noah did a good job getting open," said Coach Janda. "Excitement on the sideline picked up on the play, leading to much higher momentum."
Austin Ajiake would find the end zone two plays later with a 15 yard run, putting the Bells behind with the score at 16-14. The Bells now had all the confidence in the world that they could avenge last season's playoff loss. Noah Lain would step up once again, but this time on defense. Laine tipped a pass that allowed for defensive back Anthony Magri to intercept the ball near the 50-yard line and returned it to the 28 yard line of the Bells.
"The interception stopped their momentum and gave us a chance to move the ball and go ahead," said Coach Janda of Magri's defensive play. "He was opportunistic in getting the ball and he gave us a chance to move forward."
Coach Janda would trust the leader in the backfield, Austin Ajiake to convert on a 3rd and 4th down to keep Bellarmine's offense alive. A run by Ajiake from the 1-yard line would give him his third touchdown of the night. The Bells now led by a score of 21-16. "Austin is a runner that can succeed on both inside and outside runs," Coach Janda said in describing Austin. "He only got stronger as the game went on."
It was now the defense's turn to step up and seal the game for Bellarmine. Menlo-Atherton was able to drive the ball all the way down to the 5-yard line after several explosive passing plays. It was 4th down, the ball on the 5-yard line, with four seconds left on the clock. Menlo-Atherton's quarterback dropped back and threw the ball to the corner of the end zone only to have it fall incomplete as the Bellarmine defensive backs expertly covered the Bears' receivers.
"Credit to Menlo-Atherton for doing a great job of putting themselves in a position to win," Coach Janda said about the final drive of the game. Coach Janda believes his team learned how important it is to finish a game and commented on the subject. "When you start anything in life, it is crucial to finish. We had a chance to not do that. Guys did a great job to learn what they could do. We have a tremendous amount of work to do to get better each week and compete in the league we play in."
Coach Janda, a father of five and grandfather of seven, has been at Bellarmine Prep for 39 years and was delighted to receive this award. When asked what winning the award meant to him, he said "I had the great honor of meeting Charlie several times and his unbelievable wife. There is no one I can think of with more courage and a man with great dignity throughout his life. Being connected with him is a great honor."
As our Charlie Wedemeyer Memorial Coach of the Week, Coach Janda will receive a $1,000 grant for the Bellarmine College Prep football program from the 49ers Foundation. As part of this award, he will also receive two tickets to a 49ers home game where he will be recognized on the field. Coach Janda will also be invited to visit the SAP Performance Facility to watch a closed practice where 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan will officially present him with his award. Coach Janda will be featured on the 49ers Cal-Hi Sports Report On Sunday's at 6 & 10pm on NBC Sports California and re-broadcast throughout the week.
Congratulations, Coach Janda!