Mannion took over the program in March after 21-year coach Matt Sweeney resigned, and things seemed to go swimmingly until this past week when he lost a pair of quarterbacks to injury and then saw his team come up shy in a 25-22 loss to host Novato on Saturday afternoon -- the first time the Falcons have dropped a season opener since 1997.
Despite being the defending North Coast Section 2A champions, questions surrounded Novato after having graduated 17 of its 22 starters from last season. But as Foothill found out early Saturday, the Hornets have reloaded just fine.
Novato quarterback Jeff Stephens opened the scoring just two minutes into the game when he connected on the first of three first-half touchdown passes, a 14-yard strike to Jake Davis on fourth-and-7. His third scoring pass of the half came just 43 seconds before the intermission and put Novato ahead for good 19-14.
"(Stephens) had great poise," Novato coach Travis Bracket said of his quarterback. "He came up big in a lot of key situations...The kids really rallied around him."
It was a different scenario for the Falcons, who had Sean Mannion at quarterback, a sophomore, the coach's son, and until only a few days ago, the projected starter for the junior varsity.
"We had a situation where two quarterbacks were injured over the last 10 days and we had to bring up a quarterback from the JV team," John Mannion said. "But that didn't make the difference. We simply just need to play better."
Foothill actually held the lead twice in the first half. Ryan Walsworth put the Falcons ahead 7-6 with a 99-yard kick return following Novato's first touchdown. Then after falling behind 12-7 late in the first quarter, the Falcons' power running game produced a nine-play scoring drive capped by a two-yard run by fullback Rob Andrews.
Foothill's pounding attack slowed in the second half as the Novato defense made adjustments and the heat of the afternoon began to wear on the players.
"I hate to use excuses, but we weren't really prepared for the hot weather," Andrews said. "That really seemed to put us off our game."
Novato took a 25-14 lead with 6:55 left in the game when slot back Kyle Campas took an inside handoff and broke off a 58-yard scoring run.
Down to its last gasp after getting the ball back on downs deep inside their territory, the Falcons stayed in the game as Sean Mannion led them on a 95-yard drive and found Austin Day on a 13-yard touchdown pass with 56 seconds remaining. Mannion added a two-point conversion pass to Patrick Lynch that closed the deficit to three points, but Foothill was unable to keep Novato from running out the clock. Mannion finished 10-of-21 for 126 yards.
"I thought Sean played an amazing game for us as a rookie," Andrews said. "He really stepped up for us and kept us in the game in the second half."
Northgate 63, Tamalpais-Mill Valley 0: Blaine Johnson ran for 209 yards and the Broncos ushered in the Darin Owens era with an emphatic win, defeating the host Hawks to snap a 13-game losing streak.
Northgate (1-0) debuted a new offense in Owens' first game after stepping in for former coach Ted Tellian, who resigned in January. The Broncos used a double-wing, double-tight running attack that Tamalpais (0-1) could not stop, allowing Johnson and fellow running backs Richie Allen and Chris Pelayo to rack up plenty of yardage.
Perhaps of more relevance to the Northgate fans that made the trip to Marin County was the decidedly positive atmosphere that seemed to permeate the Broncos' players and coaches. That new attitude was a welcome change after a 2006 season that turned negative in a hurry.
"We just put so much hard work in this summer," Johnson said. "We got a new coaching staff and they believed in us and we believed this whole time and we just came out today and did what we had to do."
Pelayo was all over the field for the Broncos, scoring three rushing touchdowns and intercepting a pass on defense. Allen added two touchdowns and 96 yards rushing.
-- Ben Enos
Miramonte 42, Capuchino-San Bruno 7: Turning the ball over on the opening kickoff proved to be the start of a long afternoon for the host Mustangs. Miramonte needed only two plays to convert the turnover into a score on an Alex Golesorhki 17-yard touchdown run.
Although the Matadors gained 146 yards on the ground, they did the most damage through the air. Miramonte quarterback Trevor Boswell exploited the Mustangs' pass defense for 11 completions in 18 attempts for 183 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver James Giles pulled down three passes for 100 yards that included touchdown receptions of 39 and 34 yards.
On a day where the Matadors had 344 total yards, backup quarterback Conor Lowery got into the scoring act with an 11-yard touchdown pass to James King.
-- Richard Motroni, MediaNews correspondent
Diablo Valley 57, Contra Costa 0: The Vikings dominated with their ground attack, as they rushed for 313 yards to help the team achieve a 2-0 record.
The Vikings had two running backs top the 100-yard mark. Erick Johnson led all rushers with 105 yards and also scored three touchdowns. Joe Peters added 105 yards and two touchdowns.
On its first possession, Diablo Valley scored on a 30-yard pass from Jon Loeliger to Ryan Gardner. The Vikings proceeded to score touchdowns on their two other possessions in the first quarter to take a 21-0 lead. Diablo Valley held a 34-0 halftime advantage.
Defensively, the Vikings' Cupid Eison grabbed two interceptions. Diablo Valley limited Contra Costa (0-2) to 112 total yards, including 52 yards rushing. The Comets were paced in rushing by Harrison Rheinhardt with 34 yards.
-- Nick Norvell, correspondent