The game, and in essence the family torch, was now in the hands of sophomore tackle Tom Altieri, Mike's kid brother.
"As the play started to develop, I saw him crash down and clear out the whole right side of the defense," Mike said. "It was incredible."
A first down in their pocket, the Panthers scored two plays later in what eventually would be a 36-28 win in triple overtime and their fifth trip to the CIF-San Diego Section final since 1996.
Defending champion Vista (10-2) will meet Carlsbad (9-2-1) for the Division I crown as part of the section's championship tripleheader at Qualcomm Stadium on Saturday.
And in the Altieri household, where the family's traditional Thanksgiving "Turkey Bowl" football game had to be shelved again this year because of Vista's playoff run, history repeats itself.
Mike and Tom's father, Tony, who for the past 11 years has served as coach of the Panthers freshman squad, is a graduate of Vista who played on the school's 1974 section championship team. The other Tony, Mike and Tom's older brother, was an All-San Diego Section defensive tackle at Vista and now plays nose tackle at Boise State. He was a member of the Panthers' 1997 squad that earned a Division I co-championship with Torrey Pines.
Not to be overlooked are the Altieri women, mother Saaga, who was an outstanding volleyball and softball player at MiraCosta College, and daughter Malia, who starred in basketball for Vista and Palomar College.
Tony Sr.'s younger brothers – Pete, John and Vince – were also athletes at Vista. Pete was a quarterback and John an offensive lineman. Vince played baseball.
Vince's son, Matt, who played quarterback his freshman and sophomore seasons at Vista but did not play this season, is a junior on the baseball team.
Be it charades or shot-putting, one had best be prepared to play if stopping by the Altieri residence.
"It doesn't matter what it is, from cards to video games to basketball, it gets pretty intense," Mike said. "You should see us when we play (the card game) spades. It's an all-out battle. Even my grandparents are going at it. If it has a winner and a loser, we'll play it."
Through 12 games this season, Mike, who once scored 34 goals in 50 games for a youth soccer travel team and also competed in gymnastics, has rushed for 893 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Tom, meanwhile, has helped Vista average better than 350 yards and 32.9 points per game. The Panthers enter the championship game having averaged 46 points in the playoffs.
Like Mike, Tom was also once a quarterback, playing the position in middle school until he became, as he puts it, "a little oversized."
The baby of the bunch now stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 255 pounds.
"I've grown up around Vista football my whole life, so I know how strong the tradition is here, and I want to keep it alive," said Tom, who, like Mike, served as a ballboy for the team as a youngster. "Every down you play, you do it with your heart."
Tony Sr., who works as a purchasing agent for the Oceanside School District, was a running back at Vista when the Panthers, under the direction of the late legendary coach Dick Haines, beat Patrick Henry 32-0 to clinch the Class 2A title 28 years ago.
"We've been very blessed as a family and we're very close," Tony Sr. said. "We've always told the kids that we'll trust their judgment until they give us reason not to, and we've never had any problems."
There are times when Tony Sr. must walk that fine line between being coach and father. One of those times arose Friday night when Mike was injured. He had fallen on the point of the ball while being tackled and was having difficulty breathing. Medical technicians on the scene told Tony and Saaga that their son's blood pressure was significantly elevated.
At halftime, as Mike was being examined by team doctors while lying on a training table in a locker room at Poway High, Tom Altieri, with tears in his eyes, took his brother's hand, leaned over and kissed him.
"Tom was really bothered by what was happening," Tony Sr. said. "He kept asking me what was going on with Mike. My wife came in and Mike asked that everybody leave so he could have some time alone with his mom. I'd been standing out in the hall and when I came back into the room I asked her what had happened. He told her that he was going back into the game and that he didn't want her to worry.
"She told him, 'Don't even think about going back into that game unless you're going to play hard. If you're not going to play hard, then don't go back in, because you're not going to do your team any good. I would never have expected her to say that."
After all, she is an Altieri. And with 5:32 left in the third quarter, Mike Altieri returned to the fray. To a standing ovation.
Mike received interest from Boise State, Colorado State, and Arizona. Mike is the younger brother of senior Bronco defensive tackle Tony Altieri. He led Vista to back-to-back San Diego Section CIF Championship games. Rushed for 947 yards and 11 touchdowns while throwing for 743 yards and accounting for five more touchdowns as a senior this past season.
A multi-talented QB who can help a team with both his arm and feet. Altieri threw for 835 yards and rushed for 434 yards while leading Vista to the Division I San Diego CIF Section championship as a junior.
Mike has reportedly been recruited to Boise State as a LB.