"It means so much to them," Paly coach Earl Hansen said of the Falcons. "If they win, they're in (the CCS playoffs). If not, they're out. That's what I'm telling my team this week. I don't have to tell them what's at stake for us."
Palo Alto brings a 5-0 division mark and a 9-0 overall record into the 7:30 p.m. kickoff. The last time the Vikings went 9-0 was 1963. Should they emerge with yet another win, as expected, Paly will be 10-0 for the first time since Hod Ray's great team of 1950.
But, there's more. Thanks to Bellarmine (30-27 to Mitty) and Valley Christian (14-7 to St. Francis) suffering upsets last week, Palo Alto has moved into the No. 1 spot in the PrepFeed-Kiefer CCS Top 20 as the only team with a perfect record. Palma has no losses in nine games, but has one tie.
Should Palo Alto beat Saratoga, the Vikings are expected to earn the No. 1 seed for the Central Coast Section Open Division playoffs, based on projected point totals. If those projections hold true, the Vikings would open against No. 8 seed Bellarmine (based on points) and have an opportunity to avenge last season's 34-6 blowout loss to the Bells in the opening round, when Bellarmine was No. 5 and Paly No. 4.
"I'm not sure if a No. 1 or 2 seed (for CCS) is better," Hansen said. "But, if we win (Friday) we'll get the No. 1 seed. If we play well, we'll win."
Thanks to last week's 42-20 nonleague victory over visiting Mountain View — highlighted by junior Dre Hill's 173 yards rushing with two touchdowns and Maurice Williams' four receptions for 100 yards — Palo Alto was elevated to the No. 2 position in the San Francisco Chronicle Top 25, trailing only perennial NorCal power De La Salle.
Palo Alto also moved up in the Cal-Hi Sports Top 25, as, well, to No. 18 in the state. The Vikings have never been ranked as high as No. 1 in the CCS or No. 18 in the state at this point of any season.
"That means we're doing something well," Hansen said. "We're getting recognized for winning. Our schedule is packed with wins against teams that last year had winning records."
So, what appeared to be a meaningless regular-season finale for Palo Alto actually carries all kinds of implications for the postseason. If everything falls into place, the Vikings could face Serra in a CCS semifinal and Valley Christian in the finals.
Palo Alto would have to win the Open Division to have a chance to play in the CIF State Football Championship Bowl Games, set for Dec. 17-18 at the Home Depot Center in Carson. De La Salle is the likely NorCal invitee in the Open Division while Grant (Sacramento) is projected to go in Division II. The CCS Open Division winner would go to the state finals in Division I.
Grant (10-0) is currently ranked No. 1 in the state by Cal-High Sports, with De La Salle (9-0) ranked No. 2. California High of San Ramon also is unbeaten (9-0) but has to play De La Salle this week.
Folsom of Northern California is 9-1 but plays Division II. St. Mary's of Stockton (9-1) also is Division II. Both teams could play Grant in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Palo Alto, meanwhile, first must take care of business against Saratoga ((2-3, 5-4), which dropped a 7-0 division game to Milpitas last week. The Vikings suffered six turnovers in the win over Mountain View and need to clean things up this week before heading into the postseason.
"We have to go into the playoffs playing well," said Hansen. "Nothing special is going in this week. We're just re-focusing on the basics."
One problem from the Mountain View game evidently has been solved. Prior to that contest, Paly lost its No. 1 and 2 centers — senior Jackson Moses (broken finger) and junior Sam Moses (torn MCL). That left an untested player at center, which helped account for the fumbles against the Spartans.
This week, Hansen moved sophomore Spencer Drazovich to center and Hansen says "I think we're definitely stronger there."
The CCS Open Division playoffs begin on either Nov. 19 or 20, with semifinals scheduled for San Jose City College on Nov. 26 or 27th. The championship game will be Friday, Dec. 3 at SJCC at 7 p.m.
Palo Alto has never won more than 12 games in a campaign. This season provides an opportunity to surpass that milestone, as well.
In other games this weekend with playoff implications:
Menlo-Atherton (2-3, 3-6) plays host to Woodside (1-4, 1-8) on Saturday (2 p.m.) in a nonleague game. A victory by the Bears could give them enough points to earn the No. 8 seed for the CCS Division II playoffs while a loss would knock them out.
The Bears are coming off a 31-27 upset win over Burlingame, which knocked the Panthers out of a share of the PAL Bay Division title. Cameron Moody rushed for 150 yards and scored a touchdown for M-A.
On Saturday night at Sequoia High, Sacred Heart Prep (3-2, 7-2) will face Menlo School (4-1, 7-2) in the annual Valpo Bowl. The Gators need a victory to get a No. 1 or 2 seed in the Division IV playoffs while the Knights can move up from a projected No. 5 seed with a triumph.
Sacred Heart Prep had a chance to win the PAL Bay Division title and pretty much lock up a No. 1 CCS seed last week, but dropped a 43-21 decision to champion Terra Nova despite 198 rushing yards by the Gators' Colin Terndrup.
Menlo strengthened its postseason hopes as senior QB Robert Wickeres completed 15 of 27 passes for 270 yards and two TDs in a 32-28 division win over visiting South San Francisco. Menlo senior Tim Benton had eight catches for 142 yards.
In other regular-season finales this weekend, Gunn (0-5, 3-6) finishes up at home against Los Gatos (3-2, 5-3-1) in the SCVAL De Anza Division.
Priory conclude its eight-man season with a 42-18 nonleague romp over host Alma Heights in Pacifica last Friday. The Panthers finished 3-3 in the Coastal Athletic League (5-4 overall).