by Tim Goode
In the 99 years that Palo Alto High has been playing football, no season has been like this one. All the Vikings need is one more game to make it official.
That game should arrive on Friday, Dec. 17 at the Home Depot Center in Carson. The opponent likely will be Centennial High of Corona. At stake will be the Division I title in the CIF State Football Championship Bowl Games.
Palo Alto head coach Earl Hansen will discover whether his team is invited to represent Northern California sometime Sunday afternoon. The bowl game lineups will be announced on Facebook following a press conference at 3:30 p.m. Go to www.Facebook.com/CIFstate for the pairings.
"I'm hoping we get a shot," said Hansen. "We've done what we had to do. Now it goes behind closed doors."
When it's Palo Alto's turn to be discussed, there's no doubt they will talk about the public school's manhandling of some of the top private schools in Northern California.
"We are very proud of that," Hansen said.
The Vikings certainly left no doubt about which is the best team in the Central Coast Section as they beat Valley Christian, 21-14, in the CCS Open Division championship and improved to 13-0 last Friday night at San Jose City College.
Paly sliced through the heart of the West Catholic Athletic League to earn the trophy, beating Mitty, Bellarmine and Valley, in order while compiling the most wins and best record in school history.
The previous record for most victories was 12, accomplished in 2006 when the Vikings reached the Division II state finals and lost to Orange Lutheran to finish 12-2. Palo Alto also went 10-0 in 1950 and 9-0 in 1963.
In order to be considered as one of best Paly teams ever, the Vikings have to reach the state finals. Their impressive run in the postseason, however, is expected to earn the Vikings that berth in the state finals.
Palo Alto has two opportunities to advance.
Should De La Salle (12-0) beat California High (12-1) of San Ramon to win the North Coast Section title, it's expected the Spartans will represent Northern California in the Open Division and Paly will play for the Division I title.
Should De La Salle get upset, Palo Alto would be considered for the Open Division along with Folsom (13-1), which upset state ranked No. 1 Grant last weekend. Folsom, however, is a Division II team and reportedly has been informed (via reports in the Sacramento Bee) it will be playing in the Division II finals.
A win by Cal High over De La Salle, however, would move Folsom ahead of Cal High in the rankings and create a discussion for the Open Division.
No matter what happens, Palo Alto appears a lock for one of the two bowl berths. Paly, after all, is the first unbeaten CCS team to be eligible since the state playoffs begin in 2006.
The victory over Valley was emphatic, despite the Vikings never gaining a rhythm on offense.
Paly opened the game with a drive to the Valley 19 that stalled because of an offside penalty and ended on a fourth down sack. Other drives were stalled because of momentum-interrupting penalties and the Vikings were fortunate to survive a three-yard punt that gave the Warriors the ball at Paly's 46.
"We were moving the ball in the first half but we'd get sacked or have a penalty. Something kept breaking our rhythm," Hansen said.
The difference was Valley could not contain Maurice Williams and B.J. Boyd and Valley's offense couldn't solve Paly's defense.
Williams hauled in a 33-yard touchdown pass from Christoph Bono in the first quarter, converting a fourth- and-15 situation. Bono lofted the ball high and Williams made a burst at the end zone that separated him from his defender and earned the score.
Williams scored again in the third quarter when he caught a five-yard out, shook a tackle and sprinted 78 yards. The scoring play served a crushing blow to the Warriors because it came on the heels of their second-half opening drive that took seven minutes and came up a yard short at the Paly 23 on a fourth-down pass attempt. The drive-ending tackle was delivered by T.J. Braff and Gabe Landa.
Two plays later, Williams scored. Williams had four catches for 130 yards. Bono completed 12 of 17 passes for 214 yards.
Valley made it interesting with another long drive that resulted in a touchdown with 10 minutes left.
Paly answered immediately. Boyd went off tackle into a pile before bouncing outside and galloping 66 yards to cap a three-play drive. Boyd was the game's leading rusher with 113 yards on 14 carries.
"I felt someone hit me but Spencer (sophomore tackle Spencer Drazovich) pulled me through and cleared the way," Boyd said. "I saw that opening and was happy to take it."
Valley scored again with 20 seconds remaining, but Braff caught the ensuing onside-kick attempt and Bono took a knee on the final play.
Paly registered five sacks and its pressure up front prevented Valley from getting its passing game going. Tory Prati and Nathan Hubbard both had a pair of sacks. The defense also prevented VC star running back Byron Marshall from getting outside, limiting one of the top backs in the CCS to just two runs longer than 10 yards and only 74 yards total. He had been averaging 136 per game.
Defensive back Bill Gray made a fourth-quarter interception on a pass deflected by Williams into the end zone to prevent a Valley touchdown. Moments later, Palo Alto was celebrating.
It was business as usual for Palo Alto this week as the Vikings returned to practice, despite the rainy weather. They know their season is not over. No Paly team has ever advanced to the postseason and won the final game. These Vikings, however, want to be the first.