Palo Alto carries
underdog role against
national No. 5 Centennial
Three times in the history of Palo Alto High athletics the Vikings have run up against seemingly insurmountable odds while playing for state championships.
The first came in 1993 when the Paly boys' basketball team took on SoCal power Morningside in a CIF Division III finale in Oakland. Morningside had a dozen coaches and tons of talent while the Vikings had one coach, were undersized but played as a team.
The final result? Palo Alto 79, Morningside 59.
The second came in 2006 when the boys' basketball team went up against powerful Mater Dei in the CIF Division II state finals. The Monarchs were huge and heavy favorites while the Vikings were again undersized and huge underdogs.
Nonetheless, Palo Alto won 51-47.
And just two weekends ago, the Palo Alto girls' volleyball team went up against a Long Beach Poly team that was ranked as high as No. 1 in the nation in one poll and a legitimate No. 7 in another. The Jackrabbits were heavy favorites while the Vikings carried the underdog role once again.
Against all odds, Palo Alto won.
That brings us to Friday night's CIF State Football Bowl Championship Series, where Palo Alto (13-0) will take on Centennial of Corona (14-0) for the Division I title at the Home Depot Center in Carson at 7:30 p.m.
It will be yet another David vs. Goliath matchup with the Vikings wielding the slingshot and the Huskies a cannon.
"Who gave us chance against Mater Dei in basketball?" asked Paly head football coach Earl Hansen. "They're all high school kids. Yes, they may fill out their uniforms a little more but we've played big teams before. We know what they will do. There are no surprises.
"If we do what we have to do, we'll be fine."
A glut of eye-popping comparisons in favor of the Huskies, of course, says otherwise.
Centennial is ranked No. 2 in the state and No. 5 in the nation, according to MaxPreps, and is averaging a gaudy 54.8 points a game. Palo Alto is ranked No. 11 in the state and No. 72 in the nation while averaging 31.7 points an outing.
Centennial has surpassed 60 points four times this season, topped by an 82-21 victory over Corona. Palo Alto has scored 35 or more points six times this season, topped by a 49-14 win over Gunn.
No team has scored more than 23 points on Centennial in 2010 while Palo Alto allowed no more than 20 points and that was only once.
Barrinton Collins leads Centennial in rushing with 2,325 yards on 224 carries. Dre Hill paces the Vikings on the ground with 923 yards on 131 hauls.
Centennial's 6-foot-5 senior quarterback Michael Eubank has completed 155 of 225 passes (.689 percent) for 2,720 yards and 22 touchdowns. He also has rushed 120 times for 1,165 yards. Palo Alto's 6-2 senior QB Christoph Bono has completed 152 of 228 passes (.667 percent) for 2,467 yards and 28 scores. He has rushed for a minus-47 yards on 68 attempts.
Centennial has three 1,000-yard rushers, an offense similar to the one unbeaten Oregon runs and statistics that would make any NFL offensive coordinator drool.
Palo Alto, meanwhile, has to hope its talented senior tandem of wideouts/cornerbacks Maurice Williams and Davante Adams will make a difference.
The two make up the first line of offense and the last line of defense. Both are fast and elusive, have great leaping ability and are dangerous once they get their hands on the ball. On defense, the fact Paly is allowing only 9.3 points a game pretty much says it all to what Williams and Adams (and their teammates) can do.
Neither Williams nor Adams are intimidated by Centennial's gaudy stats or scary talent.
"It doesn't matter about the team we play," Williams said. "We'll treat them like any other team. We're just as fast. I think we're really prepared for them. If our defense can slow them down a little bit, we have a chance."
Williams and Adams will play crucial roles simply because they have so many of them. They play on both sides of the ball and can return punts and kickoffs. Williams has rushed 18 times for 202 yards (11.22 yards per carry) and caught 25 passes for 699 yards (27.96 per catch) with 10 touchdowns. Adams leads the team with 59 catches for 1,036 yards and 10 touchdowns. Williams also has two interception returns for 50 yards.
"One of us has to have a big game," said Williams. "They can't cover both of us at the same time."
Valley Christian tried to double- and triple-team Adams in the Central Coast Section Open Division finals two weeks ago. Williams responded to the single coverage with four catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns. When Milpitas tried to double and triple Williams, Adams caught seven passes for a career-high 184 yards and two TDs.
Adams, for one, is not scared off after seeing Centennial's gaudy stats.
"I'm not scared, but they do have my respect," he said. "They have an offense and we have a defense. And they're not going to stop our offense. We have people who step up in big-time situations."
It was believed that Palo Alto couldn't get past the West Catholic Athletic League triumvirate of Mitty, Bellarmine and Valley Christian and keep its unbeaten season alive. Yet, the Vikings outscored the three by 69-24 to set an all-time school record for most single-season football victories.
Palo Alto has played football for 99 years and this is the first team to go 13-0. It will take something special, however, to make it a 14-0 year. Palo Alto also goes in with a combined 599 victories for rugby and football.
"Everybody has to have their best games," Adams said. "We don't have room for error."
Hansen echoed that sentiment.
"We've got to tackle. We've got to get first downs. We can't make mistakes and give them a short field," he said.
Hansen and some of his coaches attended Centennial's 45-21 win over Vista (Murrieta) in the CIF Southern Section playoff finals.
"Vista was up 10-7 with about two minutes left in the half," Hansen said. "It was 21-10 before you knew it; 14 points in no time. They (Centennial) can do that to you."
Hansen said it will be important to keep the game close, heading into the final period. That will serve Centennial notice that Paly intends to make a game of it.
"We need to keep them off the field, the best we can," Hansen said.
In light of Centennial's offensive similarity to Oregon, Hansen has spoken with Stanford defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and his own son, Peter, a defensive assistant with the Cardinal who also was an assistant coach at Paly in 2006 when the Vikings played in the first-ever state playoffs.
"I got some ideas from them (on how to try stopping Centennial)," Hansen said.
Paly, in fact, runs the same 4-3 defense that Stanford ran in 2009 when the Cardinal beat Oregon in Stanford Stadium, 51-42. Stanford switched to a 3-4 defense this season and the Ducks ran off with a 52-31 win, the only blemish on Stanford's 11-1 season.
"Fangio was funny," Hansen said. "He said they didn't do anything to stop them."
Hansen has to hope his team will have a better result against the no-huddle offense, which Centennial runs. Most certainly, the Vikings can't let the Huskies approach their season scoring average unless Centennial can't stop Paly's offense.
Bono has the stats, poise and the arm to get it done but will need protection. Junior running backs B.J. Boyd (83 for 728 yards) and Hill also have proven they can do the job. And the receiving corps of Williams, Adams and T.J. Braff is as good as it comes.
But, said Adams: "It's not enough to get five-yard plays. We have to make BIG plays. And we have ways to get people the ball."
Palo Alto scored early against both Bellarmine and Valley Christian, perhaps shocking both teams that were considered to be favored. The Vikings need to do the same against the Huskies, and perhaps quiet their fans.
Centennial, after all, was hoping to play De La Salle in the Open Division state finale after facing the Spartans in that game the previous two seasons. Some fans have blogged that their team needs to score 80 points on Palo Alto to prove to the CIF commission that decided the matchups that a mistake had been made.
"They can say whatever they want to say," said Williams. "We'll see at the end of the game."
Yes, the Vikings are confident.
"Everyone knows a state championship is on the line," Adams said. "Being 14-0, that's the mindset going in — making history."