Palo Alto has a history with Los Gatos when it comes to football and, for the Vikings, it's not a very good one. In the teams' past 10 meetings, the Wildcats have won eight times.
To make matters perhaps worse, Palo Alto has lost four times at home in those 10 games. In fact, the Vikings haven't won a home game against Los Gatos in this decade.
That brings us to the latest installment of what has become a lopsided rivalry. The teams will meet Friday night at Palo Alto (7:30 p.m.) with plenty at stake.
"Everybody knows this is a huge game," said Paly coach Earl Hansen. "Here, you don't have to pump up the kids for Los Gatos. They know it's a tough game."
Los Gatos leads the SCVAL De Anza Division at 3-0 (6-1 overall) while Palo Alto is second at 2-0-1 (5-1-1). A Paly victory means sole possession of first place while a loss could drop the Vikings into a tie for third with Homestead (2-1-1), which plays Fremont in a nonleague game.
Palo Alto holds a tiebreaker over the Mustangs, should they finish tied. Thus, with winless Mountain View and Wilcox (which visits Milpitas on Friday) left on the schedule, the Vikings are in good shape for a return trip to the Central Coast Section playoffs.
Hansen, however, would rather go in with a No. 1 seed from the division rather than a 3 or 4.
It all comes down to Friday's showdown, which also serves as Paly's homecoming game. The last time the teams met under these circumstances, Los Gatos danced away with a victory in 2004.
The teams have split their past four games, with the Wildcats winning the last meeting, 29-23, in the CCS Small School Division championship in 2008.
Palo Alto, however, comes into the game off a huge confidence-boosting 31-28 victory over previously unbeaten Milpitas (2-1, 6-1) last Friday on Joc Pederson's 27-yard field goal with 1:35 left to play held up.
Milpitas, which had a chance to tie with four seconds left with its own 25-yard attempt. The Trojans, however, never got it off as a mishandled snap forced an ill-fated pass in the closing seconds from Paly's 8-yard line.
Palo Alto was led by junior quarterback T.J. Braff, who completed 13-of-22 passes for 211 yards and three touchdowns. Maurice Williams caught six passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns, in addition to forcing the Milpitas QB to hurry his pass attempt on the game's final play.
Junior linebacker Kevin Anderson was among the many defensive standouts for Paly. He picked off a pass and returned it 27 yards to give the Vikings a 28-20 lead. The Trojans used their no-huddle, spread attack and finally tied the game with 8:38 left, setting up the dramatic final moments.
Hansen believes that preparing for (and beating) Milpitas last week will go a long way against Los Gatos, which is more pass-oriented with QB Nick Hirschman and wideout Andrew Berg. Hirschman threw for 413 yards and five TDs last week while Berg caught seven passes for a school-record 247 yards. That, however, came against winless Saratoga.
"We need to get to Hirschman," Hansen said. "He hasn't been hit yet."
The Palo Alto-Los Gatos game isn't the only showdown with title ramifications this weekend.
On Saturday, Gunn (3-0, 5-2) puts first place in the SCVAL El Camino Division on the line at Los Altos (3-1, 4-3) at 1:30 p.m. A victory will move the Titans even closer to winning their first outright title since 1971, with only Santa Clara (1-2, 1-6) and Cupertino (0-4, 2-5) left on the schedule.
"This game is huge," said Gunn Coach Bob Sykes. "The winner is in position to win the El Camino Division and clinch a Central Coast Section playoff spot, while the loser may be out of the running."
Gunn took another big step toward that goal with a 42-2 throttling of host Fremont last Friday in Sunnyvale. The Titans scored five times in the third quarter to put the game away.
Two returns -- an 85-yard kickoff return by Maceo Parks off a reverse from Jon Zeglin, and a 59-yard punt return by Parks -- along with a 83-yard touchdown run by Josh Jackson, a 26-yard touchdown pass from Anthony Cannon to Jasper Dean and a safety off a blocked punt by Henry Ayala, allowed Gunn to go from 13-0 at half to a 42-2 advantage.
"That was our best quarter of the year," Sykes said. "This win was huge because it was control for first in the El Camino Division."
In other important games on Friday:
Sacred Heart Prep (2-1, 5-2) visits Menlo-Atherton (0-2, 1-6) at 6:30 p.m., with the Gators needing a victory to have a chance to tie for first in the PAL Bay Division. League-leading Terra Nova (3-0) hosts King's Academy (2-1) on Friday, with a Tigers' loss throwing the race into a three-way tie.
Sacred Heart Prep set the stage for that possible scenario by upending host King's Academy last week, 42-17. SHP senior running backs Matt Walter and Victor Ojeda had too much speed for King's Academy as the two combined for 403 yards and six scores.
Walter had his second-best outing of the season in his team's most important game (thus far) by scoring on runs of 30, 12, 30 and 18 yards. He finished with 22 carries and 220 yards. Ojeda added touchdown runs of 60 and five yards, finishing with 183 yards on just 12 hauls. The Gators compiled 505 yards rushing.
Menlo School (1-2, 4-3) meanwhile, heads to Burlingame (3-0, 6-1) for another important PAL Ocean Division game at 7 p.m. The Knights need to win at least two of their final three games to have a legitimate shot at a postseason berth.
Senior quarterback Danny Diekroeger kept Menlo in the running last week as he threw for a career-high 451 yards and five touchdowns in a 42-34 victory at San Mateo. Diekroeger completed 28 of 49 passes. Clay Robbins caught seven for 169 yards and Tim Benton hauled in eight for 134.
The two teams combined for 76 points, 965 yards of total offense and 22 penalties for 185 yards.
Ironically, it was Menlo's defense -- torched many times this season -- that finally came up with a game-saving play. San Mateo had a first-and-goal from the Menlo 8-yard line with 10.6 seconds remaining. Menlo's Mafileo Tupou sacked quarterback Mitch Labbie for a five-yard loss. San Mateo was unable to get another play and Menlo had its crucial victory.
SCVAL De Anza Division
Los Gatos 3-0 (6-1), Palo Alto 2-0-1 (5-1-1), Milpitas 2-1 (6-1), Wilcox 2-1 (5-2) Homestead 2-1-1 (2-4-1), Mountain View 0-4 (3-4), Saratoga 0-4 (2-5)
SCVAL El Camino Division
Gunn 3-0 (5-2), Fremont 3-1 (4-3), Los Altos 3-1 (4-3), Monta Vista 2-1 (3-4), Santa Clara 1-2 (1-6), Lynbrook 0-3 (0-7), Cupertino 0-4 (2-5)
PAL Bay Division
Terra Nova 3-0 (5-2), Sacred Heart Prep 2-1 (5-2), King's Academy 2-1 (5-2), Aragon 1-2 (4-3), Menlo-Atherton 0-2 (1-6), Woodside 0-2 (0-7)
PAL Ocean Division
Half Moon Bay 3-0 (6-1), Burlingame 3-0 (6-1), San Mateo 1-1 (4-3), Menlo 1-2 (4-3), South San Francisco 1-2 (4-3), Carlmont 0-3 (3-4).