By Ken Wattana
Special to Palo Alto Online Sports
Offense, defense, and special teams. The Palo Alto High football team had it all in a dominating 35-0 victory over Bellarmine Prep in the semifinals of the Central Coast Section Open Division playoffs at San Jose City College on Friday night.
Paly (12-0) continued its impressive playoff run, taking down its second West Catholic Athletic League powerhouse in two weeks after stunning Mitty with a last-second touchdown last week in the quarterfinals.
On Friday, the top-seeded Vikings didn't wait until the last minute. Using two first- quarter special teams' mistakes by the fifth-seeded Bells (9-3), the Vikings took an early lead and never looked back, tying a school record for most single-se along with a berth in the Open Division finals next Friday at SJCC at 7 p.m.
Palo Alto will play No. 3 Valley Christian (11-1), which eliminated No. 2 Palma (10-1-1) on Saturday night, 40-14.
Paly started off slow, with senior quarterback Christoph Bono throwing three incompletions on the Vikings' first possession. However, the Paly defense forced Bellarmine into a punt, as well. Bellarmine's senior quarterback and punter Travis McHugh took the snap, only to have his punt blocked by Paly's 6-foot-4 senior defensive lineman Kevin Anderson.
The Vikings recovered the ball at Bellarmine's 30 and, on the first play from scrimmage, junior running back B.J. Boyd danced around the right tackle and burst into the open field for a 30-yard touchdown to open scoring for the Vikings with 7:10 left in the first quarter.
McHugh was knocked out of the game on the punt, forcing the Bells to turn to untested backup, Grant Vermeer. Coincidently, Paly played with its backup quarterback in last year's 34-6 first-round loss to the Bells.
Friday's resounding victory more than made up for that seback in 2009.
"The offense got into a rhythm after the first possession," Bono said. "After we threw the ball in the first series, the defense went into Cover 2 and we were able to run the ball."
Led by senior linebacker Michael Cullen and Anderson, who both had a sack, along with senior safety T.J. Braff, Paly's defense limited Bellarmine's top offensive threat and leading rusher, Kris Olugbode to 80 yards on 16 carries. The Bells were held to just 74 total rushing yards after averaging 217 prior to Friday's game.
Unable to run effectively, the Bells were forced to throw and were equally ineffective as Vermeer completed just five of 11 passes for 21 yards.
"We watched a lot of film," Braff said. "We looked at their tendencies and swarmed the ball."
Capitalizing on Bellarmine's inability to move the ball, Bono hooked up with senior wideout Davante Adams for a 43-yard score on the Vikings' next series. In a play almost identical to the one that gave the Vikings a last- second win over Mitty, Bono dropped back and lobbed a deep ball to Adams along the left sideline. Adams, who had 66 yards on three receptions, out-jumped the defensive back, broke a tackle and spun into the end zone to put the Vikings up 14-0 with 2:19 left in the first quarter.
Bono was 10 of 16 for 186 yards and two interceptions and two touchdowns.
Bono then caught Bellarmine by surprise on the ensuing kickoff, which bounced off the back of one of the blockers. Paly recovered the ball and Bono found Braff for a leaping six-yard score just three plays after the pair had a touchdown called due to a penalty.
After the Bells gifted Paly with a five-yard punt, Bono threw a beautiful deep ball to senior wideout Maurice Williams for a 45-yard gain on the first play. Williams used his athleticism to burn down the right sideline and elevate over the defensive back and grab the ball from his hands. Bono then kept the ball on a one-yard sneak for a touchdown with 3:33 left in the half.
After a scoreless third quarter, Bellarmine threatened with a 51-yard kickoff return that Bono, the kicker, prevented a touchdown with a shoestring tackle.
The Bells drove all the way to the Palo Alto 2-yard-line, but that was as close as they would get to scoring all night. An offside penalty on the Bells, coupled with an 11-yard sack for loss by Cullen, pushed the Bells back to the 15-yard line. An attempted field goal, however, failed when the snap was fumbled and the kick sailed low.
The Vikings looked like they were going to tack on more points in the third quarter, but Bellarmine senior cornerback Chris Carrillo broke on Bono's pass in the end zone for an interception.
Bono rebounded in the fourth quarter and showed he can use his legs to score as well as his arm. Seeing no one open from the Bells' 17-yard line, Bono took off for the right sideline and dashed into the end zone untouched to cap Paly's scoring for the night with 8:20 left in the game.
Paly's power running game was productive with Boyd rushing for 104 yards on 10 carries, while junior fullback Dre Hill pounded out 53 yards on 15 tough carries.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game," Anderson said. "We wanted a little vengeance for last year. We played unselfish defense and came out on top"