Palo Alto shocks nationally ranked Centennial to capture CIF Division I state title


By Mitch Stephens

Special to Palo Alto Online Sports

CARSON -- Palo Alto High School's football team took a "we have nothing to lose" approach into Friday's CIF Division I Bowl game.

And to the surprise of almost all, the Vikings didn't, stunning the nation's No. 4 team Centennial-Corona, 15-13, before about 4,000 rain-drenched fans at the Home Depot Center.

"The only ones who believed this was possible was us and the coaching staff," Palo Alto senior strong safety and tight end T.J. Braff. "For many of us, this is our last high school football game. None of us could have scripted it any better."

The Vikings (14-0) executed defensive coordinator Jake Halas' defensive scheme to perfection, got spectacular touchdown catches by Davante Adams and Maurice Williams and took advantage of Centennial's first sloppy and sub-par game to record their first undefeated season since 1963 (9-0). Paly also went 10-0 in 1950.

The shocking finish elevated Palo Alto to No. 13 in the Freeman Rankings on MaxPreps. The Vikings were listed No. 19 in the final Xcellent 25 national rankings, also on MaxPreps, as well as No. 4 in the state behind state champs De La Salle and Folsom and Open Division runnerup Servite.

Palo Alto senior quarterback Christoph Bono (13-of-23, 215 yards) completed first-half touchdown passes of 11 and 80 yards to Adams and Williams, respectively, en route to a 15-0 lead and held off a second-half rally led by 6-foot-5, 225-pound quarterback Michael Eubank, who accounted for almost 3,900 yards and 40 touchdowns coming into the game.

"We've been the underdog all season," Palo Alto receiver Maurice Williams, who had the key touchdown of the game, an 80-yard reception with 1:21 left in the first half, and partially blocked kicker Ezequiel Rivera's 42-yard field goal with 30.4 seconds to play to seal it. "And we were never a bigger underdog than tonight. This wasn't just a great way to end the season. It was the perfect way to end it."

The Vikings' defense bent all night against what many considered the nation's top offense – Centennial finished with 460 yards, down from its average of 535 – but toughened up in the red zone, twice holding on downs inside the 10 on clutch tackles by linebacker Michael Cullen on Eubank.

Braff and linebacker Michael Cullen, who led the team with 10 tackles each along with Stanford-bound defensive end Kevin Anderson, also combined to bring down Eubank on a 2-point conversion try with 4:14 left after the quarterback scored on a 33-yard run to close to 15-13.

"I was suppose to take the pitch, but I saw he was going to take it so I went after him," said Braff, who also forced a fumble and recovered two fumbles. "(Cullen) was awesome all night. Our entire defense was. We all just came in playing loose like we had nothing to lose."

Said Palo Alto head coach Earl Hansen said about his defense:

"Discipline, discipline, discipline. Those guys just played their butts off and came through when it counted most."

Halas, a Southern California native and a distant nephew of legendary NFL coach George Halas, said he slept little trying to prepare against a team that averaged 53 points and 536 yards per game coming in.

Centennial managed three 100-yard rushers, including Eubank (164 yards on 16 carries), but the Huskies (14-1) mustarded only two second-half touchdowns.

"We had two weeks to prepare for these guys and watched more film than you can imagine," Halas said. "We have smart kids who can make adjustments, but make no mistake, we have kids who are tough as nails."

They had to be to knock off three consecutive favored private-school West Catholic Athletic League opponents in the Central Coast Section playoffs heading into Friday's game.

And they had to in order to keep Centennial's no huddle, spread, and Oregon lookalike offense out of the end zone seven of nine possessions.

"That was a great team we just beat," Williams said. "If we would have played them five quarters instead of four, they might have got us. But like we've done all season, we proved people wrong."

Centennial, which felt slighted that it wasn't picked into the state's ultimate game, the Open Division contest, was presumably going to make a statement and take it out on Palo Alto. Instead, the Huskies struggled, right down to the game's first and ultimately deciding points.

A shotgun punt snap – Centennial attacks via the shotgun every play – sailed over the head of long quarterback Eubank, who landed on it in the end zone, giving Palo Alto a 2-0 lead with 8:41 left in the first quarter.

"That set the tone," Centennial coach Matt Logan said. "It just wasn't our night. Every time we got something going, we'd have some sort of breakdown. I give (Palo Alto) all the credit. They were more ready to play than we were."

Centennial had 11 penalties for 112 yards including holding calls that wiped out a touchdown run and a 40-yard pass play. The Huskies also had three unsportsmanlike penalties.

"We didn't tackle well," Logan said. "We turned the ball over. We had horrible penalties at the worst time. Those are simply our mistakes that we had control on. Unfortunately it came the wrong week to do it."

After the safety, the Vikings made it 9-0 on a beautiful 15-yard TD pass to Adams in the back of the end zone midway through the second quarter. Bono rolled right and fired a strike to a leaping Adams, who came down hard and injured his ankle but later returned.

"Christoph made a perfect throw," Adams said. "It was a painful injury, but it was definitely worth it. There was no way I was dropping that thing."

The two connected on a 22-yard completion the play before when Bono escaped a strong rush, rolled left and found Adams, who made another leaping catch.

"We have great receivers and we have guys who believe in one another," Bono said.

Those two catches paled to Palo Alto's next score an 80-yard bomb to the team's other dynamic wideout Williams.

Bono threw the ball as far as could, Williams came back to the pass and wrestled it away from a defender, then sprinted from the right sideline to the left pylon, making it 15-0 (the Vikings missed a 2-point conversion) with 1:21 left in the half.

The score came two plays after Palo Alto held on downs at the Vikings 5, making it a virtual 13-point swing.

"I just out-worked the dude for the ball," Williams said. "I wasn't going to be denied. We weren't going to be denied. Nobody believed it but us. It's a great feeling."

Especially great for Palo Alto backers, considering the Vikings' girls volleyball team won the state Division I championship with a five-game win over Long Beach Poly. Bono's sister Sophia was on the volleyball team.

"It's a great time to be a Viking," Bono said.

Mitch Stephens is a national columnist for

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Like this comment
Posted by John connolly
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2010 at 11:47 pm

It was the most exciting game I have seen in a long time. You must very proud of your boy Pam Adams


Like this comment
Posted by Gary Wesley
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 17, 2010 at 11:51 pm

Paly played a smart and gritty game. The coaches and especially the players are a credit to their school, the community, the CCS and Nor Cal.

1 person likes this
Posted by Kathy
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 18, 2010 at 10:43 am

When does the team return? Will there be a welcome when they arrive? HOw can we find out about it?

1 person likes this
Posted by On the bus
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 18, 2010 at 11:37 am

We will be arriving sometime between 3-5pm Saturday according to our bus driver. No guarantee with this weather though.

3 people like this
Posted by NorCalSportsFan
a resident of another community
on Dec 18, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Congratulations Viking players, coaches and parents! What a fantastic end to a magical season. All of northern CA and the area is very happy for you guys. You exemplify all that defines "Team." You all gave it your best and no matter the outcome you would all be winners. Best wishes on all your endeavors and keep your belief the rest of your lives. Thanks for putting the CCS back on the football mapw ith such a great outing.

1 person likes this
Posted by Jeremy
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2010 at 2:58 pm

What a great game and a great victory. Congratulations to Palo Alto Football for great season and showing that Palo Alto students can do more than just hit the books.

The Mercury News suggested a Ticker Tape Parade for both the Football and Volleyball Teams. Sounds like a great idea to me!

1 person likes this
Posted by John Furrier
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 18, 2010 at 6:18 pm

I predicted this win.. in my last comment - the Paly Defense is "dynamite"!

1 person likes this
Posted by mmmmMom
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 18, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Yay Vikings!!!!!!!!!!!!
What a terrific game for the entire team.
This calls for a celebration! Where's the parade?

1 person likes this
Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 18, 2010 at 11:47 pm

One parade they must be in as the main attraction along with the award-championship Paly girls is the May Fete next spring. And lets add Andrew Luck, Coach Harbaugh, and all the other team All-Americans. Put in the Stanford Band too- and have the entire town turn out. Coach Tara will have over 800 wins by then.

1 person likes this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 19, 2010 at 9:35 am

Congratulations to a GREAT team of players and coaches! You've made Palo Alto proud -- not just because you won, but because of your winning attitude and an amazing dedication to each other. Way to go!!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Maya's Dad
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 19, 2010 at 9:38 am

I thought it was crazy to drive 800 miles through the rain to see a high school football game, but I am glad we did it! It was just amazing, I am so happy for the kids at Paly, they will remember this with a glow for the rest of their lives. Congratulations!

Like this comment
Posted by Viking Fan
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 19, 2010 at 1:17 pm

I hope everyone realizes how hard this team worked to win this takes
a tremendous amount of dedication by the players, coaches and entire school to make this
happen. You have made everyone proud...........a parade......YES! Way to go PALY Football Team!
Also, a big thanks to the band for providing the Paly Spirit!

Like this comment
Posted by Viking Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 19, 2010 at 3:10 pm

What an amazing game and season. Way to go!! Also a huge thanks is in order to members of the band, cheer and dance squad who made the trip and showed So. Cal. the school spirit from the North!!

Like this comment
Posted by Gary
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 19, 2010 at 4:47 pm

The Palo Alto City Council needs to put on a parade for this Paly football team, as well as the girl's vollyeball team. Bunch of ticker tape stuff, too! Fire engines with sirens! Police motorcycles! Paly band! Cheer squad! Let's have a good old-fashioned party! It's about time!

Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 19, 2010 at 9:07 pm

A great achievement.
Excellent coaching. Great players. Outstanding leadership.
I understand the temptation to characterize the team as overachievers . . .
But with the exception of one linebacker from Milpitas, and an RB from VC, I didn't see a player better than what Paly put on the field.

Like this comment
Posted by Proud Palo Altan
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 19, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Fantastic! A celebration on the PALY campus should be the first way to celebrate. Get the entire school involved with some lunchtime rally stuff and plenty of confetti. The school community can certainly come together over these great accomplishments--or a celebration dance -- don't wait for the town-- do it right away!

Like this comment
Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 20, 2010 at 12:15 am

Great job guys.
Here is a good song to remember your victory..
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Paly football Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 20, 2010 at 12:20 am

This victory game and the shared weekend in Carson embodies what we love about living in Palo Alto! We are a culture of spirited and hardworking students, actively supportive parents, dedicated and talented coaches, educators and administrators at Paly, and an incredibly supportive community, all of whom came together throughout this season and the weekend to contribute their talent, time and committment. Way to go Paly!

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 20, 2010 at 11:59 am

An excellent game to watch! The players showed an disciplined game, and the coaching staff simply outcoached Centennial.

With two minutes to play in the first half the television commentator said "Paly will simply run out the clock." I'm at home screaming "Running out the clock is not the way to play winning football." The Paly coaching staff knew how to play winning football--they called a 80-yard passing play which scored the winning touchdown.

Like this comment
Posted by Marie
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 20, 2010 at 1:27 pm

How about #8? Bill Gray stopped at least 3 TDs. He tackled the QB dead in his tracks even though he guy is 6'5", 220 lbs. Gray is only 5'10", 165 lbs. His play at free safety was excellent yet goes unmentioned -as usual! DEFENSE wins championships.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 20, 2010 at 1:32 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Like this comment
Posted by local gurl
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 21, 2010 at 2:50 pm

And Travis Brewer was watching and cheering from heaven!!! Congrats Vikings, families and fans.

Like this comment
Posted by stop
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 21, 2010 at 5:25 pm

stop posting about your kid. you do it on every thread. It was a team effort; no one person won the game.


Posted by Marie, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Dec 20, 2010 at 1:27 pm

How about #8? Bill Gray stopped at least 3 TDs. He tackled the QB dead in his tracks even though he guy is 6'5", 220 lbs. Gray is only 5'10", 165 lbs. His play at free safety was excellent yet goes unmentioned -as usual! DEFENSE wins championships.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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