It was only a year ago that the Palo Alto Knights' youth football program sent its Jr. Pee Wee team to the AYF National Championships in Orlando, Fla. The squad finished fifth.
Most of those players moved up to the Pee Wee level (11-12 years old) this season, but the results have been pretty much the same. In fact, the team is one victory away from a return trip to the AYF Under Armour National Championships, set for Dec. 2-9, in Orlando.
All Palo Alto needs is a victory over the Grant Chargers from Sacramento on Sunday in the AYF Mountain Northwest Regional Championship at Oak Grove High in San Jose. The Knights come in 8-2 while the Chargers are 5-5. Kickoff is noon.
"This team is on a roll," said Knights' coach Mike Piha. "Our chances are very good to return to the National Championship."
The Knights' 8/9th grade Unlimited Weight team (9-0) also will be playing in a regional championship game -- this Saturday against Vallejo in Sacramento at 5 p.m. -- with the winner also advancing to Orlando, Fla.
Piha is hoping to return to the national championships for a seventh time as a head coach, while still looking for his first title. The Knights, as a program will be looking to have a representative for the ninth time in the past 12 years.
Piha, for sure, will be in Florida in January. He has been selected as the coach of the AYF Under Armour All-Star West team (8th and 9th graders) that will play in the Tropicana Bowl on Jan. 5 in St. Petersburg, Fla. Piha's team will play in the preliminary game to the High School Under Armour all-star game that will be televised live by ESPN.
Piha's Palo Alto Pee Wee team, meanwhile, defeated Oak Grove, 14-0, this past Sunday at Oak Grove High. The Knights used a stingy defense that only gave up four first downs to an undefeated 0ak Grove team (9-0) that had averaged more than 28 points a game during the season. Oak Grove had handed the Knights one of their two losses in the season, 12-8 to open the campaign.
With a defense led by Ethan Stern, Jamie Cullen, Jordan Schilling and Zeke Cox, the Knights shut down Oak Grove's powerful running game,
"We knew they could not throw the ball, so we put nine in the box and blitzed our 'backers all night," Piha said. "Oak Grove was confused and lost most of the game on offense. Our plan worked to perfection as our players executed the entire game."
The Knights' offense also put on a display with a solid power running game led by Stern, who had 102 yards rushing, and Logan Johnson, who took a Jack Rittman screen pass for 58 yards to the end zone to put the game out of reach late in the third quarter.