Six times Mike Piha has been a bridesmaid and never a bride. Now, heading to the national championships for a seventh time, he says it's finally time to wear the ring.
"It is time to get it done," said Piha, who coaches the Palo Alto Knights' Pee Wee football team. "I'm not getting any younger . . . I have a good feeling about this team!"
The Knights will have two opportunities to bring home the program's first Youth Football National Championship as Palo Alto's Unlimited 9/8th Grade and Pee Wee squad both won regional titles this past weekend.
The Unlimited team (10-0) won in the last second, 18-12, over Vallejo in a game played in Sacramento on Saturday. The Pee Wee's (9-2), meanwhile, romped to a 32-0 victory over Grant (Sacramento) at Oak Grove High in San Jose on Sunday. Both teams advanced to the American Youth Football National Championships next month in Orlando, Fla.
The Knights' Pee Wee team will be returning most of the same players from Piha's Jr. Pee Wee team that played for the national championship in 2009 and 2010 -- finishing fifth in both of those years.
The Pee Wee's have not allowed a touchdown in the past four games, including the NorCal Championship and the AYF Regional Championship on Sunday, while scoring 102 points in those four contests.
The Palo Alto Pee Wee's dominated the regional championship game from the opening kickoff with touchdown runs from Ethan Stern and Jamie Cullen. The defense, meanwhile, shut down a fast Grant team by only allowing three first downs. Jordan Schilling sparked the defensive effort by intercepting a pass and returning it 64 yards for a Knights' touchdown.
The Knights' first season to field an unlimited-weight team has produced a real winner. Against Vallejo, the Knights had a solid running game led by Maua Teo, who had 86 yards.
With 2:00 remaining in the fourh quarter and the game tied at 12, Alfred Pohahau forced a Vallejo fumble that was recovered by Christian Rodriguez -- giving the Knights the ball on the 50. With 10 seconds left in the game, Knights' quarterback Robbie Beardsley hit fullback Charlie Roth on a play-action pass for the winning TD.
Willie Teo-Clifton and Malcolm Gates had outstanding games defensively and Skylar Lautalo had a solid offensive performance.
Palo Alto head coach Law Johnson hopes to join with Piha to bring the Knights two national titles in the coming weeks.
The Knights are in need of support to assist in financing the trip to Florida, a week-long stay that will cost $50,000 for both teams. Donation can be sent to:
Palo Alto Knights National Championship
PO Box 344
Palo Alto, CA 94301
Or e-mail/call: Mike Piha at firstname.lastname@example.org / 269-6100.