Mike Piha has made seven trips with a Palo Alto Knights' football team to the national championships in Orlando, Fla. Piha had hoped his latest excursion would provide the program's first national title. Unfortunately for Piha and his players on the Palo Alto Pee Wee team, it won't.
Despite hold a 16-6 lead to open the fourth quarter, the Knights dropped a 30-16 decision to the Phoenix Thunder on Tuesday at the American Youth Football (AYF) National Championships.
The Knights, seeded fifth, will play the No. 2-seeded Mesa Soldiers for third place on Thursday morning.
Palo Alto held the Thunder's top running back to just 30 yards rushing through three quarters before Phoenix blew the game open in the final period. Phoenix got a 60-yard kickoff return for a TD plus a 60-yard pass play and and a 40-yard interception return while scoring 24 unanswered points.
The Knights lost their top running back, Ethan Stern, to an injury in the second quarter and failed to stop the Thunder after three turnovers.
Palo Alto's Unlimited (ninth grade) team, meanwhile, will play in the semifinals on Wednesday afternoon after producing a 12-6 victory over Boston on Monday.
The Knights advanced behind standout offensive performances from running backs Maua Teo and Christian Rodriguez plus quarterback Robbie Beardsley. Teo had 76 rushing yards and one touchdown while Rodriguez added 88 yards rushing. Beardsley had 167 yards passing.
With the game tied, 6-6, in the fourth quarter, Beardsley hit wide receiver Malcolm Gate on back-to-back first-down tosses and eventually got the winning score with a 50-yard pass to Skylar Taulapapa.
The Knights' defense got big efforts from middle linebacker Alex Alipate and safety Willie Teo-Clifton in addition to a strong pass rush from linemen James Cohee and Alan Pohahau.