Last year, in his first year as Palo Alto head coach, former Los Gatos star quarterback Danny Sullivan saw his Vikings lose twice to his alma mater, 35-6 and 31-6.
On Friday he gets another shot in a 7 p.m. game at Los Gatos.
Paly was a big underdog last year against a typically powerful Los Gatos team. The same might be expected this time around, but a closer look shows the gap between the two teams has narrowed.
Palo Alto is 1-4 after getting its first win of the season last week, 28-14 over Homestead in a Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division opener. Los Gatos is also 1-4 and coming off a loss in its league opener to Wilcox by a surprising 40-14 margin.
Wilcox, which is noted for its veer-option ground attack, rushed for more than 450 yards against the Wildcats. And in their previous game Menlo-Atherton running back De’Marshaun Payton rushed for 166 yards in a 56-41 M-A victory.
That’s 96 points allowed in its last two games. Some holes have sprung in the Los Gatos defense, at least against two very good teams.
So what is going on at Los Gatos? It is highly unusual for such a perennially strong program to get pushed around the way it has the last couple of weeks.
“One thing I know, they’re not happy about it,’’ Sullivan said. “As a graduate I’m not used to it, too. It’s kind of weird. We’re all used to seeing Los Gatos play a tough schedule and still being successful. They’ve got a lot of experienced guys. But they’ve had teams in the past that struggled early and still won CCS. In (Los Gatos head coach) Mark Krail’s first year they started 0-2 and ended 10-3 as CCS champions.’’
Palo Alto tasted its first victory of the season last week on the strength of its ground game.
Playing with its starting quarterback, fullback and tailback all out with injuries, Palo Alto’s offensive line rose to the occasion and dominated the line of scrimmage, helping backup running back Aiden Chang to rush for 239 yards on 32 carries.
And with its offense controlling time of possession, the Palo Alto defense came up with by far its best performance of the season, allowing just 14 points after being blitzed for 175 points in four losses to open the season.
Being able to move the ball on the ground again will be a key Friday for Paly.
“If we’re not going to run successfully it’s going to be a long night,’’ Sullivan said.
Kyle Mostofizadeh will make his second start at quarterback. He has completed 56.5 percent of his passes with three TDs and no interceptions since taking over for an injured Jackson Chryst. Sione Latu is ready to return at fullback. Expect another heavy dose of Chang carrying the ball. Sullivan said he still doesn’t expect two-time 1,000-yard rusher Paul Jackson III back anytime soon from a hamstring injury.
Sacred Heart Prep at Menlo-Atherton, 7:30 p.m.
Here’s a neighborhood rivalry game pitting two teams coming from different directions.
M-A (3-2, 1-0), on a three-game winning streak, is coming off a bye after winning its Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division opener, 14-10 over Burlingame. Sacred Heart Prep (1-4, 0-1) is coming off a 40-7 loss to Aragon in its PAL Bay opener.
“Sacred Heart is pretty banged up, they’re going through a bit of an adjustment period,’’ Menlo-Atherton coach Adhir Ravipati said. “But this is always a competitive game, a rivalry game, a rivalry based on respect. A lot of the kids know each other. There’s a little extra juice at practice. Throw out the records.’’
M-A has had a week to get healthy and welcomes an addition at running back in Deston Hawkins, a 205-pound junior transfer from Serra who becomes eligible this week. Hawkins is expected to rotate with Payton at running back.
“It will make for a nice 1-2 punch,’’ Ravipati said. “De’Marshaun is a scatback. Deston has speed, but he’s a big, thick running back.They should complement each other well.’’
Sacred Heart Prep won four consecutive CCS championships from 2012-2015 and made two state finals appearances. Last year the Gators struggled to a 3-9 record. This season, with Mark Grieb replacing Pete Lavorato as head coach, they have lost their last three in a row. Against Aragon they trailed 40-0 at halftime and a running clock was in effect the entire second half.
“Me and the rest of the PAL coaches didn’t understand why Aragon didn’t get more talk in the preseason,’’ Ravipati said. “They lost like two starters from last year’s team.
“That game kind of snowballed on Sacred Heart. Grieb was a great hire. He’s going to do a real good job.’’
The PAL Bay is loaded this season. The four teams in addition to M-A and SHP -- Half Moon Bay, Aragon, Terra Nova and Burlingame -- are a combined 18-2, which makes for some interesting matchups this Friday night with Terra Nova (4-1) at Aragon (5-0) and Burlingame (4-1) at Half Moon Bay (5-0).
Gunn at Lynbrook, 7 p.m.
The positive vibes from wins over James Lick and Harbor in Brandon Boyd's first two games as head coach wore off to some degree after losses to Andrew Hill and Santa Clara. So the bye week came at an opportune time for the Titans.
"It couldn't have come at a better time,'' Boyd said. "We had lost a lot of bodies.''
Gunn has a good chance to get back on the winning side of the ledger against a Lynbrook team that is 0-6.
"We had a scrimmage with them, so we know a little bit about them,'' Boyd said. "We feel like we can squeeze this one out.''
A win would break a 15-game SCVAL El Camino Division losing streak for Gunn that dates to a 28-19 win over Lynbrook in 2014.
In Gunn's last game, a loss to Santa Clara, Boyd made a switch at quarterback with Solomone Paletua taking over for Hudson Alexander.
"Hudson got kind of shaken up and Solomone looked pretty good,'' Boyd said.
He hasn't decided on a starter for the Lynbrook game.
"I'm letting them duke it out,'' Boyd said Monday. "Whoever has the better week. I want that competition. Guys know they have to come and grind it out every day.''
Menlo School at South San Francisco, 7:30 p.m.
Menlo's defense continued to shine last week in its PAL Ocean opener, a 28-0 win over The King's Academy. The Knights have allowed only 58 points this season in five games.
They'll be looking to put forward another staunch performance Friday at South San Francisco, against a team that went 0-4 in nonleague play but then won its league opener 30-24 over Sequoia.
"They have a few players back they didn't have at the start of the year,'' Menlo coach Mark Newton said. "We're expecting a tough game. They played Burlingame (a 22-16 loss in the final nonleague game) and Sequoia tough, close games. We're expecting a typical South City team, well-coached and physical.''
Menlo has held South City scoreless in two of the last three meetings, 45-0 last year and 21-0 in 2014. In between was a 14-13 win in 2015.
"South City is a run-dominated team, similar to King's Academy, said Menlo running back and cornerback Aidan Israelski. "Defensively we've had a lot of success against them. I hope we can continue that success."
Israelski rushed for 183 yards and two touchdowns against TKA and also caught three passes for 34 yards and another TD.
"Coach (Jason) Ward is in his second year and he's done a great job with out new zone run game,'' Israelski said. "The credit goes to the offensive line. They played great. I can't give them them enough credit."
Woodside at The King's Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Both teams are looking for their first wins of the season. Both are coming off shutout defeats in their PAL Ocean openers, Woodside losing to Hillsdale 49-0 and TKA losing to Menlo, 28-0.
"They are a very deceiving 0-5,'' Woodside coach Justin Andrews said of TKA. "They have some players that jump out on film. You never know with a Pete Lavorato-coached team. Again we're going to have our work cut out for us.''
Woodside has been plagued by low numbers all season. By the end of the Christopher game Sept. 15 the team was down to four available offensive linemen. Andrews was hopeful of getting his running game going against Hillsdale with the return of some linemen from injury. But Hillsdale's defense limited Woodside to 16 yards on the ground.
"Teams can really hunker down on the run against us,'' Andrews said. "We definitely lack playmakers on the perimeter.''
Quarterback Joseph King, Woodside's top offensive player this season, had to leave the Hillsdale game due to injury. He is expected to play against TKA.
"He's going to be a little bit hobbled, but should be ready to go,'' Andrews said.