Palo Alto’s big Friday night matchup with McClymonds did not start off according to script.
McClymonds returned the opening kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown. Then Jackson Chryst’s first pass of the game was picked off. Jarmar Julian broke a 39-yard touchdown run and Palo Alto trailed the two-time defending state champions 12-0 with 6:22 left in the first quarter.
No cause for worry, as it turned out. The Vikings unleashed a big-play passing attack and roared back for a 29-20 victory to improve to 3-0 on the season.
“I’m amazed by their resilience,’’ Palo Alto coach Nelson Gifford said. “When we got down they showed the ability to put things in perspective and that’s huge, showing the ability to look beyond the immediate situation. I don’t know where they got that from.’’
Trailing by two touchdowns, the defense settled down and kept McClymonds off the scoreboard the rest of the half. Chris Martinez recorded a sack and Dwayne Trahan came up with a fumble recovery to stop a McClymonds drive inside the Palo Alto 10 in the final minute of the second quarter. Colin Giffen made a fourth-down tackle at the Paly 5 earlier in the quarter that thwarted another Mack scoring threat. Giffen also came up with an interception in the third quarter.
Paly drew to within 12-7 at the break after Jamir Shepard caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Chryst on a fourth-and-26 play. Aiden Chang scored on a 1-yard run to cap Paly’s first possession of the second half. Chryst connected with Paul Thie on passes of 37 and 29 yards to set up the score which gave the Vikings their first lead. They added a two-point conversion when Thie, the holder, threw a pass to Will Moragne in the end zone to make the score 15-12.
Chryst went on to have a monster game completing 16 of 27 passes for 349 yards.
“We needed a game like this where we were challenged and had to find a way to get it done when things were not going well,’’ Chryst said.
After McClymonds regained the lead at 20-15, Palo Alto responded with a 66-yard drive in four plays. Chang’s 39-yard run set up an 18-yard touchdown pass from Chryst to Thie.
McClymonds (1-2) went on a 14-play drive to start the fourth quarter but ended up turning the ball over on downs. Palo Alto struck quickly again on a 68-pass from Chryst to Thie.
Thie finished with five catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns as well as throwing the pass on the two-point conversion. Shepard had five catches for 100 yards.
Julian, the 226-pound bruiser of a running back for McClymonds who began his high school career at Oak Grove, carried 29 times for 179 yards. But Paly’s defense came up with big plays when necessary, led by inside linebacker Wes Walters.
“At the start we were just nervous,’’ Walters said. “This was a big game. We were excited. Once we calmed down we kind of locked in. McClymonds was the toughest team we’ve played so far. 3-0 feels great.’’
Quite a change from last year when the team won three games all season.
“This year there is a real positive environment,’’ Chryst said. “Not that there wasn’t one last year, but the positivity with this staff really makes you believe in yourself.’’
Shepard has now scored six touchdowns in three games with five coming on passes from Chryst and one on a kickoff return. After the game he reflected on the team’s turnaround this season.
“Last year we just didn’t have the same brotherly love for each other that we have now,’’ Shepard said.