Prep football: Tis the season of turnarounds for several teams

Paly's Louis Passarello and Paul Thie congratulate Jamir Shepard (right) on yet another touchdown reception. Photo by Karen Ambrose Hickey.

It's amazing how much a high school football team's fortunes can change from year to year.

Last year Aragon went 10-2, Palo Alto 3-8. Aragon blasted Paly 48-14 in a head-to-head matchup.

This year Palo Alto goes into Friday's 7:30 p.m. game at Aragon 3-0 with impressive wins over St. Ignatius, Half Moon Bay and McClymonds.

Aragon goes into the game 0-2, having allowed a combined 111 points in losses to Aptos and Wilcox.

Such is the nature of the prep game, especially at public schools dependent on the yearly talent pool within their specified attendance boundaries.

Palo Alto coach Nelson Gifford thinks the scores of Aragon's first two games paint a misleading picture.

"They just ran into two buzzsaws,'' Gifford said. "You can't look at those scores and make anything of it. The fact that they agreed to play both of those teams the first two weeks says a lot.''

The Dons return both their standout running backs from last season, 225-pound Camron Grant and 195-pound Paul Lautaimi.

"Those are two loads in the backfield,'' Gifford said. "They are big and physical. What happened in both games was they got down early and couldn't grind it out. The silver lining for us is that we faced Adi Anderson and Jarmar Julian against McClymonds. But they did damage to us on the ground.''

Gifford would like to see improvement in the Paly running game.

"We've been too inconsistent,'' he said. "We struggled against St. Ignatius, had a good game against Half Moon Bay and then struggled against McClymonds. But just the threat of us running helps our passing game. When Aiden (Chang) ripped that big run (a 39-yarder to set up a touchdown against McClymonds) that was a game changer for us. They had to account for him, couldn't bring another guy out of the box.''

This is Gifford's first season coaching Palo Alto. Steve Sell is nearing his 20th year as the Aragon head coach.

"Those two teams we played are exceptional,'' Sell said of his team's first two opponents. "I wouldn't be surprised if they are practicing on Thanksgiving Day. We obviously need to get better.''

Wide receiver/kick returner Jamir Shepard has flourished in Gifford's offensive system with six touchdowns through three games. So has quarterback Jackson Chryst, who has thrown for more than 800 yards with eight touchdowns and only two interceptions.

"Palo Alto is really good, dynamic to say the least,'' Sell said. "They are a handful and are running the right system for their personnel. They have a great wide receiver and cover corners that allow them to play an aggressive style of defense.''

Gifford is alert to the danger of a letdown after the emotional win over McClymonds.

"It's high school football, we're talking about kids,'' Gifford said. "Why did Los Gatos lose to a San Benito team having an off-year? They showed they were human because they are kids. Beating McClymonds, that's great for last week. This week we've got Aragon and Aragon will be super hungry. Coach Sell is going to be on those guys like crazy to lock us up. They had a lot of success against us last year.''

Sacred Heart Prep at Hillsdale, 7 p.m.

The Gators, like Palo Alto, have given indication that this will be a turnaround season. After going 3-7 a year ago they are off to a 3-0 start. And perhaps most importantly, the offense came alive last week in a 54-18 win over Saratoga. Defense had led the way in the team's first two games, a 21-6 win over Carlmont and a 15-13 victory over Burlingame.

"It's great to see us having more success on offense,'' SHP coach Mark Grieb said.

The ground game was clicking out of SHP's fly sweep offense. Tevita Moimoi broke a 50-yard run on the first play of the game and went on to rush for 222 yards on only 10 carries. John Willard gained 90 yards on seven carries and Tatafu Mahoni 57 yards on seven carries.

"There's a lot of cool things about the fly offense,'' Grieb said. "The defense has to adjust to the motion. You're stretching the defense and forcing them to cover the whole field.''

Last year Hillsdale beat SHP 34-10. This season the Knights have struggled mightily, having been outscored by a combined total of 111-13 over the first three games in losses to Miramonte, Independence and Capuchino.

"It happens,'' Grieb said. "You have your ups and downs. I don't know if we can erase what happened last year, but we certainly want to play well. From what I see on film Hillsdale has got some big guys, got some talent. I'll never take a Mike Parodi-coached team lightly.''

Leigh at Woodside, 7:30 p.m.

Talk about turnarounds. Woodside went 0-10 last year and is off to a 3-0 start this season after getting a win by forfeit last week against Gunn.

Woodside was forced to forfeit its final game in that 0-10 season last year.

"I see it happening a lot,'' Woodside coach Justin Andrews said of the ups and downs of prep football. "It's motivating because even if you have one of those bad years your destiny can still change overnight."

He had mixed feeling about getting a win by forfeit.

"We were hurt last week by not playing a game, missing out on game experience,'' Andrews said. "But I'm happy to keep guys healthy.''

The closest Woodside came to a win last year was against Leigh, a 35-29 defeat.

"We led the whole game until the last few minutes,'' Andrews said. "That was the first game we had to play with five offensive linemen.''

The Longhorns are 1-1 this season with a win over Mt. Pleasant and a loss to Los Gatos.

Woodside's last time on the field resulted in a stirring 35-32 win over rival Sequoia as quarterback Brody Crowley, making just his second varsity start, threw for 362 yards and three TDs.

"I can't say it was a surprise,'' Andrews said. "He's been consistent all through summer and fall camp. He's been really good with his decision making and delivery.''

One negative from the Sequoia contest occurred on the last play of the game when slot receiver Luis Robles suffered a broken arm that will sideline him the remainder of the season.

Menlo School at Overfelt, 7 p.m.

Menlo got its first on-the-field victory last time out, 35-26 over Santa Clara. The Knights (2-1) got a forfeit win in their season opener from Mission. This week they travel to play an Overfelt team that beat Santa Clara 30-0.

"Overfelt controlled that game which is something we need to do,'' Menlo coach Josh Bowie said. "It seemed like we did everything we could to keep Santa Clara in the game. Overfelt runs the double wing, so we've got to be a physical presence on defense or get steamrolled.''

Menlo beat Santa Clara with backup Justin Sellers playing quarterback. Starter Kevin Alarcon is expected back for Overfelt. Sellers only needed to pass sparingly, completing four or five for 70 yards.

Samson Axe came through in a big way in the run game. The junior, playing his first year of football, carried 18 times for 203 yards. He scored one touchdown rushing and another on a pass reception.

"It was his coming out party as an offensive threat,'' Bowie said. "He's starting to figure it out.''

Jaden Richardson was a standout on defense as a safety and on special teams. He had a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and recovered two fumbles, returning one for another touchdown. He also had a 50-yard punt return.

"Jaden was very opportunistic on defense and had six tackles,'' Bowie said. "He goes around fired up, always in a great mood.''

Inside linebacker Conor McCusker was in on 11 tackles.

"He has really been bringing energy,'' Bowie said. "Sometimes I have to pull the leash back. He was hurt most of the year last year but ever since has been crushing the weight room.''

Marina at Gunn, 7 p.m.

Gunn (1-2) has now had two of its first three games decided by forfeit after being informed that Soquel has forfeited its season-opening 40-26 win due to the use of an ineligible player.

The Titans didn't have enough healthy players to take on Woodside last week. There will be no frosh-soph game with Marina, which doesn't have a lower-level team, so Gunn coach Jason Miller is bringing up sophomores to increase the number of available players on his varsity to around 25.

The Titans have showed the ability to move the ball on the ground with Miller's double wing offense in the first two games against Soquel and James Lick, but needs to bolster a defense that has allowed 92 points in those two games.

LeeMaster Howard, who rushed for 162 yards in the opener against Soquel before suffering a concussion, has still not been cleared to play.

Marina, a school that has only been in existence since 2006, won its first varsity football game in 2013. But this season the Mariners are off to a 2-1 start with wins over Fremont (30-0) and Lynbrook (36-0), both fellow members with Gunn of the SCVAL El Camino Division, before losing to Harker, 26-2.

"They have a hulking line,'' Miller said. "No. 52 (Ryan Esquivias) is a Division I player. No. 2 (Ernie Guevara) is a home run threat who gives me nightmares.''

After being forced to forfeit last week's game, the Titans are raring to get back on the field.

"Everyone is looking forward to playing our home opener,'' Miller said. "Our kids come to practice and work hard every day and are hungry to win.''

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