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Important league football games coming up for the locals

Palo Alto, M-A, Gunn are all on the road

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Menlo-Atherton's Eric Stuart celebrates. Photo by Noah Eisner/@eisneronsports)

The Palo Alto football team is coming off a bye week and made good use of the time off, allowing some players to get healthy and providing the coaching staff extra time to prepare for one of the most important games of the season.

Palo Alto (5-2, 2-1) plays at Los Gatos on Friday at 7 p.m.


Cole Gurtner
Paly beat Los Gatos twice last year, but the Wildcats are much better this time around. They are 7-1 overall, 3-1 in the SCVAL De Anza Division, and have scored three times as many points as their opponents, 324-107.

“They’ve been tremendous,’’ Palo Alto coach Nelson Gifford said. “Absolutely on a tear offensively and they play good defense.’’

Both teams have lost to Wilcox, so this shapes up as a battle for second place in the De Anza Division. Los Gatos got hammered by Wilcox 37-0 while Paly played the Chargers tough in a 26-15 loss. But the Wildcats have won their two games since losing to Wilcox by scores of 54-0 and 48-0. They’re averaging 40 points, 257 yards rushing and 144 yards passing per game on the season.

“We’ve got to stop the run first and foremost,’’ Gifford said. “That is primarily our biggest task.’’

Paly’s offense has come a long way since getting blanked in the season opener against St. Ignatius. (The final score was 23-7 with the Paly touchdown scored by the defense). The Vikings have scored 213 points in their five wins, an average of 42.6 per game. And it’s a young team at the skill positions with a sophomore quarterback in Danny Peters and a sophomore running back in Josh Butler.

“I’m really excited by how they’ve developed,’’ Gifford said. “Even looking back at the Wilcox game when we got shut out in the second half we only got the ball three times. They had a drive with 20 snaps. They kept our offense off the field. Teams know that’s the way to hold us down. Carlmont slowed the game down to a crawl. SI did that, Wilcox did that.’’

The King’s Academy at Sacred Heart Prep, 7 p.m.: The Gators (5-2, 2-1) might be coming off a hard-fought and emotional 26-20 loss to Menlo-Atherton. But no letdown can be allowed this week with another highly significant game on tap.

Not only is it the one night game of the season allowed on the Sacred Heart Prep campus with an undefeated team as the opponent, but the game marks the return of TKA coach Pete Lavorato, the longtime coach at Sacred Heart Prep, the man who built SHP into a prep football power.

“I don’t think there will be any problem getting the guys up for the game on Friday,’’ SHP coach Mark Grieb said on Monday. “The concern is getting them up for practice.’’

In Lavorato’s second year at TKA he took the team to a Central Coast Section Division V championship. This year the Knights (7-0, 2-0) were promoted from the Peninsula Athletic League’s Ocean Division to the Bay Division. They beat Burlingame 27-20 in the only close game they’ve had so far

Grieb spent two years on Lavorato’s staff before taking over as head coach. He has continued running the fly option offense Lavorato installed.

“Pete always has a few wrinkles up his sleeve,’’ Grieb said. “But how the game will be won or lost comes down to how the guys perform, how they execute assignments on both sides of the ball.’’

Menlo-Atherton at Burlingame, 7 p.m.: First-year M-A coach Steve Papin might be new to the PAL, but he knows all about the Burlingame program and veteran coach John Philipopoulos.

“My first year at Gunderson they came down and played us and gave us a butt-whipping,’’ Papin said. “He runs a great program.’’

Burlingame is 3-4 overall and 1-2 in the Bay, but three of its four losses have been by seven points or less. Fullback Lucas Meredith is the focal point of the team’s Wing-T offense. He has rushed for more than 100 yards in every game and has 932 yards on the season.

“He runs very hard and physical,’’ Papin said. “It’s very rare when he gets taken down by one guy. It will be a tough task for our guys.’’

After a 1-3 start, M-A has won three in a row. Sophomore Thomas Taufui was a revelation at running back against Sacred Heart Prep, gaining 136 yards on 15 carries. After the game he credited the holes opened up by lineman Uate Uhila, who recently returned from injury.

“Uate is a leader on the offensive line,’’ Papin said. “Now that he’s back everything flows through him. And with Thomas, he was such a great player on defense that we spared him on offense. I think we’ll use him more at running back now. He gave us a spark.’’

Sophomore Matt MacLeod and junior Raymond Price III shared time at quarterback against SHP in the third game since Price became eligible.

“Both are great quarterbacks and great leaders,’’ Papin said. “But I’d like to have one be the clear-cut starter. Hopefully we’ll make that decision over the next couple of weeks.’’

Gunn at Lynbrook, 6 p.m.: With a 56-32 win over Los Altos last week Gunn (6-1, 2-1) clinched just its third winning season since 2002. And by winning their final three regular-season games the Titans would capture the SCVAL El Camino Division title and a berth in the CCS playoffs.

“When you start to turn things around and start doing the right things the failures of yesteryear get erased,’’ Gunn coach Jason Miller said.

Lynbrook (1-6, 0-3) is by any measurement the weakest team in the league, having been outscored 127-0 in its first three divisional games. But Miller is well aware of the danger in overlooking anybody.

“For us we’ve got to concentrate on ourselves and work hard on preparation like every other week,’’ he said. “We’ve got to win every game to win league and make the playoffs. If we lose a game we finish anywhere from second to fifth. We need to take care of business and control our own destiny.’’

Gunn has put up big numbers on the ground out of its double-wing offense. But Miller gave a shout-out to safety Kylen Liu for his play in the win over Los Altos.

“He did a good job all game coming up from safety to make tackles,’’ Miller said. “He’s a catcher in baseball and he plays safety like a catcher, controlling the game.’’

Menlo School at San Mateo, 7 p.m.: You wouldn’t know it by the final score, but Menlo was competitive for two quarters in last Friday’s 54-14 loss to Half Moon Bay.

“Half Moon Bay is really good, that was one of the best offensive line performances I’ve seen at the high school level,’’ Menlo coach Josh Bowie said. “We couldn’t find an answer defensively. Four- or five-yard gains turned into 10- or 15- or 60-yard gains as the game went on.’’

San Mateo (6-1, 2-1) is having one of its best seasons in a number of years. Defense has been a strength as the Bearcats have allowed only 75 points in seven games. On offense they’re running a flexbone system similar to Half Moon Bay.

“They’ll run right at you, run power,’’ Bowie said. “I expect a good hard-fought battle. We’ve already moved on from Half Moon Bay and are looking to bounce back.’’

Kevin Alarcon missed the HMB game after injuring an ankle against Carlmont. Junior Elliot Kinder started at quarterback and passed for 271 yards. Menlo’s ground game, however, got bottled up by the HMB defense and Bowie said he was looking for improvement in that area this week.

Woodside at Capuchino, 7 p.m.: Woodside (1-6, 1-1 PAL Lake) beat El Camino two weeks ago 36-16 while last week Capuchino (3-4, 1-1) lost to that same El Camino team, 12-6 in overtime. So on the basis of those comparative scores the Wildcats should have a pretty good shot at picking up their second win of the season.

Right?

“At first glance, yeah,’’ Woodside coach Justin Andrews said. “But based on Capuchino’s overall track record I’m not so sure.’’

At any rate, there’s the potential for a competitive contest.

“At this point that’s all we can hope for,’’ Andrews said.

Injuries reared their ugly head again last week for Woodside, which lost all three starting linebackers in a 27-8 loss to Mills.

“We couldn’t get stops at the end,’’ Andrews said. ”Mills’ front seven was pretty tough. We were barely able to eke out something of a ground game, but we’d get into the red zone and come out with no points because of our failure to execute and get out of our own way.’’

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