Ready for some high school football | August 30, 2019 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - August 30, 2019

Ready for some high school football

Six games are scheduled for the weekend

by Glenn Reeves

After all those weeks of practice, that elusive target, once shimmering like a mirage under the hot summer sun, is finally a reality. It's time to hit guys from other schools, guys wearing different colored uniforms, to play games that count.

The high school football season gets underway this weekend.

"It's finally upon us,'' Palo Alto coach Nelson Gifford said.

"We're ready to get it started,'' Sacred Heart Prep coach Mark Grieb said.

"Chomping at the bit,'' Gunn coach Jason Miller said.

Here's a look at this weekend's season openers:


Bellarmine at M-A, 7 p.m.

This is the fourth year in a row that M-A has played Bellarmine in its season opener. A couple of different circumstances are in play this time around.

The Bears go into the game as state champions. The last time they played they defeated Lincoln of San Diego 21-7 on Dec. 15 for the CIF 3-AA title. And it's also the debut of Steve Papin as head coach. Papin replaces Adhir Ravipati, who won two CCS Open Division I titles as well as a state championship in his four-year reign.

Papin has loads of talent to work with including wide receiver Troy Franklin, who was recognized as the state sophomore of the year last season by several outlets. Sophomore Matt MacLeod will start at quarterback. Junior running back Seth Carlisle made a good impression last week at M-A's scrimmage with Los Gatos and will likely share carries with Francisco Sanchez, a sprinter on the M-A track team.

Bellarmine, which has one of the longest and most distinguished football histories of any team in the CCS, has hit a down cycle, going 2-8 last year and 13-20 over the last three seasons, That was after a record of 96-21-1 in the nine-year span from 2007 through 2015. Bellarmine coach Mike Janda is the winningest coach in CCS history.

Prospect at Gunn, 7 p.m.

The Titans will be looking to make continued progress after a 4-6 season in Miller's first year as head coach. The schedule is favorable to getting off to a good start. The first three opponents -- Prospect, James Lick and Yerba Buena -- are all from the Blossom Valley Athletic League West Valley Division, and all three games will be played at Gunn.

"They were using the spread when we played them over the summer in 7 on 7,'' Miller said. "But in their scrimmage they used a tight run-based formation.''

Gunn's defense is used to defending the run, going up in practice every day against the team's double-wing offense.

"The end of last year we played well against Los Altos, which had a pound-it-out run game,'' Miller said. "We'll miss our leading tackler from last year, Solomone Plaetua (also the team's quarterback), who graduated. But Eitan Smolyar will be a big contributor for us at linebacker and so will Richard Jackson. And we're looking forward to welcoming coach Rob Mendez and the character traits he embodies.''

Mendez, the Prospect frosh-soph coach who was born without arms or legs and diagrams plays by holding a pen in his mouth, was honored at the ESPYs.

"It's like the old saying, 'I was concerned about the color of my shoes until I met someone with no feet,' '' Miller said.

Woodside at Seq. 7:30 p.m.

As if emotions aren't high enough playing the first game of the season, Woodside gets Sequoia, possibly its biggest rival, right out of the gate.

"The goal is to use the excitement and emotions of playing a crosstown rival to make you play better,'' Woodside coach Justin Andrews said.

The Wildcats typically get up for this game. In the five years Andrews has been head coach they are 3-2 against Sequoia, despite often going into the game as the underdog. Last year Woodside, from the Peninsula Athletic League Lake Division, had its highlight of the season with a 35-32 win over PAL Ocean member Sequoia.

Woodside scrimmaged Hillsdale last week.

"We learned what we needed to learn,'' Andrews said. "We made mistakes that were expected with so many new starters.''

One player who made a positive impression was defensive end Cody Bowers.

"He was a force all over the field,'' Andrews said. "He really jumped out.''


Paly at St. Ignatius, 1 p.m.

Last year Palo Alto scored a touchdown in the final minutes to beat St. Ignatius 21-14 in a game that set the tone for the season. Paly gained confidence from that win and developed momentum as it went on to a 10-2 season.

While the Vikings hope for a similar outcome Saturday, it won't be easy. They're not sneaking up on anybody this time around.

"I know they're thinking about last year,'' Gifford said of St. Ignatius. "They've got us circled on their calendar.''

The loss to Paly seemed to get the Wildcats off on the wrong foot as they started the season 0-6 and finished 3-8.

"They played tremendous defense all year,'' Gifford said.

In an attempt to open up its offense, SI employed the spread in a scrimmage against Palma.

In Palo Alto's scrimmage with Burlingame sophomore running back Josh Butler made an impression.

"On one possession he touched the ball on every play, three carries and a reception, and scored a touchdown,'' Gifford said. "He opened some people's eyes, opened his own eyes that he can play at this level.''

Carlmont at SH Prep, 2 p.m.

Both programs made big progress last year, advancing to CCS championship games, Sacred Heart Prep in Division III and Carlmont in Division IV.

And after winning the PAL Lake championship Carlmont has moved up to the PAL Ocean.

"They are a program on the rise,'' SHP coach Mark Grieb said.

The Scots are coached by Jake Messina, formerly at Fremont of Sunnyvale where his offensive coordinator was Nelson Gifford. They run the Wing-T on offense.

"The Wing-T presents problems,'' Grieb said. "Defensively our focus will be on stopping that ground attack.''

The Gators scrimmaged Riordan, which is coached this year by former SHP defensive coordinator Mark Modeste.

Grieb said he was pleased with the effort his team put forth throughout preseason practice.

"They worked real hard to improve every single day,'' he said. "They want to be good. They saw what it took to have success last year and know it's attainable.''

Fremont (Oak.) at Menlo, 2 p.m.

Menlo had a down year by its standards last season going 4-6. But that's nothing compared to what Fremont went through in a 0-9 campaign.

After a 26-20 loss to Ygnacio Valley in the season opener, Fremont scored only six points over the next eight games while allowing 327. Regardless, Menlo coach Josh Bowie knows the folly of overlooking any opponent.

"They have some athletes,'' Bowie said. "If they get the ball out in space they can make us pay.''

Bowie is making sure his team's primary focus is on itself.

"We have a lot to prove after having a difficult year last year,'' the second-year head coach said. "We want to show that all the preparation was worth it.''

He has two quarterbacks vying for the starting job in Justin Sellers and Kevin Alarcon.

"I'm not ready to make that decision on who will start,'' Bowie said.


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