League play begins for Palo Alto and with it a contest that could quite likely go down as the game of the year. Paly hosts defending state champion Wilcox in a Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division opener Friday at 7 p.m.
"Why wait?'' was the response of Palo Alto coach Nelson Gifford.
Last year Wilcox went 14-1 with its one loss to Menlo-Atherton in the Central Coast Section Open Division I championship game. Palo Alto went 10-2 with its losses to Wilcox in a regular-season showdown for the De Anza Division crown, and in the CCS semifinals to M-A.
Paly is 3-1 this season. After losing to St. Ignatius in the season opener the team has put together three solid wins.
Wilcox is 2-2 with its two losses to Bay Area powers Valley Christian and Pittsburg. Last week the Chargers, playing without their first-string running backs, were dominating Pitt, leading 31-14, before the Pirates put together a late rally, using back-to-back onside kicks, for a 35-31 win.
When asked why he went to the onside kicks, Pitt coach Vic Galli said, "What difference did it make if we made them go 80 yards or 50 yards. We couldn't stop them.''
Quite a compliment to Wilcox and its veer-option running game.
"That's scary,'' Gifford said. "If anybody knows how to stop the veer it's Pittsburg. They've been watching De La Salle run it for so many years.''
Paul Rosa rushed for 398 yards in Wilcox's first two games, but hasn't played in the last two due to a groin injury. He will likely be ready for Paly. But as Wilcox showed last week, the system is so good it almost doesn't matter who plays. Isaiah Flores, Rosa's backup, rushed for 215 yards against Pittsburg and the Chargers pounded the line for 302 yards on the ground in all.
"It really doesn't matter,'' Gifford said. "They're going to run their stuff so clean and so fast.''
Wilcox is averaging 314.8 yards per game rushing. A big challenge for the Paly run defense. But last year the Chargers pulled a surprise by throwing for three touchdowns in a 35-21 victory.
"The biggest thing is to try to be as solid and confident on defense as they are on offense,'' Gifford said. "There has to be a high level of communication and trust.''
After having its offense shut down at St. Ignatius, Palo Alto has scored 129 points over the last three weeks. The sophomore tandem of Danny Peters at quarterback and Josh Butler at running back has stepped up in a big way. Peters has completed 40 of 57 passes over those three games for 689 yards and 10 touchdowns. Butler has carried 43 times for 423 yards and 9.6 yards per carry.
"The last three weeks the team has been very consistent on offense,'' Gifford said. "They've been able to make plays and haven't put themselves in a hole. Danny has really made some throws, For Josh everything is coming easier.''
Monta Vista at Gunn, 7 p.m.
After going 4-0 in nonleague play and getting off to its best start since the 2002 team went 6-0, Gunn will begin league play by hosting Monta Vista. And SCVAL El Camino Division play is being treated as a new season for the Titans.
"All out the window,'' Gunn coach Jason Miller said. "We're all zero and zero now.''
Monta Vista, which is off to a 3-1 start, beat Gunn 39-36 last year.
"They like to run,'' Miller said. "They use a lot of option, throw in some play action pass. They've adopted some of our sets. They present a diverse set of problems.''
Gunn's double-wing offense has been virtually unstoppable thus far this season. The Titans have scored 217 points in four games, an average of over 54 points per game. And they are rushing for 368.5 yards per game.
Fullback Eitan Smolyar leads the team with 528 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. He is averaging a boggling 16.0 yards per carry. Wingback Cory Hallada has 496 yards on 33 carries, 15.0 yards per carry. Philip Doan has chipped in with 278 yards on 32 carries. As a team Gunn is averaging 12.0 yards per carry or a first down every time they call a running play.
Miller knows it won't be as easy in league play.
"Our league is much better than the teams we played in our nonleague schedule,'' he said. "Every game will be a big challenge. We will try to rise to the level of our competition.''
Menlo-Atherton at Folsom, 7 p.m.
With his team having a bye last week Menlo-Atherton coach Steve Papin drove up to Folsom to watch his next opponent in person.
"They have athletes all over the field,'' Papin said. "(Running back) Daniyel Ngata is the best player I've ever coached against. (Receiver) Elihjah Badger is the second best. Their slot receiver might be the third best. They have Division I guys sprinkled in all over their offense and defense.''
A tall order, Folsom (3-1) has been recognized in recent years as the second-best team in Northern California, behind only De La Salle.
Ngata is ranked the No. 2 all-purpose back nationally by 247Sports. His college finalists are Clemson, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Arizona State and Utah.
M-A (1-2) lost to East of Salt Lake City 49-20 its last time on the field. The Bears had a 20-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
"A lot of things went our way,'' Papin said. "We had a fumble recovery for a touchdown and I think we started feeling ourselves, thought we had them. But they wore us down.''
The bye week was used to "figure out who we are and get back to basics.''
"We've lost some games by scores that look pretty lopsided,'' Papin said. "But if you watch us play we've had opportunities. We've played well and then just killed ourselves with penalties and other mistakes. We've been our own worst enemy.''
Of concern is the number of players on the M-A injury list. The Bears are heading on the road to play the No. 2 team in Northern California with three starting offensive linemen out (center Uate Uhila, right guard Chris Feao and right tackle Semisi Mataele). Standout linebacker Joe Posthauer is day-to-day. Cornerback Skyler Thomas still hasn't played this season due to a shoulder injury.
"We will have to play a near flawless football game to win,'' Papin said. "It's a tall order, a tall challenge, but I think we will be up for the challenge. We will go up there and play our best.''