Charter Bowl Champs

Waka White drags down Granada Hills tailback Zachariah-Austin Atlantis Hawkins in the backfield.
Photos by Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

Dolphins Build Early Lead, Hold on to Beat Granada Hills for Seventh Straight Time, 28-13

By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor

Fourteen seconds are all that the Palisades High varsity football team needed to take command in last Friday’s annual Charter Bowl against Granada Hills. That’s how much time it took Darion Robinson to catch the opening kickoff, find a seam and race 90 yards for a touchdown that sent the Dolphins on their way to a hardfought 28-13 victory—their seventh straight win in a rivalry that began in 2006.   

On the fifth play of Granada Hills’ first series, junior linebacker  intercepted a pass and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown. Just like that the Dolphins led 14-0.

“I looked at the quarterback when they snapped the ball and I knew the tight end was gone, so I sat back in coverage and he threw the ball right to me,” Riley said. “I almost didn’t realize that I had it. I turned my head and saw a receiver  running towards me so I turned on the afterburners. That was my first interception for a touchdown ever in my seven years of football, so afterwards I grabbed the ball, ran straight to my dad [James] on the sideline and jumped on him.”

Riley had a good vibe about the game even before it started.

“Right from the beginning of the JV game when Sloane [Senofsky] threw that long pass to Justin [Gilbert] I knew it was going to be our night,” he said. “Then, when Darion took that kick the distance I had a feeling we’d win.People don’t like to give this team credit but we had 14 points before our offense took the field. That shows we’re a well-balanced team.”

After blowing out their first two opponents, the host Dolphins (3-0) needed the full 48 minutes to secure their third victory of the season. There were a few tense moments in the fourth quarter that had fans at Stadium by the Sea on the edge of their seats, but after four straight incompletions, the Highlanders (0-3) turned the ball over on downs with 58 seconds left and Pali High Coach Tim Hyde could finally start celebrating his sixth Charter Bowl win.

       “It sounds cliche but the hardest thing to do is win a football game,” Hyde said. “So much has to happen. This our trophy game, we love it and we take as much pride as we can from this game.”     

Granada Hills went three-and-out on its second possession, but seemed to settle down after that. Palisades began its first drive near midfield and threatened to break the game open, marching to the Granada Hills 31. However, the Highlanders recovered a fumble on fourth down at their own 35 and proceeded to march inside Palisades’ 10 before settling for a 30-yard field goal by Andrew Pena early in the second quarter.

Palisades drove 67 yards in eight plays on its next possession, capped by a seven-yard keeper by quarterback Daniel Hayes that made it 21-3 with 6:43 left in the second quarter.

Granada Hills punted on its next possession and Palisades took over at its 21. Four plays later, receiver Will Janney caught an underthrown ball up the left sideline and sprinted to the end zone, but the score was nullified by a penalty.

Despite a sack by defensive end Jack Stansell the Highlanders  drove to the Dolphins’ 25 before Janney intercepted a badly underthrown  pass in the end zone for a touchback seven seconds before halftime. Hayes took a knee to run out the clock and Palisades headed to the locker room with a seemingly safe 18-point lead.

“I was a little nervous because they played two Southern Section teams but no City teams so it  was hard to gauge just how good they were,” Hyde said. “Then when we scored 14 points in the first couple of minutes it looked good but momentum can swing very fast in a football game. That’s why you have to keep playing like the score is zero-zero.”

Pena booted a 25-yard field goal to cap Granada Hills’ first drive of the second half and forced Palisades to punt on its first drive.  The Highlanders drove to the 50-yard line on their next possession before a sack by defensive end Immanuel Newell forced them to punt as the third quarter ended.

Palisades used seven playes to move from its own 30 to the  Gramada Hills 40, but Jalen Kaleb Thompson picked off a pass over the middle and raced 55 yards for a touchdown to cut the Dolphins’ lead to eight points with 9:17 left. It was the first interception thrown by Hayes in 41 attempts this year.

All of a sudden it was a one-score game and the visitors had all the momentum. Palisades punted from its own 46 on its ensuing possession, but a well-placed punt by Tommy Meek pinned Granada Hills inside its 10 and four plays later the Highlanders punted.   

“Our JV got seven shutouts last year so our goal is eight,” said Riley, whose older brother Syr is a freshman offensive lineman at Washington State, which won its opener 41-19 Saturday afternoon at Wyoming. “When our offense is struggling, it’s our job to go out there and make plays.”    

A short punt gave Palisades the ball at the Granada Hills 38 and it took the Dolphins just four plays to score, the last a nine-yard run up the middle by Max Palees, who finished with 115 yards in 15 carries.   

Now trailing by 15 with under two  minutes  left,  Granada  Hills

had no choice but to throw and knowing what was coming allowed the Dolphins’ defensive backs to blanket the  opposing receivers and prevent any completions.

The Dolphins improved to 9-4 in the Charter Bowl and have outscored Granada Hills 244-107 in the last seven meetings, but before they were allowed to pose for photos with the shiny bronze trophy that will remain in Palisades hands for another year, Hyde had a stern message for his team.

“You have to earn victories…they had 10 injured guys and a tight end playing quarterback, so you got lucky tonight,” he said. “It was a sloppy game on our part. We had about six or seven first-down plays of eight or more yards that were called back on penalties, we had bad turnovers and we gave up a first down on a 4th-and-25 play, so there’s a lot to clean up.”

Hayes completed eight of 13 passes for 117 yards, Jake Nadley had four catches for 71 yards and Cristian Popescu had three receptions for 35 yards. Zachariah-Austin Atlantis Hawkins rushed for 105 yards in 25 carries and Dylan Bowman completed seven of 17 passes for 123 yards for Granada  Hills, which won four of the first  six Charter Bowl matchups.

“The way I look at it we’re up three tiebreakers and that’ll factor in somewhere along the line,” said Hyde, referring to the Dolphins’ first three wins—all against City Division I teams. “We have South Gate next, then Brentwood up the street, then our bye week, then we host Fairfax in our league opener so we don’t leave Sunset Boulevard for over a month. We really want the next one because the South Gate loss last year was probably the toughest to swallow in my six years here. We’ve never given away a fourth-quarter lead like that.”

Palisades led 24-7 late in the third quarter last September at South Gate, but the Rams rallied to score 25 points in the final 17 minutes to pull out a 32-31 win.

Hyde is Palisades’ fourth head  coach in the Charter Bowl era, preceded by Leo Castro, Kelly Loftus and Perry Jones.

Riley, one of the Dolphins’ four team captains, believes unity has been the key to their success.   

“The game started with a special teams play and it ended on a defensive play,” he said. “We find different ways to win. Last week, the offense was clicking and that got us a huge lead, so every game is different, but we don’t have last names on our jerseys. The only name you’ll find is ‘Palisades’ on the front. That’s all we play for.”