Bailey’s Kickoff Return Lifts Pali High Football to 35-34 Victory over Huntington Park
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
In danger of dropping its second straight game to a tough Eastern League opponent, the Palisades High varsity football team needed a big play early in the fourth quarter of last Friday’s nonleague finale against Huntington Park.
Cameron Bailey provided it by returning a kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown with 9:08 to go and Campbell Geddes kicked the tie-breaking extra point as the Dolphins escaped with a hardfought 35-34 triumph at Stadium by the Sea. The decisive score came only 12 seconds after Bey’Jon Lee’s 65-yard run had given the Spartans a 34-28 lead.
Lee also caught a 33-yard touchdown pass, returned a kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown and rushed for 155 yards in 19 carries for Huntington Park (4-1).
After committing seven turnovers the week before in a 32-31 loss at South Gate, the Dolphins had five more Friday, yet prevailed thanks to several big plays and Geddes’ clutch kick.
“Twelve turnovers in our last two games… we won by one point and lost by one point,” Coach Tim Hyde said. “We played extremely hard and only gave up one offensive touchdown. Besides that, our mistakes led to all their scoring.”
Palisades built a 21-8 halftime lead despite running only 15 plays in the first two quarters.
Huntington Park went three-and-out on its first series but got the ball back in Dolphins territory on a muffed punt. Palisades held, but on the third play of its opening drive, Dakotah Hamilton fumbled and Raymond Marquez recovered at the Dolphins’ 44.
Victor Molina’s throw to Lee put Huntington Park ahead and wide receiver James Russom added the two-point conversion catch to make it 8-0 midway through the first quarter.
Daniel Hayes hit Alex Vaupen in stride for a 43-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter to pull the Dolphins (4-1) within one point.
Less than two minutes later, with the Spartans threatening to widen their lead, safety Will Janney jumped a rout over the middle and weaved his way for a 78-yard touchdown to put Palisades on top, 14-8.
“That’s what I’m trained to,” Janney said, who recovered fumbles in each of the Dolphins’ first two games against Cleveland and Sylmar and scored on a 67-yard interception return in Palisades’ Charter Bowl win at Granada Hills. “I’m always confident I can make a play. I read it and got great blocking all the way to the end zone. We needed this after last week when we gave up a touchdown to lose at the end. I’m glad we had this chance to redeem ourselves.”
Hayes threw deep to Bailey for 30 yards to the Huntington Park 3-yard line and Hamilton scored on the next play to give the Dolphins a 13-point lead with 3:35 left in the first half.
Max Palees intercepted a pass on Huntington Park’s ensuing possession, but Palisades went three-and-out to end the first half.
Momentum swung quickly at the start of the second half when Huntington Park recovered a fumble on the kickoff and Russom caught a 30-yard pass from Molina on the Spartans’ first play. After Palisades gained four yards in three plays on its next drive, Molina blocked Geddes’ punt, scooped the ball off the turf and ran 15 yards for a touchdown. The two-point try failed, but suddenly Huntington Park led, 22-21, with less than two minutes elapsed in the third quarter.
On the ensuing possession, Hayes launched a high pass downfield that was tipped in the air by a defender and grabbed by a streaking Bailey, who sprinted 57 yards for a touchdown that gave the Dolphins the lead back, 28-22.
Lee took the kickoff the distance to tie the game with 7:14 left in a wild third quarter that produced four scores in less than four and a half minutes.
Hamilton gained 80 yards in 17 carries and Palees added 40 yards in seven carries. Hayes completed four of 10 passes for 134 yards—two completions each to Vaupen and Bailey.
Sy Riley, Jack Estabrook and Ari Sallus each had a sack. Riley led all tacklers with 10, Janney and Estabrook each added nine, Noah Karp and David Pierre had eight apiece, Palees had seven and Cole Aragon had six. Darion Robinson had two pass deflections and Chris Howard added one.
A fourth-down pass fell incomplete at the Dolphins’ 45-yard line to end a Huntington Park threat a Geddes punt rolled dead at the Spartans’ 4-yard line with 1:35 left. Anthony Parhms took over at quarterback and, on fourth down, Jake Nadley tackled him at the 35-yard line with 20 seconds remaining to clinch the victory.
“The strategy was to let our skill guys go man-on-man and stack the box,” Huntington Park Coach Anthony Vega said. “We wanted to fill every gap, be disruptive and force them to throw. No. 5 was really hard to bring down. Palisades is the best team we’ve played so far. Our lack of a kicking game cost us.”
Palisades stayed in the hunt for the City Section’s inaugural Open Division playoffs, reserved for the eight best teams in Division I.
The Dolphins defeated Huntington Park, 34-14, on the road last fall behind City rushing leader Innocent Okoh’s 175 yards and three touchdowns.