Dolphins Stay in Western League Race with 18-12 Homecoming Victory over Westchester
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
In a game his team desperately needed to win, Max Palees ran the ball with heart and conviction throughout the fourth quarter on homecoming Friday night against Westchester, scoring two touchdowns as Palisades High kept its Western League football title hopes alive with a gritty 18-12 victory at Stadium by the Sea.
The Dolphins were behind 6-3 entering the final 12 minutes, but drove 41 yards in 10 plays to take the lead, capped by Palees’ three-yard run.
The Comets had trouble moving the chains without quarterback Jonathan Murphy, who suffered a knee injury on the Comets’ second series and did not return. However, they managed to regain the lead on a 14-yard run by Juston David with 7:36 left.
Palisades began its next drive at its own 31 and needed 12 plays to march 69 yards, scoring on a five-yard run by Palees. Dakotah Hamilton dragged three defenders into the end zone on the two-point conversion that pushed the lead to six points with 2:50 remaining.
“The play was counter-right on the second [touchdown],” said Palees, who gained 117 yards in 29 carries and leads the Dolphins with 12 touchdowns this season. “We were not going to be denied. It was frustrating to get in the red zone as often as we did and come away with nothing but that loss [to Fairfax] last week made us mad and we knew we had to pull this out. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. We were hungry and I wanted the ball.”
Palees’ legs might have won the game, but Valentino Sterza’s anticipation saved it. The senior linebacker and captain picked off a screen pass at the Dolphins’ 45 and returned it to the Westchester 41 to seal the win with 22 seconds left. Jake Nadley and Will Janney also had interceptions and Ari Sallus and Syr Riley each had a sack.
“It was all about having that killer instinct,” Sterza said. “It felt amazing to help us finish this off!”
Fueled by the injury of defensive end Jack Stansell, who had to watch the second half from the trainer’s table on the sideline, the Dolphins found a way to win—the fourth time in their last five games that the outcome was decided by a touchdown or less.
“This is the toughest our league has been in the five years I’ve been here,” Pali High Coach Tim Hyde said. “Good teams all around. There are no easy games.”
Palisades racked up 12 first downs and over 200 yards on offense in the first half but all the Dolphins had to show for it was a 25-yard field goal by Campbell Geddes that put them ahead 3-0 early in the second quarter.
The lead lasted 13 seconds, as Dillon Guerra returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for the Comets’ first score. Guerra accounted for 227 total yards.
“This was our biggest team effort,” said Hamilton, who rushed for 110 yards in 24 carries. “This was a hard-hitting, physical game and even though we were down at halftime we stayed positive and we kept pushing. Our motto is ‘48 minutes’ and that’s what it took.”
Quarterback Daniel Hayes earned Player of the Game honors from Hyde after completing six of 16 throws for 82 yards and running for 43 yards in nine carries.
Kicking into a gusting wind, Geddes hooked a 35-yard field goal try in the closing seconds of the first half, but made both of his extra point kicks and boomed a 60-yard punt to pin the Comets inside their 10 in the third quarter.
“I give [Westchester Coach] Wyatt Henderson a lot of credit,” Hyde said. “They beat us last year, they have athletes everywhere and this wasn’t decided until the last play. It was one of our best games offensively. We had false starts, motion penalties, dropped passes, it was frustrating. We didn’t play smart or great but it’s a huge win.”
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