Pali High Football Rallies from 10-Point Deficit to Shock Venice in Game Suspended by Lightning
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Believe. That was the mindset of the Palisades High football team upon arriving at Venice High last Saturday afternoon. The Dolphins didn’t just believe that they could win, they believed they would win and when it was over they had pulled off their biggest upset in head coach Tim Hyde’s six seasons at the helm.
Cornerback Jared La Violette reached in with his left hand to knock down a desperation pass for Venice receiver Makai Cope in the end zone with no time remaining as Palisades used will, skill, stout defense and a little help from mother nature to stun its archrival, 24-17, and keep alive its dream of a Western League title.
“I’m so proud of this team,” Hyde said. “We knocked them backwards a ton of times and that front seven is the best we’ve seen by far. I think their nose guard is the best linemen in the league. No one can accuse us of being soft!”
Venice boasts one of the best offenses in the City Section this season, but Palisades held the Gondoliers to one touchdown in the last three quarters of a game that had begun Friday night but was suspended at the start of the second quarter because of lightning in the area. Venice was ahead 10-0 and Palisades was back on its heels, but with a night to sleep on it and reflect, the Dolphins were a different team with a different attitude Saturday.
“They punched us right in the mouth and we’re lucky it wasn’t 21-0,” Hyde said. “When the game was called it gave us a chance to regroup. We were already starting to make adjustments to what they were doing, so we just stuck with those. It wasn’t raining that hard, but when I was driving home the sky was flashing all over the place and I heard that games were being stopped all over the place so I guess it was the right decision.”
The Dolphins (6-2, 2-1) beat their nemesis for the second time in three seasons and dealt Venice coach Angelo Gasca only his 10th league defeat in 19 years. The last time Palisades came to Venice in 2016, it prevailed 14-7 to snap a 15-game losing streak to the Gondoliers and earned a share of the league crown.
“Venice has been the team to beat in our league for the last two decades,” said Hyde, who is 2-4 against the Gondoliers, with three of the defeats coming at home. “We’ve played here three times and done pretty good. The first time we lost by three and the last two times we’ve won.”
Thanks to a 26-yard touchdown run by Jojo Glaspie and a 37-yard field goal by Naing Thiha, Venice raced to a 10-0 first-quarter lead in a drizzle Friday and the Dolphins looked overmatched.
“This was nothing new for us, we’ve had five straight nail-biters going back to South Gate, which was only 10-0 at halftime,” Hyde said. “We’re a couple plays away from being 8-0, but this is a huge win for our program.”
Sophomore quarterback Forrest Brock, showed poise in only his second varsity start, completed 12 of 22 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns, including a 22-yard scoring strike to tight end Noah Ghodooshim that gave the Dolphins a 24-10 lead with 3:53 left in the fourth quarter.
Max Palees, who sat out the Dolphins’ previous game at Westchester with an injury, rushed for 124 yards in 24 carries, including a three-yard run that put Palisades ahead for the first time, 17-10, late in the third quarter.
Palisades had the ball on its own 39-yard line to start the second quarter when play resumed Saturday and Brock completed a fourth-down pass to Jake Nadley to move the chains. The Dolphins drove to the Venice 23, but a fumble gave the Gondoliers the ball back. However, Palisades’ defense forced a three-and-out and the when the Dolphins took possession again they methodically marched inside the Gondoliers’ 5, using 15 plays and nearly eight minutes on the clock, before setting for a 20-yard field goal by Tommy Meek on the final play of the first half to creep within 10-3.
Palisades had seized the momentum and when Xavier Whitfield burst 70 yards up the middle on the second-half kickoff, the Dolphins were threatening again. Four plays later, from the 10-yard line, Brock lofted a pass to the end zone on a corner fade and Will Janney outjumped Glaspie for the ball and held on to pull Palisades even at 10-10 less than two minutes into the third quarter.
“We knew we could compete with them,” said Janney, who had two catches for 21 yards. “Last night we came in maybe a little bit overconfident, our emotions were everywhere, so when we got smacked in the first quarter we realized we needed to relax. They’ve got great athletes—they always do—but we have some amazing athletes, too.”
After the teams exchanged punts, Venice drove into Palisades territory, but junior quarterback Luca Diamont fumbled and alert defensive end Jack Stansell recovered at the 38. Palisades needed eight plays to take the lead, scoring on a three-yard run by Palees late in the third quarter.
Everson Bozeman returned the ensuing kickoff 68 yards to the Dolphins’ 30, but four plays later Nadley picked off a slant pass—his team-leading sixth interception of the season. Nadley also had five catches for 51 yards.
The teams traded punts again, but a shanked kick gave Palisades the ball at the Venice 25 and three plays later Brock hit Ghodooshim in stride to extend the Dolphins’ advantage to a seemingly-secure 14 points. Ghodooshim finished with four receptions for 75 yards and also had eight tackles and one sack at linebacker.
“It’s huge getting a win over your rival,” Janney said. “They’re a great team, an Open-level team, but we still have two more league games to win and we’ll see where we are in the playoffs.”
Diamont, a City Player of the Year candidate, completed 17 of 26 passes for 228 yards but was held to only one yard in seven carries. He threw for 2,066 yards and 21 touchdowns as a freshman but missed all of last season after falling out of a golf cart and fracturing his skull. His older brother Zander quarterbacked Venice from 2010-13, setting school career records for passing yards and touchdowns before playing three seasons at Indiana University.
“Luca is a fantastic player, but we’ve held him to one touchdown pass in eight quarters,” Hyde added. “For us to do this after all the kids we lost last year speaks to our competitiveness.”
Diamont connected with Recardo Conliffe on a 20-yard scoring strike to pull Venice within one touchdown with 1:48 left. An onside kick went out of bounds, but Palisades played it safe and Brock took a knee three times to force the Gondoliers to use their timeouts. When Venice (5-3, 2-1) got the ball back at its 37-yard line there were only 28 seconds left.
Three completions moved the Gondoliers to Palisades’ 37 with one tick remaining, giving Diamont time to roll right for one last Hail Mary heave. However, La Violette’s deflection assured there would be no miracle comeback.
Chad Johnson Jr., son of the former NFL Pro Bowl receiver, had eight catches for 108 yards and Cope added five catches for 90 yards for Venice, which has won 16 of the last 20 meetings and holds a 28-23-1 edge in a rivalry that started in 1961. The last time Palisades won back-to-back games was in 1999 and 2000 under former coach Ron Price, who is now an assistant at Venice.
The Dolphins’ victory was a team effort. Nick Calcaterra had seven pancake blocks, Meshach Santos and Obi Nwanonenyi each had five and Justin Bahari four. Sy Riley led the way with six tackles.
Westchester’s 20-14 victory at Fairfax on Monday created a four-way tie atop the league standings.
“Coach Hyde told us you just gotta’ believe,” Janney said. “And that’s what we did.”