Dolphins Defeat Fairfax 21-7 for First Outright League Title in 32 Years
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
All season long the Palisades High varsity football team has played every down like the game depended on it. In the final minutes of the fourth quarter last Friday evening at Fairfax, senior co-captain Xavier Whitfield finally resorted to scoreboard watching… shouting “Come on clock!” as he paced the sideline. He and his teammates could sense that the goal they had set three months earlier was about to be achieved… finishing unbeaten in league play for the first time in 32 years.
When Max Palees surged for a first down to run off the last few seconds players high-fived, hugged, chest-bumped, poured a bucket of ice water over assistant coach Johnny Garcia’s head and pointed their index fingers to the sky signifying who’s No. 1—and the Dolphins don’t have to share this title with anyone. Final score: Palisades 21, Fairfax 7.
“The message was simple… we’re not going to Melrose Avenue and losing,” head coach Tim Hyde said. “This place has been a house of horrors for us the last few trips. We lost by one point my first year, we lost by a touchdown two years ago and when we won in 2015 it was only by three points. Even tonight was a struggle, but this group of seniors is driven and we weren’t going to be denied.”
Palisades’ victory was all the more impressive given that with campus closed because of fires the Dolphins didn’t practice all week.
“Given all the adversity we’ve had the last few weeks it’s an unbelievable accomplishment,” said Hyde, whose team has won at least a share of the Western League title in four of the last five seasons. “I give all the credit to the players.”
The last time Palisades went 5-0 in league was in 1987 when it won the Crosstown League under coach Jack Epstein on its way to the City 3A Division final.
Fairfax was trying for its third straight triumph over Palisades, which also would have created a three-way tie atop the standings.
The Lions marched 57 yards in 15 plays on their opening drive but Immanuel Newell recovered a fumble at Palisades’ 23-yard line.
Showing they were playing to win, the Dolphins went for it on fourth-and-three at their own 44 but Forrest Brock’s pass fell incomplete. Gaining yardage out of the Wildcat formation in the first quarter, Fairfax star Jordan Reed switched to tailback in the second quarter, with Shawn Holly taking over at quarterback. The Dolphins adjusted and bottled up Reed for the rest of the first half.
Palisades drove 60 yards in eight plays, taking a 7-0 lead late in the second quarter on Kenny Cline’s six-yard run and kicker Tommy Meek’s extra point.
After forcing a three-and-out to open the second half, Fairfax drove 50 yards in 10 plays, capped by Reed’s one-yard run—the first points the Dolphins had allowed in 13 quarters dating back to the third quarter of their 38-14 victory over Venice in Week 7. Hector Castillo’s point after tied it 7-7 midway through the third quarter.
Brandon Forrest returned the ensuing kickoff 40 yards to the Lions’ 45 and from there Palisades needed 10 plays to regain the lead, the last a two-yard run by Cline, who finished with a season-high 130 yards in 24 carries.
Fairfax was forced to punt from deep in its own territory on its next possession and Palisades took over at its own 44. This time the drive lasted 11 plays, ending with Palees’ six-yard run to extend the Dolphins’ lead to 14 with 5:37 left in the fourth quarter.
Fairfax drove to its own 43 on its next series, but a fourth-down pass fell incomplete and the Lions used their timeouts to stop the clock. However, the Dolphins picked up two first downs to keep the chains moving and prevent Fairfax from getting the ball back.
The win was Palisades’ ninth in a row—its longest winning streak since reeling off 11 straight in 1976 under the program’s first head coach, Dick North.
“We were on a mission after [losing to] Cleveland,” Hyde said. “The gauntlet began with Reseda. We had four games in a row and the first half of that game set the tone for the rest of the season.”
The Dolphins allowed only 41 points in five league contests.