Granada Hills Senior Runs for Five Touchdowns in City Divison I Final
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
When Palisades High football players huddled together in the end zone shortly after last Saturday afternoon’s City Section Division I championship game at Los Angeles Valley College, coaches took turns addressing their team and the underlying theme was that one poor game cannot tarnish a season in which the Dolphins exceeded all expectations.
“We had a bad night but a great year,” head coach Chris Hyduke said. “There were a lot of ups and downs but for such a young team you should be proud of what you accomplished. You made history!”
Praise was warranted for a squad that advanced to the finals for only the third time in program history despite 24 players graduating and several key starters transferring. Despite a 44-7 defeat to No. 1-seeded Granada Hills, the Dolphins (10-4) fell one win shy of equaling their total from last year when they made the Open Division semifinals.
“You didn’t quit, no matter what the score was,” said longtime Life Experience Coach Joe Spector, who participated in the pre-game coin toss along with Darryl Stroh and Tom Harp, who coached Granada Hills to the City 4A championship in 1987—the same year that Palisades last appeared in a title game, falling 30-14 to Franklin in the 3A final.
Line coach Johnny Garcia cried tears of joy as he struggled to express his appreciation for the effort his group gave and offensive assistant Jonah Manheim, a Dolphins alum who quarterbacked the 2016 team to its first triumph over league rival Venice in 15 years, implored the returners to use Saturday’s setback as motivation: “You want to be back here? It can be done and the preparation starts Monday!”
Despite hours of film study on how to stop the Wing-T attack used by Granada Hills, the Dolphins simply could not stop Utah commit Dijon Stanley, whose performance ranks as one of the best ever in a City final.
The senior ran the ball 25 times for 378 yards and five touchdowns while averaging a mind-blowing 15.1 yards per carry. He scored on runs of 39, 41, 90, 12 and 44 yards and upped his season totals to 2,397 rushing yards and 35 total touchdowns. He wears No. 1 on his jersey and as the focal point of an offense that did not complete a pass all season he was the No. 1 concern for Palisades.
“It feels great to finally do it— this has been our goal every day since we lost to Reseda in the playoffs last year,” said Stanley, who dedicated the season to his cousin Jahmal, who died last fall. “We decided we want to be great at one thing instead of good at a lot of things. I’d say the turning point was at Birmingham. Even though we lost we knew we could play with anyone in the City.”
Birmingham, which routed Garfield 49-13 to win its third straight Open Division title Saturday night, escaped with a 29-28 West Valley League victory over Granada Hills on October 7 despite Stanley’s four touchdowns.
Palisades, seeded No. 3 in Division I after finishing second to Venice in the Western League, got the ball first but fumbled on its third play and the
Highlanders recovered at Palisades’ 39-yard line. Stanley wasted no time showing the speed that has also won him four City track titles, bouncing outside and bursting up the sideline for a touchdown on the Highlanders’ first offensive snap. He ran off tackle for the two-point conversion run and Granada Hills took a lead it would never relinquish.
A trait that has characterized the Dolphins all season is resiliency and they showed it on the ensuing drive, marching 60 yards in seven plays amd scoring on a three-yard keeper by junior quarterback Roman La Scala. Kellan Ford kicked the extra point to pull Palisades within 8-7.
Granada Hills (11-2) answered with a 60-yard scoring drive of its own, capped by Stanley’s 41-yard scamper on fourth down but Amari Yolas thwarted the two-point try with a shoestring tackle inches from the goal line. Later, he chased down Stanley and tripped him up at the Dolphins’ 10, saving a touchdown.
“I have to give credit where credit is due and Amari gave me a hard time today,” Stanley admitted. “He’s a great player. All respect to him.”
After a Palisades punt, Stanley swept around left end and sprinted 90 yards for his third touchdown in the first quarter. DJ Richmond’s two-point run made it 22-7.
La Scala was sacked to halt the Dolphins’ next possession and theis time Granada Hills needed 10 plays to go 67 yards, ending on a 12-yard run by Stanley, whose cousin Darrell, a sophomore who transferred from Mojave, was stopped short on the two-point attempt. The teams exchanged punts before La Scala passed to Mikael King-Haagen for a 38-yard gain—Palisades’ longest of the game. The drive stalled at the Highlanders’ three when a fourth- down run went for negative yardage.
Backed up to his own goal line, Stanley took off in the wildcat formation to get Granada Hills out of danger and six plays later Richmond ran for a five-yard touchdown that gave his team a commanding 36-7 lead 14 seconds before halftime.
“We had chances to score more but it didn’t happen,” said Hyduke, who confirmed he plans to be back next season. “Even when you’re familiar with that type of offense it’s tricky to stop and Stanley’s one of the best kids we’ve faced.”
The teams were scheduled to meet in their annual Charter Bowl in September but it was canceled because of extreme heat in the Valley. The Dolphins, winners of nine straight in the rivalry game, got to keep the bronze trophy for another year.
“From the jump I was saying it I expected Stanley to come out the way he did,” said Palisades captain Savyour Riley, whose older brothers and Dolphin alums Syr and Syaire were in the stands to cheer their sibling and alma mater on. “We wanted it but he wanted it more than us. We can be proud to say we were here.”
The Dolphins’ goal in the second half was to get four stops and they got off to a good start when they forced Granada Hills to punt on its opening possession. Palisades drove from its 39 to the Highlanders’ 24, but linebacker Orion Norcon intercepted a pass at the 15 and returned it 71 yards. Palisades’ defense held and Granada Hills turned it over on downs the next two times it had the ball but the third quarter ended with the sun setting and no scoring.
Starting from its own 13, Palisades needed four plays to cross midfield but a fumble gave the ball back to the Highlanders and four plays into their next drive Stanley added the exclamation point to his career day with a 44-yard touchdown and Isaac Delgado’s two-point run started a running clock. Palisades marched to Granada Hills’ 10 on its last drive but on fourth and goal Yolas could not hold on to a pass in the end zone.
Granada Hills, which moves on to a Southern California Regional bowl this week, ran out as the clock as darkness settled over the stadium. After the postgame handshakes and trophy presentations, Rocky Montz, Palisades’ offensive coordinator and newly-appointed athletic director, accentuated the positive: “I know it hurts, but be proud of yourselves and realize that you’re one of three teams in Palisades history to play in one of these games. There are lots of other teams that wish they were in this position. I want to thank all of you seniors, you paved the way for our success. Now let’s build off this and take it all the way next year.”
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.