Pali High Football Overcomes Slow Start to Beat Hamilton 42-7 in First Western League Contest
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Inspired by an emotional speech by offensive line coach Johnny Garcia, the Palisades High football team took the field for the second half of last Friday night’s Western League opener willing to do whatever it took to win.
Clinging to a three-point lead, the Dolphins put together their best 24 minutes all season, scoring 32 unanswered points on their eway to a 42-7 victory over Hamilton at Stadium by the Sea which not only vaulted them into a tie for first place in the Western League but kept them in contention for the City Open Division playoffs.
“The first half was sloppy, we hurt ourselves with penalties and mistakes,” Coach Tim Hyde said. “We just told the linemen to block your gap. We missed runs by one step, so it was a matter of correcting that. This was nothing to hoot and holler about, but we’re a good, solid team and we’re happy to open league with a big win.”
Junior quarterback Daniel Hayes completed five of 10 passes for 167 yards—his second-highest total of the season—including a pair of touchdowns to his favorite target, wide receiver Alex Vaupen.
“Coach Garcia gave us a great talk about he and his family’s battle with cancer and it fired us up,” Hayes said. “The bye week gave me the opportunity to work on my timing with our receivers. It was our first league game, so everyone is 0-0. Our goal from here on is to be 1-0 after every Friday.”
Tailback Dakotah Hamilton was held to a season-low 40 yards in 13 carries, but sophomore Max Palees picked up the slack, carrying the ball 12 times for 100 yards and three touchdowns.
Hamilton also played defense and forced a fumble that teammate Chris Howard recovered.
“There was a little animosity because they didn’t want to shake hands for the coin toss,” Pali High lineman Syr Riley said. “We’re a second-half team. We fixed our errors, we figured things out. There were a few missed blocks, but we have to patch things up and come out better next week.”
Palisades has now won five of its first six games for the second straight year (the Dolphins started 7-1 last season before suffering their only league loss) and beat a squad that had given Palisades all it could handle the previous three meetings.
Isaac Randall, the Yankees’ all-purpose back, was held to two catches and 60 yards in 18 carries.
Hamilton hung tough early. After Cameron Bailey returned a punt 30 yards the Dolphins were poised to strike first, but three plays netted no yards. Kicker Campbell Geddes tried to salvage the drive with a 50-yard field goal from the left hash mark, but it was five yards short. Palisades started its next drive at midfield and marched inside the Yankees’ 5-yard line before settling for Geddes’ 21-yard field goal.
Late in the second quarter, Hayes connected with Vaupen on a 40-yard pass play and two snaps later he hit Valentino Sterza in the end zone, but a holding infraction nullified the touchdown. No matter, Palees ran 22 yards for a score to make it 10-0.
The Yankees needed only 20 seconds to respond. On the first play of their ensuing possession, receiver Esau Pine slipped behind the defense, caught a pass from quarterback Shawn Wade and ran 68 yards for a score to pull the visitors within 10-7.
Hamilton threatened to take the lead moments later after a punishing blind side hit by linebacker Javier Rodriguez jarred the ball from Hayes’ grip, giving the Yankees the ball at Palisades’ 30. Two plays later, cornerback Darion Robinson stepped in front of a sideline pass and kept his feet inbounds for an interception.
Hamilton recovered a fumble on the second half kickoff, but Baraka Beckett made a tackle on fourth down at Palisades’ 35 to turn the Yankees away.
Hayes ended the Dolphins’ first drive of the second half with a 52-yard strike to Vaupen that gave Palisades some breathing room.
Palees ended the next drive with a 10-yard run—his second touchdown of the game—and a snap over the punter’s head led to a safety that tacked on two points and gave Palisades the ball back. Another high snap led to a 22-yard field goal by Geddes that made it 29-7 late in the third quarter.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Noah Karp picked off a pass over the middle and returned it 24 yards to the Hamilton 21. On the next play, Hayes rolled to his left and spiraled a pass to Vaupen, who caught it in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
Palees capped off his trifecta on an 11-yard scamper with 3:01 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“Dakotah and I are a one-two punch,” said Palees, who leads the team with 10 touchdowns. “We have each other’s back. I have the attitude no one can handle me.”
Hamilton coach Tony Ryan, a JV assistant for the Dolphins last year and still teaches at Palisades: “It was awkward but I’m proud of my guys. We didn’t have enough.”