PaliHi Football Wins Opener Over Cleveland, 37-28

By Sue Pascoe

In the movie “Baby Driver,” audiences are held on the edge for two hours as they try to figure out where the story is going. The result is excitement, unpredictability and overall great entertainment.

Palisades High School’s season-opening football game against the Cleveland Cavaliers had all three characteristics, with the added bonus of a rewarding win, 37-28.

The scoreless first quarter, with Jared Dodson and Daniel Hayes sharing PaliHi’s quarterback duties, gave little indication of the upcoming fumbles, interceptions and back-and-forth scoring yet to come. 

PaliHi’s Syr Riley throws a block for quarterback Daniel Hayes.
Photo James Riley

Palisades scored first when senior Campbell Geddes made a 31-yard field goal. This kid can kick. He put several kick-offs into the end zone and if he doesn’t already have several college offers, it won’t be long before he does.

Cleveland responded with a good kickoff return out to its 34, and several plays later, quarterback Joseph Saponjian connected with Isiah Adams for a 49-yard touchdown pass play.

Sit back, we’re just getting started. On the subsequent kickoff, senior Cameron Baily raced 95 yards to give Pali a 10-7 lead. The 5’11’ Baily is a sprinter and triple jumper during the track season, and he has great balance, proving it as he wove his way through defenders and left everyone 10 yards behind as he crossed the goal line.

Once again, Cleveland came back and scored on a second touchdown pass to Adams, giving the Cavaliers a 14-10 lead at halftime. 

The Dolphins took possession to start the second half, but a fumble led to another Cleveland touchdown. A fumble resulted in another touchdown by Cleveland and a 21-10 deficit for the Dolphins.

This time, following Baily’s kickoff return to Pali’s 35, the Dolphins marched to Cleveland’s 14, sparked by senior Dakota Hamilton’s running and a pass from Hayes to junior Jack Stansell. But the drive ended with an interception.

The PaliHi crowd was subdued as Cleveland started another drive upfield. A running play resulted in a tackle and a heap of players in the middle of the field.

Just like in the movies, the crowd saw Pali’s 6’4” 285-pound Baraka Beckett suddenly running towards the end zone with the football. It was a surreal sight as the players were still stacked on the ground in the middle of the field, and one of PaliHi’s largest players was going full speed, alone, towards a touchdown.

“As soon as I got the ball, I started to run, but the referee was in the way and I asked him to move,” said Beckett, a senior defensive tackle.

Offensive guards Jack Estabrook (51) and Ari Sallus (66) open up a hole for running back Dakota Hamilton. Photo: James Riley

“I looked behind me and no one was chasing me.” This is only the second touchdown in his high school career. “I used to be a running back before I got bigger,” he said. “I channeled that and ran down the field.”

Just like that, with five minutes remaining in the third quarter, the score was 21 to 17—and Palisades was back in the game.

The dramatic scoring plays continued as Adams took the kickoff on the five-yard line and returned it for a touchdown. PaliHi needed two touchdowns for a victory, and the defense needed to settle in and shut down Adams and Saponjian.

Baily returned the kickoff to Pali’s 40 and the Dolphin running attack got rolling behind Baily, Hamilton and junior Darion Robinson. Junior Max Palees scored on a one-yard run, but the extra point failed. 

Cleveland 28, Pali 23 with five minutes left in the third quarter. The Warriors returned the kickoff out to the 40, but 6’2″ junior Will Janney recovered a fumble, and Pali was back on offense. 

Hamilton ran for 15 yards, and a completed pass to senior Alex Vaupen put the ball on the four-yard line. Hamilton then took it in for the touchdown, and Palees ran for a two-point conversion to give the Dolphins a 31-28 lead.

After Cleveland was forced to punt, Pali started on its own 35. 

Hayes passed to Stansell for 10 yards, Hamilton ran three straight times to reach Cleveland’s 27, Robinson picked up six yards and Hamilton took it to the five. Once again Palees muscled his way through to the touchdown. The PAT was blocked, but the Dolphins had a comfortable lead with seven minutes left.         

After the game Hamilton said, “I’m just so proud of my team. The whole line gave me the holes so that I could gain the yardage.”

 Coach Tim Hyde was asked about the game, and specifically the first half, when his players seemed to lack focus. “It’s a lot of young kids,” he said. (Last year’s team had 20 seniors; most of whom started.) “Cleveland had lot of returning players and we knew if we made a lot of mistakes, it would be difficult.”         

But he was pleased with the way his team settled down in the second half. “It’s all about seeing who will step up, who has the potential to take PaliHi to a new level.”

Athletic Director John Achen had another thought about Pali’s first-half play. The players had been forced to practice on the baseball field, while the football field is under construction. “For both the JV (who won 8-0) and the varsity, to play on a full field with lines has been an adjustment,” he said.

Offensive Coordinator Rocky Montz said, “We were inconsistent in the first half, just sloppy. Then we started making the plays. For offense to work, all 11 guys have to be on the same page.”

“We came out with a win in the Valley,” Hyde said. “I’m proud of these kids.”

Pali’s next game is against Sylmar at 7 p.m. on August 31 at home, presuming the all-weather turf field has been completed.

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