PaliHi Football Nips Huntington Park, 35-34

By Sue Pascoe
Photos by Drew Vaupen 

If you have a weak heart, then you should by all means avoid Palisades High School football games.

But if you want explosive action, with no idea of what the outcome of the game will be until the final whistle, then this is the team to follow.

A week after losing a heartbreaker to South Gate, 32-31, the Dolphins held off Huntington Park, 35-34, in a rousing non-league game at home on Friday night.

PaliHi’s Dakota Hamilton pulls the pack for an extra five yards.

Coming into the game, the two teams were evenly matched: Pali had a 3-1 record and Huntington Park was 4-0.

Anchored by a strong defense, the Dolphins gained a 21-8 lead in the first half. Receiver Alex Vaupen caught a 30-yard pass from quarterback Daniel Hayes and ran it 25 yards into the end zone; Will Janney intercepted a pass at the Pali 27 and returned it 73 yards for a TD; and Dakota Hamilton scored from the three after Hayes completed a 30-yard pass to Cameron Bailey. Campbell Geddes kicked three extra points.

At the start of the third quarter, Palisades fumbled the kickoff and Huntington Park ran it into the end zone. A two-point conversion cut Pali’s lead to 21-16. It was a lousy way to start the second half, but then it got worse.

PaliHi Football Defensive End David Pierre making the tackle.

After receiving the kickoff, Pali was forced to punt, but Geddes’ attempt was blocked. The ball was picked up by the Spartans and run into the end zone. The Dolphins now trailed, 22-21, but did manage to foil the two-point conversion attempt.

The Dolphins bounced back, with Hayes and Bailey connecting on a 56-yard scoring play. The PAT was good.

However, the Spartans responded with Bey’Jon Lee taking the kickoff on his 35 and returning it for a touchdown that tied the score, 28-28. Again, the two-point conversation failed.

Lee couldn’t be stopped and added a second touchdown with 9:20 left in the fourth quarter, but Huntington failed to convert the all-important two-point conversion, costing them dearly at the end of the game.

Alex Vaupen with kickoff return.

With the Dolphins trailing 34-28, Cameron Bailey caught the kickoff on the 15 and broke loose for a crowd-pleasing, 85-yard return. The PAT by Geddes provided the ultimate winning edge, 35-34.

Yet a game like this was hardly over. With a little less than two minutes left to play, Pali was forced to punt from Huntington’s 41, and this time Geddes sent the ball down to the 4-yard-line.

The Spartans wouldn’t give up, moving the ball to their 35. But the Pali defense, which had struggled the previous week against South Gate, rose up to make some key plays.

With 32 seconds left, sophomore linebacker Sy Riley (6-0, 265) caught the Spartan quarterback on the Huntington 28. On the next play, senior defensive end Jack Estabrook (6-0, 210) pulled the quarterback down on the 22. Then on fourth down, junior cornerback Jake Nadley (5-11, 175) made the tackle and the Dolphins took possession.

Cameron Bailey returns the kickoff for a touchdown.

“It felt incredible to make the play,” Estabrook said after the game. “It was something we needed and we all worked for.” He was asked what made the difference this week. “We didn’t give up and kept working until the last play.”

Bailey, nicknamed Speedy because of his breakaway speed on the field, recounted his long kickoff return that proved to be the game winner as he outran and outmaneuvered numerous defenders.

“We were down by a touchdown, and then I saw the hole and started running, and saw nothing but the end zone.”

Baraka Beckett in hot pursuit of quarterback.

Senior running back Hamilton said, “It was a hard-fought game and we didn’t quit until the end. We wanted it.”

Palisades Head Coach Tim Hyde was happy about the win, but reflective. “We had 12 turnovers in two games, and lost and won by one point.

“The score was 21-8 at halftime and I thought we were in control,” Hyde said. “We made a lot of mistakes.”

He noted that with the upcoming bye week, the coaches will have extra time to work on correcting the team’s mistakes. He also observed, “The defense had a chance to redeem themselves tonight.”

Pali, now 4-1, opens Western League play with a home game on Oct. 6 against Hamilton.

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