The Palo Alto High School football team (1-0, 0-0) rebounded from last year’s offensive struggles with a dominating performance in front of its home crowd on Friday night, scoring eight touchdowns in a 54-28 victory over the Sequoia Cherokees (0-1, 0-0).
In his first season-opening game as starting quarterback, senior Justin Hull threw for three touchdown passes and rushed for another, leading the offense on six touchdown drives in the second half.
After a disappointing 3-7 season in which Hull and senior Oliver Svirsky shared the quarterback position, Hull now has full control over second-year head coach Jake Halas’s offense after Svirsky transferred to Milpitas High School this summer. In addition to Hull’s strong performance, a balanced running attack from sophomore Paul Jackson III, and seniors Tony Caballero-Santana and Shaun Pike kept Cherokee defenders off-balance throughout the game.
Midway through the third quarter with the Cherokees still within one score, Jackson III broke free for a 63-yard touchdown run, the first of his varsity career.
“I felt like it was a great first game, one of my best games, especially coming out of junior varsity last year,” Jackson said. “It feels great. A lot of nerves come with it, but I think I’m making adjustments to my game.”
The Vikings started quickly when Hull hit senior wideout Eli Givens on a vertical rout on the team’s second drive of the game. Hull attributed consistent drives throughout the game to his offensive line, led by senior captain Mikey Grandy.
“The offensive line made my job really easy,” Hull said. “When we run the ball like that, I don’t have to do much, but it could be better. It can always be better, but it was all right for the first game.”
The Cherokees were paced by a multitude of athletes including senior fullback Faave Brown and senior tailback Aya Brown. They briefly took a 20-14 lead early in the second half when junior quarterback Nick Demarco connected with Aya Brown on a slant touchdown pass, but were ultimately outperformed by the speed of the Vikings’ offense.
“They were getting the ball moving, they were doing a great job with that,” Sequoia head coach Robert Poulos said. “We started fatigued defensively, which allowed them to use the same concept which we’re trying for, which is [to] start getting some seams you can exploit.”
On the Vikings’ side, Hull was able to connect with senior wide receiver Riley Schoeben twice in the end zone, the second providing the team with a comfortable lead late in the third quarter.
Coach Halas expressed his confidence in the Vikings’ play after the game.
“I felt we were going to be able to run the ball, but if you had asked me about [scoring] 54 I would have said no,” Halas said. “We got stronger and they got winded.”
The Vikings next game is set for 7:30 p.m. next Friday, Sept. 11 at home against San Benito High School (1-0, 0-0).