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Football clinches playoff spot, defeats Homestead for Senior Night victory

Sophomore running back Paul Jackson III evades his defenders and runs downfield. Jackson III contributed heavily to the Palo Alto High School football team’s running game on Friday Oct. 30, the Vikings’ Senior Night. “We all worked hard, we all fought, we played a great game today,” Jackson III said. Photo by Cooper Lou.

The Palo Alto High School football team (4-5, 3-2) blew out the Homestead Mustangs (3-5, 1-3) on Friday for Senior Night, the Vikings last home game of the season, 45-7. With the win, the Vikings clinched a spot in the Central Coast Section playoffs, as the top four teams in the De Anza League are guaranteed a spot.

According to head coach Jake Halas, controlling the ball was the deciding factor in this game.

“We were able to control the ball, run the rock,” Halas said. “We take our chances. We’ve got Eli [Givens] and we can throw some deep balls to him too.”

The game began with a strong kick-off return play, with senior wide receiver Eli Givens running the ball all the way into the end zone for a touchdown for the second consecutive game, the last against Los Gatos High School.

“I said I was going to take it to the house one more time on the very first play,” Givens said. “They kicked it to me and I was very surprised because I thought they would’ve seen Los Gatos [High School], but I guess they didn’t. I just took it to the house.”

Kick-off return plays and special teams have been a focus for the Vikings in recent weeks, according to Halas.

“We improved our kick return game,” Halas said. “We’ve actually spent more time on our special teams lately too. The goal of any good team around here is to get better every game.”

Additionally, Halas recognized the Vikings’ improvement and the players becoming more comfortable and on point in each job, making the team more cohesive as a whole.

“We made some adjustments in practices and we got guys in the right spot,” Halas said. “Earlier in the year, we had guys running through the wrong gaps and wide open gaps. We fixed and have been tweaking that.”

According to Homestead head coach Milo Lewis, the Mustangs didn’t exhibit their skills strongly, but still have hopes for advancing to the Central Coast Section playoffs, as the Vikings will most likely do.

“That’s not our best performance,” Lewis said. “We’re a lot better than we just showed. We’ve got two games left. We’ve got to try to get one of the two, Milpitas [High School] or Los Gatos.”

The game opened with the traditional ceremonies of Senior Night, recognizing the team’s seniors and their families. Friday night’s win was meaningful, according to Givens, especially given losses on Senior Night in the last two seasons.

“Watching these games for Senior Night and seeing a loss makes you just feel hopeless,” Givens said. “You come back to the locker room and you see all the seniors crying, but there’s nothing you can really do about it. I’d seen that and I didn’t want that happening to me.”

The Vikings have one more game in the regular season against Wilcox (6-2, 2-2). The Vikings will be focusing on recovering and preparing for Wilcox’s physical offensive game, according to Halas.

“They match up well,” Halas said. “They’re very physical up front. It’s going to be a very good game. [The veer] is their offensive scheme. It’s a hard-hitting, physical style of offense. They run it really well and they’ve been running it for years.”

The Vikings’ determination and work rate brings them success, according to senior running back Takeru Nishi.

“We worked the whole week and it really paid off,” Nishi said. “We didn’t get to the playoffs last year and we just really wanted to get there this year.”

Paly will take on the Wilcox Chargers at 7 p.m. on Nov. 13 at Wilcox High School, its last game of the regular season. The Vikings will be looking for redemption, as they lost to the Chargers last season with a score of 20-19.

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