Rival game against Gunn ends in chaos

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WATCH YOUR ANKLES. Junior quarterback Declan Packer looks for someone to throw to while avoiding Gunn defenders during the varsity football match between Palo Alto High School and Gunn Titans on Friday night. According to Packer, the Vikings improved since the game against Leland. “Everyone’s been showing up to practice all week,” Packer said. “That really helps everyone get their assignments down and do their job on the field.” (Photo: Annelise Balentine)

In a highly anticipated rival matchup — the first in nine years — the Palo Alto High School varsity football team (1-2) shut out the Gunn Titans (0-3), 41-0, Friday night at Gunn, but a chaotic charge from the hundreds of students from the Paly stands forced the game to be called off before time expired.

In the last five minutes of the fourth quarter, the majority of Paly students ran behind the field into the Gunn bleachers, chanting and taunting. According to Paly Assistant Principal Erik Olah, this led to an administrative decision to shut down the game early.

“When you have stands going crazy like that, the game stops and you wait for things to calm back down,” Olah said. “It was clear that it wasn’t just going to die down right away so they [admin] had to call the game from there.”  

According to Gunn junior Harel Klinger, the Titans were thrown off by the sudden bleacher raid. 

“Everyone was just really surprised because no one expected this to happen,” Klinger said. “It was pretty crazy especially since it’s never happened before, not with Paly and not with any other schools we’ve played against. I do think it was taken too far though.”

Viking Head Coach David DeGeronimo said the result of the the bleacher raid was costly for Paly.

“We lost five minutes in a game where my backups were going to play,” DeGeronimo said. “And there’s guys that work hard all week that deserve those five minutes, but I don’t make those decisions [to end the game].” 

According to Viking junior quarterback Declan Packer, who threw two touchdowns this game, Paly dominated throughout the entire night, especially on defense.

“We gave up no first downs the whole game, so that really helped us out,” Packer said. “We had good field position the whole game and just shut them [Gunn] out.”

In the first quarter, the Viking junior running back Jeremiah Madrigal caught a five-yard pass for a touchdown after a strong first possession by the Vikings. Near the end of the first quarter, Packer was able to rush one yard for a touchdown, rounding out the quarter with the Vikings up 13-0. 

During the Vikings’ first possession of the second quarter, Packer threw a 33-yard touchdown to senior wide receiver Kai Bussey. After a series of defensive shut-outs by Paly, Madrigal scored a 23-yard rushing touchdown, and junior wide receiver Jason Auzenne followed up with a two-point conversion, ending the first half, 28-0.

At the beginning of the second half, both teams struggled to gain yardage due to interceptions and incomplete passes. However, after a 39-yard rush by Madrigal, Packer threw two consecutive passes to junior wide receiver Jason Auzenne for another touchdown, putting the Vikings up 35-0.

Near the end of the fourth quarter, Viking junior fullback Orasio Becerra scored a seven-yard touchdown on a fourth down — making the score 41-0. However, the Vikings were unable to attempt a field goal after the game shut down with five minutes left on the clock. 

Madrigal said he attributes his two touchdowns to his teammates on the offensive line.

“I got to thank my O-line, all of them,” Madrigal said. “They blocked for me and plugged in the holes which was really good. We wanted to focus on scoring, executing on offense and making sure that we can catch the ball.” 

Despite the rivalry, Madrigal said the pressure didn’t get to him.

“You can’t feel the pressure, you have to keep playing like a normal game,” Madrigal said. “If you keep playing like it’s a rivalry game it’s just going to get in your head and you’re going to mess up.”

According to Titan Head Coach Dethrick Slocum, Gunn’s lack of unity gave way to mistakes on the field.

“I want these guys [Gunn players] to start playing as a team, I don’t think they fully bought into the program yet,” Slocum said. “I think we had some opportunities tonight to make some things happen. Our defense was in position to make some great plays, and we just let them [the Vikings] slip up too many times and get to the edge. So, we have to stay disciplined.”

According to DeGeronimo, the Vikings are excited about their first win of the season after coming off of two losses. 

“I’m especially excited because it [the win] is here at Gunn,” DeGeronimo said. “We haven’t played them in nine years, so this is a big deal for our kids. It was a natural rivalry because they [the teams] are in the same district.” 

Despite the Vikings’ win, Olah said the lack of sportsmanship by Paly students took away from the players and the game.

“It’s not a good ending for the game and for the players too,” Olah said. “The outcome of the game was pretty much decided, right? We all know that, but it’s five minutes of playing time that the fans took away from the players.”

The Vikings are set to play 2 p.m. on Sept. 24 against the Menlo Knights (2-0) at Menlo.