Vikings fall to Mustangs in intense homecoming match

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Palo Alto senior running back Jack Newman pushes his way through Homestead defenders Friday during the Vikings’ homecoming loss to the Mustangs. According to Viking senior running back Jack Newman, the team needs to train harder to achieve their season goals. “We need to get everyone back at practice,” Newman said. “We had a couple of missing guys at practice this week, so we have to get everyone healthy. We’re looking to get some wins.” (Photo: Annelise Balentine)

After an early injury to its quarterback and a devastating last-second collapse, the Palo Alto High School varsity football team (0-1) fell Friday night to the Homestead Mustangs (1-0), 10-14, at the Vikings’ annual Homecoming game and first league game.

The match was also a crucial test of new sportsmanship rules for Paly spectators following the chaos at the end of the Paly vs. Gunn game last month.

The Vikings started off the game on a bad note after Viking junior quarterback Declan Packer suffered an injury three minutes into the first quarter.

According to Viking Head Coach David DeGeronimo, the loss of Packer greatly limited the Vikings’ playmaking ability. 

“Declan is pretty much our only quarterback so when he went down it really seriously impacted what we could do offensively,” DeGeronimo said. “I thought the kids really balled out, but we just didn’t come away with it at the end.”

According to sophomore Akiva Forrester, losing Packer early in the game was unfortunate not only for the outcome of the game, but for the individual players as well. 

“I’ve seen players getting injured and having to be off the field and not able to participate,” Forrester said. “I feel really bad for them because it’s the homecoming game. It’s really special for them. Not being able to participate in the whole thing must really suck.” 

From there, the team was forced to rely on their running backs to take over the role of a quarterback and make plays to gain yards toward the Mustangs’ end zone. Viking senior running back Jack Newman and Viking junior running back Jeremiah Madrigal kept the momentum strong and made several impressive runs to combat the Mustangs’ defense, including a touchdown early in the first quarter, allowing the Vikings to take an early lead with a score of 7-0.

In the second quarter, despite the continuous forward momentum, the Vikings struggled to break Homestead’s defense in the red zone, and Viking kicker Gerardo Becerra was forced to take a field goal. In the last minutes of the game, Homestead was able to capitalize on multiple deep throws by Mustang senior quarterback Charlie Castaneda to score a touchdown of their own, making the score 10-6 in favor of the Vikings.

As time passed throughout the third quarter, both teams struggled to gain an offensive edge. Despite the back-and-forth possession, Homestead’s offense continued to push the line of scrimmage towards the Vikings’ endzone. As the third quarter ended, both teams were unable to put more points on the scoreboard.

However, disaster struck at the end of the fourth quarter, when a fumble by the Vikings resulted in a touchdown for the Mustangs. Despite constant effort by the Viking offense, the lack of a quarterback prevented them from gaining the necessary yards to score a touchdown, resulting in a final score of 10-14.

DeGeronimo praised both running backs after the game, despite the loss. 

“Jack Newman did an amazing job tonight and so did Jerry [Jeremiah Madrigal] taking over as quarterback,” DeGeronimo said. “That was one of the best performances I’ve seen by a running back that was switched into a quarterback.” 

According to Newman, the Vikings were able to put up a good fight despite their injured quarterback.

“At the start of the game, I was feeling good,” Newman said. “As soon as Declan went down I kind of got worried. We kind of stepped it up as a team but unfortunately, we lost and I was pretty upset about that.”

According to Homestead varsity football head coach Milo Lewis, the Mustangs’ perseverance and strict practice habits allowed them to come out with a win. 

“We didn’t bend, we didn’t break,” Lewis said. “If we got an opportunity, we have to make the best out of it. It [the game] could have gone either way. … Hats off to the [Viking] coach. If you came here to see a great homecoming game, you should have watched this game.”

The homecoming match was also the first football game attended by Paly students after the events at the Paly-Gunn Football game, and numerous reminders of positive sportsmanship that Principal Brent Kline discussed in Wednesday’s address to students were displayed throughout the game. Signs containing information on sportsmanship were posted in the student section, emphasizing respectful cheering and appropriate behavior. 

Additionally, sanctions from the CIF were in place for the game, with students unable to watch from the front row as well as bag checks and breathalyzers at the front gate. Despite this, some students still attempted to make their way to the front, but were forced to move back after the Paly administrators and security intervened.

Regardless of the issues in the stands, Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson said students did a good job of expressing positive sportsmanship in comparison to the Gunn game.

“Mr. Kline was happy with the behavior,” Berkson said. “This entire day was great. … I thought it was a good step in the right direction.” 

Forrester agreed with Berkson saying the environment was much more encouraging in this game.

“Everyone was really supportive and working together to cheer for the football team and it was much better than the Gunn versus Paly football game when it was a lot more toxic,” Forrester said. “This time, I think we were cheering a lot more in a sportsmanship-like way, and I think we’re doing much better overall.”

The Vikings are scheduled to play their next league game 7 p.m. on Oct. 6 against the Los Gatos Wildcats (1-0) at home.

Additional reporting for this story provided by Benjamin Grimes.