Vikings head to CCS finals after dominant victory over Spartans

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The Palo Alto High School Vikings celebrate after their victory over the Seaside Spartans in the Central Coastal Section semifinal playoff game Friday night at Palo Alto High School. According to senior captain defensive lineman Vainga Mahe, the team looks forward to facing the Monterey Dores in the finals. “Since day one of us being here, we’ve been aiming for a ring,” Mahe said. “That’s really just our mentality right now. Just getting past this final, getting past NorCal, going to states, getting a ring.” [Photo: Leena Hussein]

In a make-or-break game, the Palo Alto High School Vikings (2-3) defeated the Seaside Spartans (4-2), 34-6, in the Central Coastal Section semifinal playoff game Friday night, advancing to the CCS finals.

Coming off a decisive win last week, the Vikings maintained their energy during this game, according to Viking Head Coach David DeGeronimo. 

“I was worried they were getting a little tired early in the week and I said guys, around Tuesday, you gotta find that hunger again,” DeGeronimo said. “So they did. They certainly did. They brought it tonight. I told them before the game the team that wants it more is gonna win. They certainly did that.”

During the first quarter, senior wide receiver and captain Jack Newman made an electrifying 21-yard run, directly followed by a quick dash from junior wide receiver Jason Auzenne, putting the Vikings near the Spartans’ endzone. At around halfway through the first quarter, senior wide receiver Kai Bussey made an impressive catch from quarterback Declan Packer to secure the first touchdown of the game. 

From there, the Vikings and Spartans played back and forth until Auzenne made a defining interception securing the Vikings’ possession and setting up near the end zone. The Vikings then secured another touchdown with a sprint play by senior running back Jack Newman, ending the quarter up 13-0.

According to Viking Defensive Coordinator Steve Rocklin, Paly had a unique defensive plan to throw off the Spartan offense. 

“Specifically we had a defensive plan that was aimed to stop the quarterback running as well as the quarterback throwing some of the short passes,” Rocklin said. “What we do is we try and play conservatively and not take too many gambles. Usually, the other team makes a mistake and it works out really well.”

The action in the second quarter started quickly with a pass by Packer to senior wide receiver Leon Unga, earning a first down. From there, Newman made an explosive run, plowing through the Spartan’s defensive line to gain the first touchdown of the quarter and Paly’s third of the game.

On Seaside’s possession, freshman wide receiver Jeter Olivares made a fast dash but was stopped by a sack from senior linebacker Luke Young. From there, the quarter stayed stagnant, with both teams preventing each other from gaining significant yardage, and the game remaining in the middle of the field. With four minutes left, Packer attempted to shoot a long-ranging pass to Unga but came up incomplete. 

The Vikings’ defense remained strong, and a sack by defensive guard Yoshi Lee led to a close Viking run but eventually resulted in a turnover to Seaside.

According to DeGeronoimo, the Viking’s defense was a crucial part of the victory over the Spartans.

“Our defense has been great all year, and we played some of the best teams in CCS,” DeGeronimo said. “I’d like to [improve] up some of our tackling, but we bring it around and we get to the ball … I think we’re faster than them and that’s probably why I’m excited about our defense.”

The Spartans made a great run to place themselves within 5 yards of the end zone after several sharp passes by Seaside junior quarterback Taylor Rice. With around five seconds left, Spartan running back Jamari Vaughns made a near-scoring run, but dropped the ball resulting in a turnover to Paly, gaining the Vikings possession and first down to end the half 13-0.

The second half started off slow, with both teams struggling to break through each other’s defense. However, with 8 minutes left in the quarter, Newman broke through the Spartan defense with a fast-paced 45-yard run to the 30-yard line to shift the momentum of the game. On the very next play, senior running back Jeremiah Madrigal was able to bring the ball to the 15-yard line, followed by a 12-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Jason Auzenne, with a made kick then bringing the Vikings up 20-0. 

Newman said the Viking’s growth and dependence on one another has led to the recent streak of victories that they hope to continue in the rest of the playoffs.

“We’ve grown hugely as a team and kind of just come together,” Newman said. “Ever since the offense started clicking the whole team kind of came together and started getting some wins on the board. And now we’re on a five-game win streak, looking to continuing that.”

In the final quarter, the Spartans started off strong, scoring a touchdown early in the quarter to bring the score to 20-7. However, from there, the Vikings managed to stay in control of the game, with Madrigal breaking free of the defense to score a 40-yard touchdown run with three minutes left on the clock followed by a kick to bring to score to 27-7. With 2 minutes left in the quarter, senior defensive lineman Vainga Mahe recovered a fumble and scored a 30-yard touchdown to close the game out, 34-7. 

Mahe said the efficient Viking defense allowed him to recover the fumble quickly and score a touchdown. 

“That scooping score that was really just out of nowhere, to be honest, I wasn’t really ready for that,” Mahe said. “But our defense really stepped it up from our previous weeks. So I was pretty happy about that.” 

This was Mahe’s first touchdown of the season, and he attributes it to his hard work and dedication on the field.

“Since last year, I wasn’t really a defensive player,” Mahe said. “I was limited because we didn’t really have a backup center. Going into the season, I was looking forward to proving my point to everybody. I’ve been working really hard, I’m not just a one-way player, and I could do really anything on the field.”

According to Mahe, the Vikings’ previous games gave them confidence that helped secure this win.

“Once we got those two wins against Mountain View, and Milpitas to secure our spot in these playoffs, I say we really started getting invested into this program,” Mahe said. “That really just boosted our mentality and bond as a whole. It just made us push for more and it kind of seemed like if we could do this then we can kind of do anything on the field.”  

According to Spartan head coach Al Avila, despite the team’s loss, Seaside never even expected to make such a deep run into the playoffs. 

“We weren’t even picked to come in fifth place or sixth place in the league,” Avila said. “Everybody picked us to come down at the bottom of our league. So these kids really proved a lot of people wrong. So for us to be here was was big time for us because no one thought we would even be here.”

Rocklin said the Vikings need to come together and work hard in the upcoming matches in order to make the remainder of the season memorable for the team. 

“We’re gonna work harder and get these guys going because there’s only 10 teams left in CCS and they’re [the players are] excited about it, I think it means a lot to the seniors,” Rocklin said. 

Game Statistics

Vikings: 178 rushing yards, 94 passing yards 

Spartans: 137 rushing yards, 175 passing yards