APTOS—Ever since Aptos High began playing Palma High six years ago, the games have mirrored a sports drama blockbuster that leaves viewers hungry for a sequel.
The two Monterey Bay powerhouses put on quite the performance yet again in front of a packed house at Trevin Dilfer Memorial Field, as the Mariners edged the Chieftains, 47-42, in Friday night’s Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division opener.
“Best game of my life,” Aptos senior Seamus Carey said. “This meant more too because we’ve lost to them in the past couple of years.”
Carey had 64 yards rushing on nine carries and three touchdowns, including the go-ahead score from 10 yards out that gave Aptos the lead with just 15 seconds left in the game.
The Mariners scored 12 points in an stunning span of 24 seconds, which included a successful onside kick by senior Jake Galster that set them up for the game-winning drive.
And this came shortly after Palma blocked a potential game-tying extra point attempt following Carey’s second touchdown with 39 seconds left in the game.
But Galster quickly flipped the script and redeemed himself on the ensuing kickoff, which bounced perfectly into the arms of senior James Timko on Palma’s 45 yard line.
“When my boy James [Timko] got that, we just had some juice going and I had a good feeling we were going to go downfield and score,” he said. “I didn’t know how we were going to do it but I knew we were going to do it.”
Aptos was coming off back-to-back shutout wins, including last week’s 49-0 victory against powerhouse Campolindo High of Moraga.
With Friday’s win, the Mariners tied the Chieftains with two wins a piece in their PCAL-Gabilan lifetime series.
Palma is 4-3 against Aptos since 2015. But the Mariners have taken two out of the last three, including a 49-6 win in the Central Coast Section playoffs in 2018.
Aptos coach Randy Blankenship, who picked up his 298th career win, said he’s been a part of wild finishes on both ends but it’s been a while since he’s seen an ending such as Friday night.
“Palma played so well, their quarterback [Luke Rossi] was throwing darts. [Joseph Finley], we couldn’t cover him with a blanket,” Blankenship said. “They’re a very athletic football team, so they played hard.”
Blankenship said Galster spends a lot of time practicing situations such as the one they were in late in the game.
“When preparation meets opportunity, that’s what happened,” Blankenship said. “I’m really happy for him because he’ll always remember that.”
Aptos senior quarterback Nick Forbes found receiver Rio Cruz late in the game for a couple of key first downs that kept the two final scoring drives alive.
Forbes also connected with Cruz for a crucial 36-yard touchdown pass just before halftime that cut Palma’s lead to 28-21.
“That play before half, Nick throwing the ball to Rio, huge,” Blankenship said.
Cruz had eight catches for 160 yards and the score. He also had 28 yards rushing on two carries.
Forbes completed 12-of-19 pass attempts for 205 yards passing and one touchdown. He also finished with 25 yards rushing on nine carries and a pair of rushing touchdowns.
Lawrence Ingram finished with a game-high 133 yards rushing on 15 carries for the Mariners. Caden Prichard had 121 yards rushing on 13 carries and a touchdown. He also had four receptions for 49 yards.
His biggest run was a 30-yard sprint to the end zone that pulled the Mariners to within a score, 21-14, with 8:23 left in the second quarter. Prichard said he’s never been part of a wild finish like Friday’s game since joining the varsity team.
“This game was amazing,” he said.
Prichard said that their defense was having a tough time stopping Palma’s offense in the first two quarters. The Chieftains took a two score lead, 28-14, and they could’ve added more points after Luke Alvarez recovered a fumble by Carey in the second quarter.
They talked at the break and the Mariners managed to slow down the Chieftains in the second half by allowing just 14 points.
“We had a good talk at halftime, just going over what the game plan was. We switched some coverages and I think that really helped,” Prichard said.
Rossi completed 12-of-19 pass attempts for 260 yards and four touchdowns for Palma. He also had 51 yards rushing on eight carries and a touchdown.
Joe Cardinale had 44 yards rushing on 13 carries and one receptions for 10 yards, which was a touchdown that gave Palma a 14-7 lead with six minutes left in the first quarter.
J.C. Escutia had 56 yards on 15 carries and he also scored in the first quarter from three yards out that extended Palma’s lead to 21-7.
Palma coach Jeff Carnazo said they had a balance between the pass and run game.
“I think [Luke] Rossi played a really good game and our big tight end played really well, he’s got good hands,” he said. “And our run game was going, too. Our offensive line is young and a little bit inexperienced but I thought they did a good job blocking up front.”
Joseph Finley, a 6-foot, 6-inch tight end, finished with 54 yards on three receptions, including one that set up Escutia’s score in the opening stanza.
But his biggest reception was a touchdown that gave Palma back the lead, 35-28, with 4:21 in the third quarter.
On their ensuing possession, Forbes marched down the field and called his own number to tie the game again at 35-all.
Rossi responded right back with a couple of big pass plays to sophomore receiver Logan Saldate, including a 35-yard strike for a touchdown that gave the Chieftains back the lead, 42-35, with 10 minutes left in the game.
Saldate finished with 138 yards rushing on five receptions and a touchdown.
Prichard said the defense was getting beat around the edges at that point and the Chieftains continued to come out in a trips right or left scheme, which the Mariners had trouble stopping.
“We gotta clean it up, for sure. We had a lot of penalties on both sides of the ball,” Prichard said. “There were definitely a couple mistakes but I think we played good ball out there.”
The Mariners orchestrated an 11-play, 76-yard drive capped by Carey’s 5-yard rushing touchdown. A pass interference penalty that put Aptos on Palma’s 32 yard line with a fresh set of downs kept the drive alive.
Carnazo told the team after the game that they’ll be resilient and come back strong despite the loss.
“I told them I was proud of them for their efforts in this game. They hung together the entire time and the ball didn’t bounce our way, literally, on the onside kick,” he said.
After the onside kick recovery, Forbes connected with Cruz down the field for 30 yards. Carey then sprinted 10 yards into the end zone for the game-winner.
“I was concerned after our big win last week, where our heads were and I don’t think our heads were where they should be at the start of the game,” Blankenship said. “We gotta learn to respect everybody.”
The Mariners’ victory was also meaningful for a community still reeling from a fatal on-campus stabbing that took the life of a student Aug. 31. Prior to the game, a moment of silence was held to pay tribute to the victim, his family and friends.
At Aptos 47, Palma 42
Up next: at Salinas
When: Sept. 17, 7:30pm
Santa Cruz 42, at Watsonville 0
At Salinas 46, MVC 8
At Mission Prep (San Luis Obispo) 42, St. Francis 7
Pajaro Valley at Pacific Grove, canceled (Covid-19 protocol)