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Paly football closes out a strong season after falling to Oak Grove in semi-finals

The Palo Alto High School football team's season (7-5, 3-3) has come to a close after suffering a defeat to the Oak Grove Eagles (10-2, 7-0) in the Division II California Interscholastic Federation Central Coast Section semi-finals Friday.

Despite their lead throughout the second and third quarters, the Vikings lost by less than a touchdown, 36-40.

With two early touchdowns, the Eagles quickly took a 13-point lead in the first few minutes. However, the Vikings managed to score a touchdown with seven minutes left in the quarter after a pass to sophomore running back Josh Butler, narrowing the Eagles’ lead to six.

Another touchdown soon followed after senior wide receiver Jamir Shepard intercepted the ball and made an 85-yard run to the end zone.

After blocking a punt, senior free safety Kevin Cullen recovered the ball and scored a touchdown, giving the Vikings an eight-point lead.

With a couple of minutes left in the quarter, the Vikings punted the ball on fourth down, resulting in a score of 21-13.

In the second quarter, the field became heavily contested and neither team was able to easily score. The Eagles scored a touchdown not long after the quarter began, but were quickly locked into a stalemate by the Vikings.

After successfully blocking the pass to senior wide receiver Junacio Henley, the Eagles managed to gain the upper hand and scored a touchdown shortly before the quarter ended.

The Vikings returned to the field after halftime, energized as Butler scored a touchdown in the first few minutes of the quarter. Paly attempted a two-point conversion, but it was unsuccessful, making the score 30-26 for the Vikings.

After intercepting a pass, senior left tackle and defensive tackle Jurgen Dittrich performed a 26-yard run, moving the Vikings into first down.

As the team entered fourth down, the Eagles intercepted a pass and overturned the possession, but were unable to score.

Dittrich, Cullen, and senior outside linebacker and middle linebacker Will Moragne exhibited strong defense throughout the game. They were crucial in Paly’s success in keeping the Eagles scoreless in the third quarter.

Senior left tackle and defensive tackle Jurgen Dittrich and senior outside linebacker and middle linebacker Will Moragne tackle the Eagles' wide receiver in the third quarter.

At the start of the final quarter, the Eagles evaded the Vikings’ defense and scored two touchdowns, allowing them to take a 10-point lead, 30-40.

Following a turnover, Shepard caught a pass from sophomore quarterback Danny Peters and scored a touchdown, decreasing the deficit to four points.

In the last minute of the game, the Vikings progressed to the 20-yard line, but they were unable to score.

According to Dittrich, the atmosphere on the field during the game was intense.

“Both teams knew that we had to win to move on. Every team was playing like it was their last game. For a lot of us, it was, so everyone was going hard every play. It was really good football.” — Dittrich

According to Cullen, the team is like a family, and while many of the current team members will be graduating in 2020, the memories created will not be forgotten any time soon.

“We forged a family together with these players," Cullen said. "This truly has been a second family to me. Just being able to go after school and practice with these guys has created some of my greatest memories that I will share for the rest of my life.”

“We forged a family together with these players. This truly has been a second family to me. Just being able to go after school and practice with these guys has created some of my greatest memories that I will share for the rest of my life.” — Cullen

Despite the score, Gifford said he is proud of the team's performance this season.

"I don't think there's a person on this team that feels like they didn't do everything they could to make this team great," Gifford said. "So in my mind, champions."

"I don't think there's a person on this team that feels like they didn't do everything they could to make this team great. So in my mind, champions." — Gifford

Last season, the Vikings were eliminated in the semi-final rounds as well but, according to coach Nelson Gifford, it is the nature of playoff football.

“Mathematically, 40 teams go into the playoffs and only five [teams] get to end their season on a win," Gifford said. "So, for us, that's going to be the goal next year… to try to finish the season on a win. If we can do that, we'll know we had a really, really successful year.”