It may have been the first time since 1988 that the Palma High football team suffered as many as three losses in the same season, but you wouldn’t know it the by the way the Chieftains have played the last two months.
After starting 0-3, Palma won its last seven games of the regular-season, and capped its turnaround Friday with 14-0 victory over rival Hollister at Rabobank Stadium.
It was the second straight year Palma has gone 6-0 in the Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division to claim the undisputed title.
This crown may have meant more than some of the many others Palma has won, considering there was talk early in the season that its reputation as a Central Coast Section and Monterey County powerhouse was starting to slip, if only a bit. Losses to Seaside last year and Carmel this year after having lost only once during a stretch of 147 games and 23 years to a county team added to the speculation.
But after claiming its 26th league crown in the past 30 years – four have been shared – and backed up by a 2013 unbeaten junior varsity and freshmen team, Palma’s future appears to be as strong as ever.
The immediate future is another story.
Palma’s biggest challenge and toughest opponent could lie dead ahead. When the five-division, 40-team CCS playoff pairings are announced Sunday the Chieftains could face the West Catholic Athletic League champion – either Serra or Mitty — in the first round of the Open Division, where only the best of the CCS are allowed in.
Despite the loss Hollister is expected to get a chance to defend its CCS D-I title. The Balers went 5-5 this year, same as last season. Three Gabilan Division teams earn an automatic playoff berth, and Hollister finds itself in a three-way tie for third with Salinas and Seaside. One way or another – by being declared the third team in or by a point system based on strength of schedule – all three should be seeded with Salinas in D-I and Seaside in D-III or D-IV.
It was another big night for Palma runningback Brandon Olivares in more ways than one. Not only did he rush for 139 yards and one touchdown on 32 carries, but his final 10-game regular season total of 1,656 yards moved him into second place on the all-time Monterey County list.
He passed North Salinas’ Ronnie Drummer’s 2003 total of 1,551 yards on the opening drive and moved ahead of Nachi Guzman’s total of 1,634 yards for Gonzales in 1996 in the first half.
Olivares needed 260 yards to break the county record of 1,777 yards set by John Wyatt Williams of Monterey High in 2010.
He also became what is believed to be the first running back in Monterey County history to have more than 300 carries in the regular season. Olivares finished with 313.
Olivares was part of a vintage Palma performance, which did Friday what the football program has been doing for nearly three decades — winning with a combination of ball-control offense and a vacuum-sealed defense.
Palma took the opening kickoff and nearly blew up the entire first quarter with a 21-play, 11-minute drive that ended with Olivares scoring on a 1-yard run, his 14th touchdown of the season. He carried 14 times on the drive for 55 yards.
Even though Palma dominated the first half – it ran 37 plays to just seven for Hollister and out-grained the Balers 168 yards to 17 – the Chieftains led just 7-0.
Hollister, which had only two possession in the first half and was held without a first down, started the third quarter nearly the same way Pamla started the first. It went on a 13-play march from its own 31 to a first-and-goal at the Palma 5-yard-line.
Three running plays moved the ball a yard short of the goal line. On fourth down Hollister quarterback David Stanton tested the teeth of the Palma defense and was smothered for no gain as he tried to power through the middle.
Trailing 7-0 the Balers mounted another drive on their next possession and went from their own 20 to the Palma 20. On second down Stanton tried to make a short pass to Cody Freitas in the left flat, but Justin Nobida-Lagrimas reacted like he saw it coming all the way. He sprinted in front of Freitas to make the pick and kept on going another 76 yards untouched for the touchdown that gave Palma a 14-0 lead with 7:03 to play in the game.
It was one of three interceptions for Palma, which held the Hollister passing game to 4-of-13 for 51 yards.
Palma quarterback Mitch Kidd went 7-for-9 for 53 yards.
Zach Hicks, with one carry for three yards in the first half, led Hollister with 74 yards on nine carries.