Courtesy of Monterey Herald:
Think back over the past two decades. Remember that one football team that had the entire county buzzing, leaving a legacy other teams could only hope to duplicate.
You could easily find 20 teams during that period to consider, but I narrowed it to six. It’s up to you to choose the best.
My criteria included: a minimum 10-win season, a league title and a section crown. No question you can make an argument and a solid case for teams left off this list.
This list is filled with memories, stories of streaks, adversity and perseverance.
You as the reader will vote for the top football team over the last 20 years in the county — one that will be relived at the end of the season.
2001 Palma (12-1)
Losing the final game of the regular season to rival San Benito could have taken all the wind out of this Palma team that started the season 9-0.
Then again, the same thing occurred the year before in Jeff Carnazzo’s first year as Palma coach.
Once again the defending Central Coast Section Division I champion Chieftains regrouped for one of the most dominating playoff runs in the highest division.
“At the time, it was year two for me as a varsity coach,” Carnazzo said. “I went into the playoffs on a mission. We wanted to put ourselves on the map.”
Behind an offensive line anchored by lineman Elliott Vallejo — who went on to play for the Arizona Cardinals — Palma beat Milpitas, then routed two private San Jose schools: Bellarmine in the semifinals (33-0) and Mitty in the title game (26-7).
“We went into that championship game against Mitty and they were 12-0,” Carnazzo said. “They had dominated everyone in the West Catholic Athletic League. We were big underdogs.”
That changed in a matter of seconds when Mitty’s first pass was intercepted, setting up a short Nick Noroian touchdown run.
The Chieftains defense picked off six passes in that game, two apiece from Luis Amaral and Shane Haag, while Nick Trebino produced three sacks.
“The reason we won that championship was because of that defense,” Carnazzo said.
Of course, none of this occurs if Palma doesn’t put together a frantic fourth-quarter rally, scoring two touchdowns in the final four minutes to beat Milpitas 26-22 in its playoff opener.
Chris Stauffer caught three touchdown passes from three different quarterbacks He had two touchdown catches in his first 10 games.
Noroian, Palma’s current defensive coordinator, rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns as a 5-foot-4 beast while finishing among the team leaders in tackles on defense.
Amaral threw for nearly 900 yards in an offense not geared to throw the ball. Bound for UC Davis, he was a ball hawk on defense with seven interceptions.
“We had a dominating offensive line,” Carnazzo said. “We had a workhorse for a running back and a talented quarterback that started on defense.”
You can make the argument that this was one of the best defenses ever assembled at Palma, as it held nine opponents during a 12-1 season to seven points or less. It gave up 10 points in its lone loss.
2001 Pacific Grove (12-1)
If head coach Buck Roggeman had his way, the 2001 season would have ended after the Breakers’ nail-biting, emotional 10-7 win over Carmel in “The Shoe” game.
“I’m not a big fan of the playoffs,” Roggeman said. “But they are there. The entire postseason run was memorable.”
After opening the season with a loss to eventual Central Coast Section Division II champion Salinas, the Breakers ran off a school-record 12 straight wins in capturing the Division IV title.
“Teams are like your children, you don’t have a favorite,” Roggeman said. “What that team achieved, though, is something that has never been accomplished at Pacific Grove.”
It still feels like yesterday that Roggeman was dosed with a water bucket as rain pelted down on the San Jose City College field after a 17-0 win over Pioneer of San Jose in the title game.
“Losing the opener to Salinas woke our team up a bit,” Roggeman said. “It kind of made us change our approach to a humble and hungry style of football team that became our character.”
Not that the Breakers weren’t challenged during their record run. A big second half carried them to a come-from-behind win over King City in their Mission Trail Athletic League opener.
Of course, “The Shoe” game lived up to its billing as Phil Shin alertly picked up a punt that had not been downed and ran virtually untouched 51 yards for a touchdown.
“It was a legendary game,” Roggeman said. “People forget that touchdown was in the first half. We got a 49-yard field goal into the wind from Brooke Emanuel.”
But that was in the third quarter. A Jon Grant interception sealed the win.
“I still get chills thinking about it,” said Roggeman, who is now the principal at Forest Grove Elementary School in Pacific Grove.
Grant, who would go on and play quarterback for UC Davis, threw for nearly 2,000 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Shin caught 65 passes for 815 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Breakers won three games that year by five points or less, including a two-point win in the first round of the playoffs against Burlingame when Shin took a punt back 41 yards late in the game.
An underrated defense, anchored by Shin, Grant, Trevor Howell and Nick Posey, held three of their last four opponents to seven points or less, recording four turnovers in shutting out Pioneer.
Grant tossed touchdown passes to Andrew Engles and Ian Kennedy in the title game while Emanuel kicked his seventh field goal of the season.
2003 Palma (11-2)
A loss to Concord’s De La Salle, the nation’s top-ranked team, followed by a 14-7 setback to West Catholic Athletic League power Serra of San Mateo left the Chieftains at 1-2.
“I remember walking back to the bus after the loss to Serra and hearing people say Palma is 1-2,” Palma coach Jeff Carnazzo said. “It hit me at the time. But I knew we had something special.”
What transpired was a 10-game winning streak, capped with the team’s third Central Coast Section Division I championship in four years.
“We were on the map,” Carnazzo said.
While Palma fell 35-0 to De La Salle, which at the time hadn’t lost a game in nine years, it was down just 7-0 early in the third quarter with Division I tailback Luke Lippincott out with a sprained ankle.
“We gave them a fight,” Carnazzo said.
Lippincott, who went on to start in the same backfield with Colin Kaepernick at Nevada, missed the game against Serra.
“There was a natural letdown after De La Salle,” Carnazzo said. “We were a little beat up. But what I remember is how hard my kids played.”
The Chieftains went undefeated in the Tri-County Athletic League, with their defense shutting out three teams behind TCAL Defensive Player of the Year Patrick Paquin.
“Our defense was really good,” Carnazzo said. “Frank Doangelo was a dominating nose guard. As I talk this through, the best teams we’ve had here are the teams that dominated on defense.”
The offense wasn’t bad either. Lippincott, an all-league defensive back, also rushed for over 1,000 yards while quarterback Chad Bozzo rushed for 838 yards and threw for 701.
Palma did face challenges during its 10-game winning streak, using a 66-yard touchdown run from Ted Taylor to defeat San Benito in the league finale 7-6.
It also needed late-game dramatics against North County, when Lippincott’s 14-yard touchdown run broke up a 21-21 game, giving Palma a 28-21 win.
The Chieftains won three playoff games, defeating Bellarmine 28-14 in the semifinals, and St. Francis 17-13 in the Division I title game.
Bozzo, who earned a scholarship to San Jose State, rallied the Chieftains in the final two minutes in the title game, following lineman Tim Reader into the end zone on a 5-yard run with 1:02 left — 78 seconds after St. Francis took the lead.
“It’s fun to look back on these memories,” said Carnazzo, now in his 20th year. “As a young coach, I was spoiled.”
2006 Seaside (12-1)
Five games into the year, Seaside head coach Al Avila made a change at the most important position on offense, ultimately changing the history of the program.
Mason Foster became the Spartans quarterback. While his destiny at the next level would be defense, he gave the offense leadership behind center.
“We were a real family that had played together since little kids,” said Foster, who played linebacker for the Washington Redskins last season. “We knew how much that year meant to all of us and we held each other accountable from Day 1.”
Seaside went 8-0 with Foster at quarterback, averaging 48 points a game, beating Pacific Grove 28-14 for the program’s first Central Coast Section Divisional title.
“There was no better team in our area in the last 20 years,” Avila said. “Not one even close. When we played bigger teams, it was ‘Timber.’”
Foster threw for 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns while rushing for nearly 700 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Yet, what stuck out in The Herald’s Defensive Player of the Year’s mind was the team’s only loss of the season at Novato.
“We definitely knew we shouldn’t have lost to them,” Foster said. “We underestimated them. So we never took any team lightly again.”
The Spartans ball-hawking defense recorded four shutouts, holding four other teams to eight points or less. Foster, Michael Avila and Reggie Johnson combined for 17 interceptions.
“We were so fast and physical,” Al Avila said. “The sad thing about that is five of our best players as freshmen weren’t around as seniors. If we had had those guys, oh my God.”
Seaside scored 60 or more points three times, 50 or more points twice, piling up 538 points on the season.
A forceful as Foster was on both sides of the ball for Seaside, he wasn’t alone in taking the program into uncharted waters.
Jeremy Haynes recorded 24 sacks that year while Avila had nearly 2,800 all-purpose yards and 22 touchdowns, scoring touchdowns five different ways.
And Ty Powell, who Foster replaced at quarterback, ended up in the NFL as a defensive pass rusher for the Buffalo Bills.
“When Palo Alto got picked ahead of us to play in the State Division III title game, we felt we were the better team,” Al Avila said. “They wouldn’t have beaten us.”
2009 Carmel (12-0)
Getting over the hump began the summer before the 2009 season when a new regime brought in a new attitude that tested players’ character and will. Building a program meant sacrifices in the off-season.
First-year head coach Golden Anderson had his players training with the track and field coach. Speed was emphasized as well as conditioning.
“It was really grueling for them,” Anderson said. “It was a shock for a lot of guys. Some questioned whether it was worth it. We were demanding.”
Adding to the anxiety, the Mission Trail Athletic League’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year decided he didn’t want to play anymore.
“It was an early roadblock as a first-year head coach,” Anderson said.
Instead, it unified the program. Anderson brought up sophomore Devin Pearson to quarterback, installing an attack that averaged nearly 50 points a game after Week 1.
A group filled with uncertainty when the season started, went out and posted the first program’s first undefeated season in capturing their first Central Coast Section Division IV title.
“We were just a complete team on both sides of the ball,” Anderson said. “We didn’t have a turnover in the last two playoff games. It feels like it was just yesterday. I was spoiled as a coach.”
When Carmel used three touchdown passes from Pearson in erupting for 49 points in Week 3 to blow out Monterey, it got the attention of its peers.
So did beating Greenfield 60-0 in a game that pitted two undefeated teams through the first half of the season, using a 309-yard, five-touchdown rushing effort from Dylan Hopkins.
“It was a realization that maybe we are pretty good,” Anderson said. “Players were buying into what we were preaching.”
Still, what had eluded the program was a playoff win. It had never happened until the Padres beat Scotts Valley 61-28.
“It got us over the hump,” said Anderson, now in his 11th season at Carmel. “We kind of rolled in our next two games.”
Carmel averaged 58 points a game in three playoff games, capping a record-breaking season with a 56-35 win over Menlo in the CCS Division IV title game.
Pearson threw for over 2,400 yards, tossing 31 touchdown passes. He had just three interceptions in 208 attempts. It didn’t hurt that Hopkins rushed for nearly 1,600 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Future NFL kicker Andrew Franks gave the Padres a special teams weapon as a kicker and punter while compiling 80 tackles. Cody Johnston recorded over 100 tackles and caught 11 touchdown passes from Pearson.
“I would put that team up against any team,” Anderson said. “We only had 35 players. But that was the most complete group we’ve had. That defense was special.”
2017 Salinas (11-3)
Most forget that the Cowboys dropped two of their first three games going into Gabilan Division play in 2017, leaving uncertainly outside the locker room.
Inside, Salinas was as united as ever under first-year coach Steve Zenk. A school-record 10-game winning streak brought a league and section championship to campus.
“That was a very close team,” Zenk said. “That group really liked each other, believed in each other and trusted what we were doing. That group just smiled at adversity.”
Salinas’ statement game came when it ended a 15-year losing streak to Palma, using over 200 yards in total offense from quarterback Brett Reade in a 21-7 win.
Reade was 19-of-19 for 168 yards and a touchdown, while Ritchie Cerda rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown.
A defense, anchored by Drew Schuler, Sebastian Gomez and Nathan Martorella, didn’t allow a point until there was 3:03 left in the game.
“Beating Palma was so huge for the kids and the school,” Zenk said. “But you are always concerned about a letdown. I remember cautioning the kids at Monday’s practice. It wasn’t needed.”
Salinas went on the road and pounded San Benito 41-13, perhaps an ever bigger signature win than the week before.
“We just wanted to get better each week,” Zenk said. “When your best player stands up before the game and says ‘I don’t care if I get a yard as long as we win,’ I just said ‘let’s get a break and go.’”
Zenk was speaking about Reade, who threw for nearly 1,900 yards and rushed for 1,128, compiling over 3,000 yards in offense with 32 touchdowns that season.
A league title wasn’t the goal. Neither was a section title. But to get to the next level, Salinas would have to avenge its last loss that season in a rematch against Milpitas in the CCS title game.
“Nobody gave us a shot to beat Milpitas,” Zenk said.
When Milpitas took an 18-7 lead in the third quarter, but the Cowboys didn’t flinch, answering with a score and a stop, producing the game’s final 18 points for its first section title in 16 years.
“Jeff Weimer, Ritchie Cerda, Ivan Curiel, Kelly McDermott and Mike Cortez all stepped up,” Zenk said. “It wasn’t just one guy. Everyone took a turn at doing something great for us.”
In the Northern California 4-AA playoffs, the best season in school history came to a heartbreaking end when Salinas fell 43-42 to Placer in overtime.