PALO ALTO — McClymonds came out punching Friday night on the road with all the bravado of Mike Tyson in his prime following the opening bell.
After seeing its 26-game win streak snapped last week, the back-to-back state champ appeared unstoppable in the first quarter.
The Warriors took the opening kickoff 81 yards to the house as junior Montrell Smith went untouched, intercepted Palo Alto on its second play from scrimmage, then midway through the quarter San Jose State commit Adi Anderson employed Matrix-like moves to escape traffic for a 39-yard touchdown run.
In the twitterverse, it was the equivalent of a knockout.
Except, it wasn’t.
Paly held its ground and rallied for a stunning 29-20 triumph few predicted beyond the players and coaches on the sideline.
“We weren’t surprised,” said Paly senior Paul Thie, who caught the go-ahead and insurance touchdowns in the second half. “We know that we can beat every team in our schedule and I think that’s what we’re going to do the rest of our season — and we’re going to shock the world.”
The Vikings (3-0) trailed 12-7 at the half, getting on the board in the first quarter from 27 yards out in dramatic fashion with an acrobatic, one-handed catch on fourth-and-26 by wide receiver Jamir Shepard (six catches, 127 yards).
The name Odell Beckham Jr. was uttered more than once inside the press box.
McClymonds (1-2), which lost consecutive games for the first time since 2012, had ample opportunity to reestablish momentum, but on consecutive 10-play drives after the midway point of the second quarter it was stopped inside the 10-yard line — once on downs, then again on a fumble with 33 seconds left.
“You could see it in their faces, this one hurts,” McClymonds coach Michael Peters said. “I mean, they knew we should’ve won this game hands down, but (Paly) fought back and we let them stay around. They’ve got good, talented kids, so they did what they were supposed to do. They executed, while we didn’t.”
On the two drives thwarted at the end of the first half, Paly free safety Colin Giffen turned out to be the executioner.
First, he made an open-field tackle with 5:37 left on a fourth-down pass, and once the chains came out McClymonds came up inches shy. After the Vikings gave the ball back with a fumble near midfield, the Warriors converted a fourth-and-23 to get inside the red zone, but on the next snap the ball was stripped away and Giffen recovered the fumble.
“I just think the difference from last year to this year is that we fight for each other,” said Giffen, who also came up with an interception in the third quarter.
“We knew what was coming for us,” Giffen added. “We were ready for that.”
“I think it comes down to coaching,” Thie said. “They tell us to really believe each other and just trust each other. And that’s what we do.”
Turns out some of the coaches also wear a helmet and pads.
At halftime, Thie had one catch for six yards, while Shepard had four catches and 83 yards.
Inside the locker room, Shepard suggested the coaches use him as a decoy, which sprung open Thie for huge gains of 37, 29, 18 and 68 yards — the latter pair for touchdowns.
“I don’t think there’s any team that can stop us,” Thie said.
“That level of understanding of the playbook, considering that we just put it in in March, is huge for me,” said Paly coach Nelson Gifford, in his first year at the helm of his alma mater. “Because it means that they actually believe in it. And we did the same thing defensively.”
Paly quarterback Jackson Chryst, who took numerous hits in the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield, finished 17 of 29 for 379 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
It could’ve been four touchdowns, but Thie was ruled to step out of bounds at the 1-yard line on the opening possession of the third quarter, with the ensuing play a pitch to running back Aiden Chang (16 carries, 72 yards) to go up 15-12 with 10:35 left.
McClymonds countered with a methodical 13-play, 73-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard pass on fourth down from quarterback K’aun Green to wideout Kelvin Dunn Jr. in the back of the end zone.
Paly needed four plays to answer with an 18-yard touchdown to Thie to move back ahead for good 22-20 with 3:02 remaining in the third quarter.
“The hype is real for about 24 hours and then we go back to being just Palo Alto,” Gifford said. “But what Palo Alto is — is obviously we can play.”
The actual knockout came with 5:39 left in the game, as Chryst maneuvered around the pass rush before spotting Thie running free behind the secondary for a 68-yard touchdown.
“The pocket did a great job protecting and I just kind of stepped up,” Chryst said. “One of the players grabbed my leg, and then it just opened up and Paul was wide open. I was like, ‘Let’s throw it, he’s got it.’ ”
A 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct as players celebrated the touchdown forced a 35-yard extra point, which Paly senior Tyler Foug calmly split between the uprights to make it a two-possession game.
“Tyler is clutch,” Chryst said. “I’ve been growing up with him since fourth grade and he’s always been clutch.”
He added: “We’re like one big family. And I think that’s really important, because when we got down by 12, it didn’t matter. We knew that we could go down and score. I feel like it’s one big happy family.”