Paly has a new swagger; a vibe that hasn’t surrounded the varsity football squad in several years. But forgive Jamir Shepard if he isn’t exactly marching in tune.
Shepard, the junior receiver-defensive back who was one of the heroes in Friday night’s big win over St. Ignatius, will probably be limping to classes on Monday. He cramped up in both legs during the closing moments of the Vikings’ 21-14 victory in Palo Alto, but stayed on the field anyway and got the job done.
“There was no way I was coming off,” said Shepard, who caught two touchdown passes, the last one with 1:42 remaining in the game that provided the winning margin.
“That was not the time to give up,” Shepard said. “We never give up. That’s what we’ve been taught.”
Paly’s season opener was the coaching debut for their prodigal son, 1999 Vikings graduate Nelson Gifford. He could not have asked for a better start.
“It’s been exactly 20 years since I’ve been on this field as a part of a Vikings team,” said Gifford, who has made coaching stops at Cal, Laney College, Oakland High, Golden Valley and most recently Fremont in Sunnyvale. He was hired at Paly this offseason and also teaches mathematics.
“It was quite something coming out here tonight, being here again," he added. "I’m not sure I’m over the emotions yet. I’m not sure I will be for quite some time.”
All that Gifford was asked to do in his Paly debut was to take on San Francisco’s St. Ignatius, a powerful WCAL team which butts heads with the likes of Serra, St. Francis and Bellarmine in its own league.
This with a team that went 3-8 in 2017, losing five of its first six games.
But there’s something about this Paly group; a vibe that says the losing days are over.
“We play for each other here, we love each other, and coach Gifford is a big reason for that,” said Shepard, who also played varsity last season as a sophomore. “Last season we might have got down on each other and lost this game when things went bad. But this is a new attitude.”
SI took 7-0 and 14-7 leads, but each time Paly came back to tie it. The first was on an 83-yard drive toward the end of the first quarter, culminating in Shepard’s 17-yard TD reception from quarterback Jackson Chryst with no time remaining in the quarter.
“That’s when I knew we could play with them (SI),” Gifford said. “The first-game jitters were over.”
SI went up again on a 7-yard TD run by QB Teddye Buchanan in the third quarter. But Paly answered again on the next drive, which consisted of one play – Chryst’s 54-yard TD strike to Paul Thie with 4:14 left in the third quarter. Thie broke two arm tackles on the play.
Chryst was 22-of-33 with three TDs and 276 yards. Shepard caught 10 passes for 110 yards and two TDs, and Thie caught six passes for 103 yards and one score.
This one had a bit of everything. Palo Alto recovered two fumbles – one on its own 15 yard-line (Bryon Escarsega late in the second quarter). They also got an interception (Junacio Henley), had four sacks, and stopped SI runners for gains of 1 or fewer yards six times.
Paly took its final lead and then had to hold SI on one final stand. The Wildcats started at their own 23 and marched to the PA 34 with 22 seconds remaining. But on third-and-12, Paly’s Dylan Duncan, Wes Walters and Escarsega combined on a sack of Buchanan for a seven-yard loss.
SI called time out, and that’s when the trainer rushed onto the field to try and fix Shepard, who was suffering cramps.
The next play was another sack, by Louis Passarello, with 13 seconds left.
“I’m OK now,” Shepard said. “I don’t feel it. Everything’s great.”