Hollister High head football coach Chris Cameron is on record as
saying he’s treating Friday’s game against Palma High at the
Salinas Sports Complex as a Central Coast Section playoff game.
Hollister High head football coach Chris Cameron is on record as saying he’s treating Friday’s game against Palma High at the Salinas Sports Complex as a Central Coast Section playoff game.
The Balers (4-4-1, 2-2 Tri-County Athletic League) need to defeat the Chieftains (8-1, 3-1) to have any hope of a Central Coast Section berth. Hollister has been to the playoffs every year since 1994, when Cameron took over the program.
Enter Palma head coach Jeff Carnazzo, a Chietains alumnus (’85).
“We’re treating this like it’s a Central Coast Section playoff game,” said Carnazzo. “If we win, we have a chance to play in Division I. If we don’t, we’ll probably play in Division IV due to our enrollment and our points. This is an important game for us. Even if we win, we still might not get into Division I.”
Carnazzo is an impressive 2-for-2. He’s taken the Chieftains to two straight CCS Division I titles in his two seasons at the helm. That’s a nice percentage if one can get it.
This year’s Palma team is buoyed by a bevy of juniors. The leading rusher is running back and Hollister resident Luke Lippincott, who’s rushed for 700 yards and scored six touchdowns. He’s also dangerous as a receiver.
The Chieftains have a threat at quarterback in sophomore Chad Bozzo, who has rushed for 405 yards and gained 165 yards in Palma’s win over Live Oak.
“Chad reminds me of Nick Buzzetta,” said Carnazzo, speaking of Hollister’s starting QB from 1999-01. “He’s a good athlete who can run.”
Other key components on offense are backs Ryan Hastie and Jerry Toste.
Ted Taylor, a fine two-way back, is out with an injury and won’t play, according to Carnazzo. Scott Sierra, a force at outside linebacker, is nearly recovered from his leg injury and will dress and play only if needed.
The Balers have defeated Palma the past three seasons in thrilling, grind-’em-out fashion. Carnazzo doesn’t have to be reminded of that, nor does his team.
“Sure, that’s part of our motivation this Friday,” he said. “Each of the games have been decided on special teams. When you lose as a coach, you start looking at film and break down every detail.”
Three years ago, the Balers recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff at the Chieftains 25. Buzzetta scored on a 22-yard option run two plays later. Arnold Rivera broke a big TD run to start the second half as Hollister won 14-7.
Two years ago in Salinas, the Chieftains had a faulty snap on a punt which resulted in a safety and Hollister won 16-10. Last year, Palma turned it over in a crucial situation once again on a fumbled kickoff return. The Balers held on for a 10-7 win.
The Chieftains escaped two potential losses this season with late-game heroics – something they’ve been adept at in the CCS playoffs. One of the wins was a 20-16 comebacker over Serra and the other was a 29-28 victory at Paso Robles.
Palma had a battle with North Salinas before winning 21-13 and defeated North County just 14-6.
“We were lucky to beat Serra,” said Carnazzo. “And we needed a two-point conversion late to beat Paso Robles.”
Carnazzo expects a close game.
“Hollister has a good defense,” he said. “It’ll be a physical game. Plus, it’s a rivalry game.”
One of the Balers on defense who has had a great season is senior nose tackle Brandon Para.
“I don’t want this game to be my last,” he said. “Our season has come down to this game. We have to beat Palma to get into the playoffs and extend our season. They’re a talented team. If we play our game we can stop them. We can’t give up any big plays.”
The Balers are banged up a little. Starting cornerback Jason Silva has a serious knee injury and won’t play. Starting offensive guard Ty Doty is still recovering from a knee injury and has been practicing, but is questionable.
One can expect the ball to be kept on the ground, even though the field at the Sports Complex won’t be as bad as Andy Hardin Field was last Friday. A sloppy field might help the Balers as the Chieftains speed will be checked somewhat.
That didn’t stop Salinas High too much last Friday night, which rushed for 213 yards. A big chunk came on the Cowboys’ opening drive.
“We held Salinas in check after that opening drive,” said Para. “We didn’t play that badly last week. Salinas is a good team.”
Hollister is a good team facing a very good team in Palma. It’s do or die for the Balers, who can erase a rocky season with one simple victory.