Chieftains’ head coach Jeff Carnazzo picked up career victory No. 299 Friday night. (Monterey Herald Archive)
SALINAS – When the tradition of reaching the playoffs is taken up by another generation, the celebration after a regular-season victory can be rather muted.
But Palma High’s football team can be forgiven for displaying a little emotion Friday as it ended a losing skid to its traditional rival in dramatic fashion and continued its drive to reach the postseason for 38 straight years.
“It was electric,” Palma quarterback Thomas Nunes said. “We were fired up. We expected to win this game. But not like this. There was a lot of chest pumping in the locker room.”
Nunes, whose father quarterbacked Palma to three straight league titles in the 1990s, engineered a game-winning 86-yard drive in the final 2 minutes and 18 seconds, hitting Logan Saldate for a touchdown with 17 seconds left in a 17-13 win over Hollister at Rabobank Stadium.
Palma has now won six straight since losing its opener to Mitty of San Jose. Hollister dropped to 3-4 and 1-2 in the Pacific Coast Athletic League’s Gabilan Division.
“We’re just doing our jobs,” Nunes said. “We won a big football game. We had a game plan. We were successful. Now it’s on to Aptos in two weeks.”
The two teams have had epic battles. In 2019, Palma stopped Aptos at the 2-yard line as time expired in a 45-38 win. Last year the Mariners recovered an onside kick late in the game, then scored two plays later for a 47-42 decision.
“Easily one of the worst losses I’ve ever had,” said Palma coach Jeff Carnazzo, whose Chieftains will host Aptos after their bye week on Oct. 21.
Carnazzo can pick up his 200th career win when the Chieftains face Aptos. The win would tie the Monterey County record for wins by a football coach, held by former Palma coach Norm Costa.
Going to a no-huddle in the final two minutes, the Chieftains turned to Nunes, who was 8-of-9 on the drive, hitting Saldate four times and Joe Silacci three times to get into scoring position.
“My only thought when the drive started was to put the ball in the end zone,” Nunes said. “It’s 10 yards at a time. I knew we had enough time. I think we felt after the second or third play, we were going to score.”
Having connected with Saldate on a 65-yard touchdown pass earlier in the game, Nunes marched the Chieftains down to the 15-yard line before hitting the highly-recruited receiver for a 15-yard scoring strike with 17 seconds left.
“Honestly I don’t feel like much has changed,” Nunes said. “We continue to improve. We’re starting to get better with how we run our plays. We’ve been progressing in all our schemes. It’s just better chemistry.”
The Chieftains, who have been playing Hollister yearly since the early 1970s, had dropped their past two games, falling 34-19 last year.
“It’s OK to have two rivalries,” said Carnazzo, in reference to Hollister and Salinas. “Falling to Hollister the last two years made this a special win. We have a lot of young guys that haven’t been in this position.”
In need of a stop, Carnazzo turned to linebacker Noah Orozco and the defense. With the aid of a pair of timeouts, Palma got the ball back at the 14-yard line with 2:18 left in the game.
“The defense played well, getting us in a position to get the ball back,” Carnazzo said. “We were fully equipped to run the no-huddle. Thomas showed a lot of poise. You could feel his confidence rising on the drive.”