In a Friday Night Lights semifinal playoff thriller that will go down in Palo Verde High School (PVHS) history as one of the most incredible football games ever played at Scott Stadium, the hometown Yellow Jackets’ varsity squad defeated the visiting Fallbrook Union High School Warriors 29-28 on Nov. 19.

The hard-fought win earned the Jackets a trip to the 2021-2022 CIF-San Diego Section (Division V) championship game in San Diego on Nov. 26 against the Mission Bay Buccaneers – the first division title match-up for PVHS since 2004.

“This is what the semifinals are all about,” noted PVHS Yellow Jackets’ varsity football head coach Wally Grant post-game. “We knew we were going to be in a battle. (Fallbrook’s) a big school, playing big-time programs every week – preseason(, and) league. So (our kids) knew what was coming; they didn’t know exactly what was coming. But they knew something was going to happen. And (Fallbrook) underestimated what we do offensively, and what we do defensively.”

The first quarter saw both teams establish the run, with PV first breaking through to hit the scoreboard at the 9:38 minute mark – a 58-yard rushing touchdown by Jackets’ standout junior playmaker Markus Macon (2).

A successful extra point set the Jackets ahead 7-0 early.

With a good turnout of visiting fans in attendance, the Warriors responded in the next drive with a long rushing series – finding the end zone and uprights at the 3:16 minute mark to tie the game 7-7.

A full-house of live hometown Jackets friends, family, alumni and a solid turnout of visiting Warriors added to the hard-nosed football being played on the field, with the gravity of every down growing as the game went on.

The second quarter would see the Jackets’ senior standout Aizik Gonzales (4) break the plane for a three-yard rushing touchdown after a long drive.

With 2:33 left and a successful extra point, PVHS took over the lead 14-7.

A little over a minute later, the imposing Warriors responded with a 40-plus yard rushing touchdown and successful extra point kick to close the first half box score at 14-14.

The third quarter saw a battle between both of the Division V squads, ending with the Jackets well into the red zone.

A fumble by the Jackets after a long rushing series at the 9:57 minute mark of the fourth quarter saw the Warriors shift momentum via a big 91-yard scoop and score rushing touchdown to take over the lead.

The successful extra point put Fallbrook ahead for first time in the game, 21-14.

In-line with the character 2021-2022’s Jackets have shown throughout the season, the hometown squad responded with key blocking and a long rushing series – culminating at the 1:55 minute mark, when Macon (2) rushed in for another touchdown.

A clutch, albeit close, extra point kick by this year’s Desert League champs tied up the ballgame 21-21.

Not to be outdone, the Warriors responded in the very next kickoff with standout Fallbrook playmaker Marquise Washington (5) delivering a deafening return into the endzone at the 1:43 minute mark of the fourth quarter. A successful extra point kick pushed the score to 28-21, Warriors.

“(Fallbrook) got the kickoff return; they got a scoop and score and a fumble – I mean, our defense played…It’s not going to show on the scoreboard. But our defense played a hell of a game; excuse my language. But the defense kept us in this game. And the offense – the biggest difference between the Shadow Hills game and this game is that our kids believed in the one play. Because that’s what (Fallbrook) was giving us – and we just kept running it, and running it, and running it,” noted Grant.

The composure shown by the Jackets in the next series cannot be understated.

Following the harsh and sobering kickoff return touchdown by Fallbrook, the Jackets again marched down the field.

With a ready frontline, a steady quarterback in Rio Albanez (7), and a ready hometown crowd, Macon (2) would burst through the endzone a third time with 49.7 seconds left in the game.

“And then we came up with the two-point conversion. And the kids – (during the) time out. I asked them, ‘What’s going to get us three yards?’” shared Grant. “There wasn’t a hesitation.”

The Jackets came to the line, the ball was snapped, and Macon (2) hand-delivered one of the most important plays in PVHS history – a two point, three-yard rushing conversion to take the lead 29-28. Joyous pandemonium streaked across the Scott Stadium stands and greater Palo Verde Valley.

“It was an easy decision. And it wasn’t even a decision on my part. The kids told me what to do – and they did it,” shared Grant.

A kickoff followed, with PV able to snag the receiving Warriors’ player to set up the final seconds of the game.

Fallbrook’s last opportunity ended with a fumble, recovered by Jackets’ standout senior student-athlete and defensive powerhouse Nicolas Garnica (65).

“In ’04, (the PVHS Yellow Jackets football program) got to the finals; so, we’re doing something that ’04 did. (The) ’04 (team) paved the way, you know; they did it. And now we’re following. And hopefully, we’re able to finish what they started. But as far as I know, in talking to people – ’04’s the only team in history, and now we’re the second team in the school’s history to get to the finals,” noted Grant in paying homage to great Jackets football program of 2004. “These kids – I can’t tell you how proud I am. And it starts with (PVHS Principal Rachel) Angel up top, all the way to (PVHS) Athletic Director Genny (Hann), (and) my assistant coaches that are just doing an outstanding job – they’ve bought into it. To the kids – who now understand it, believe in it. And with a minute and forty to go, we threw one pass and moved right down the field.”

As summed up by PVHS Jackets’ varsity football assistant coach Richard Johnson to the hometown student-athletes post-game: “That game will be talked about forever.”

The Desert League Champions (10-2 overall; 4-0 league) will now be facing Central League’s Mission Bay Buccaneers (10-2 overall; 4-0 league), who are coming off a 41-7 win over Calexico on Nov. 19 and a 35-7 win over El Cajon Valley on Nov. 12.

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