Gardena leans on 'best defense in the City' to defeat Palisades in quarterfinals

The Gardena High football team has been winning with defense all season, and the third-seeded Panthers did it one more time to escape with a 14-10 triumph over Palisades in the City Section Open Division quarterfinals Thursday night.

Senior linebacker Torey Pierce hit Palisades quarterback Roman La Scala just as he released the ball and his wobbly pass fell incomplete into the end zone on fourth and 14 at the Gardena 25-yard line with five seconds left. That came one play after Andrew Aldana dropped a potential interception at the 15, giving the sixth-seeded Dolphins (7-3) one last chance.

It was the Panthers’ first playoff win under third-year coach Monty Gilbreath, an All-City receiver at Taft and then San Diego State in the 1980s.

“Torey was in the backfield all game long so I’m not surprised he got to the quarterback,” Gilbreath said. “This feels really good. I ask a lot of these kids and it’s good to see them get the reward. We shut teams down. That’s what we do. I believe we have the best defense in the City. We expected our defense to have to stop them and they did. This is a new experience for us playing in the top division but we’re happy to be advancing.”

Neither team scored in the second half. An interception by Zakye Marcus, the Panthers’ leading tackler, halted a Palisades drive into the red zone late in the third quarter.

“This was nothing new,” Marcus said. “We were in a similar situation with San Pedro, only that was on the goal line. We knew Palisades was going to go up-tempo and do a lot of quick outs and we did a pretty good job except for the one blown coverage.”

Brimming with confidence after winning its first league title since 1974, Gardena (10-1) scored on its first possession when Isaiah Kim connected with Johan Wallace on a 33-yard seam route, but Palisades answered on a 63-yard pass from La Scala to Jaden Williams. Myles Mason scored on a five-yard run to put Gardena back in front 14-7 with 23 seconds left in the first quarter.

Palisades marched to the Gardena one-yard line midway through the second quarter, but after an offside penalty and an incomplete pass, the Dolphins settled for a 23-yard field goal by Kellan Ford. At the end of the half, Ford attempted a 33-yarder but it was blocked, keeping the home team ahead 14-10.

Kim completed 15 of 21 passes for 135 yards and Wallace had nine receptions for 83 yards.

Gardena will travel to No. 2 Garfield (10-1) in the semifinals next week.

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