May 29, 2024

With his team facing fourth and one at the opponent’s 46-yard line with 2:18 remaining in the fourth quarter, Palisades High junior tailback Teralle Watson knew his number would be called to try to ice the game.

Sure enough, he took the handoff and was met at the line of scrimmage but kept his legs driving and got the yardage to move the chains, and the visiting Dolphins proceeded to run out the clock to defeat archrival Venice 28-24 on Friday night to clinch first place in the Western League with one game left in the regular season — at home against last-place University.

“It wasn’t easy. Even though I only needed one yard I had to fight for it,” said Watson, who ran the ball on all but two plays on Palisades’ last two possessions. “That was the game right there. We knew they burned their timeouts and we didn’t want to punt it back to them. With our O-line, I was confident we’d get it and we did.”

Roman La Scala threw touchdown passes to Braydon Sanford, LeHenry Solomon and Watson and scored the decisive touchdown on a six-yard keeper that put the Dolphins ahead 28-17 early in the third quarter.

Amir Smith scored all three touchdowns for the Gondoliers (4-5, 3-1) — the first on a 26-yard bootleg from the wildcat formation, the second on an eight-yard catch three seconds before halftime, and the last on a 60-yard run up the middle that pulled Venice to within 28-24 with 7:53 left in the third quarter. He also intercepted a pass.

After Palisades scored 21 unanswered points to take a 21-7 lead midway through the second quarter, London Webster kicked a 46-yard field goal and Smith’s fingertip catch in the end zone cut Venice’s deficit to 21-17 at halftime.

“Last year they gave us a bad beating so this is for the seniors,” Watson said, referring to the Dolphins’ 60-14 loss on their home field in last year’s league finale to decide the title. “We didn’t want them leaving with that still in their minds. This meant a lot to them.”

Palisades has won five of the last eight meetings, but the Gondoliers hold a 30-26-1 edge in a rivalry dating to 1961.

The Dolphins (7-2, 4-0) have won four straight since a 43-24 loss at Brentwood in the Sunset Showdown and seem well-positioned for an Open Division playoff berth as one of the City Section’s eight best teams.

Venice High receiver Amir Smith makes a fingertip catch in the end zone.

Venice High receiver Amir Smith makes a fingertip catch in the end zone with three seconds left in the first half against Palisades.

(Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

Venice was an Open Division team last season and captured the City Division I crown in 2021 under longtime coach and alum Angelo Gasca, now in his 24th season. First-year Palisades coach Dylen Smith got a victory on his first try against Venice and jumped up and down with his players after the final kneel-down.

The last time neither Venice nor Palisades finished first in league was in 2018 when Fairfax claimed its second of back-to-back titles.

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