At 5-foot-9 and all of 150 pounds, quarterback Brody Palhegyi may have been one of the smallest players on the field on Friday afternoon.
But when the game was over and his Cardinal Gibbons teammates were standing and celebrating the program’s first-ever state football championship following a 48-10 rout of Citra North Marion in the Class 5A title game, he may as well have been 8 feet tall and looking down on the world.
Perhaps the only thing missing from Palhegyi was “I’m going to Disney World” because it was a script perhaps written right out of a Disney movie.
Three weeks after Gibbons’ chances to win the title took a dark turn when starter and team leader Nik Scalzo went down with a blown ACL, Palhegyi, just a sophomore who had thrown less than 20 passes all season, had inherited the ‘weight of the world.’
All he did on Saturday was go out and execute a near flawless game plan. Handing the ball off to running back Vincent Davis, who enjoyed a huge day rushing for 133 yards on 20 carries sure helped.
But Palhegyi was brilliant as well as he led the Chiefs offense all afternoon finishing 10-of-16 for 138 yards and one touchdown pass.
“I would’ve never thought that my time would come now,” Palhegyi said, “but when the opportunity came up, I knew that I would have to step up and take advantage. The coaches put in a great game plan and all of my teammates stepped up tremendously to help me do what I did today.”
The win on Saturday completed an amazing three-week run for Palhegyi. While not putting up any kind of gaudy numbers, he also never made a single mistake. Just a combined 23-of-34 for 349 yards and five touchdowns. No fumbles, no interceptions.
“I watched Brody for two years before he got to Gibbons and knew what kind of player he was,” said Gibbons head coach Matt DuBuc. “Everybody overlooked him because he was little and I said that wasn’t going to stop me from wanting him to come to Gibbons. That kid has a motor, a heart, a good brain on his shoulders and tough as nails as well.”
That was emphasized by the fact that Palhegyi, whose quick feet and ability to dodge defenders could not be understated, rushed for 48 yards on nine scrambles. And his last play of the day was perhaps his shining moment.
That when he dropped back, didn’t see an open receiver and bolted up the middle. He then sprinted left, ducked his head bracing for contact and dove for the end zone flag for a 6-yard touchdown to make it 41-10 with 4:53 left. DuBuc let Palhegyi’s backup, Jordan Freeman finish the game.
“Brody went out there and put on his ‘dad’ pants,” said Davis, who is headed to the University of Pittsburgh. “I spoke to him the first of practice and told him to just ignore what everybody said on the outside. How small he was and stuff like that. Just do what you have to do and stay focused and your teammates would have your back and that’s what he did.”
“It’s shocking to be completely honest,” said Palhegyi when asked if the moment he was enjoying had hit him yet. “Of course I was nervous today but I really worked to try and treat this like any other game. I knew all my teammates would have my back and that we would get it done today. What an amazing three weeks this has been.”