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The Ace & The Wild Card The Ace & The Wild Card
Cousins A’jae And Justin Boyd Help Stack The Deck For Pittsburg • Story By STEVEN WILSON | Photos By JAMES K. LEASH At the... The Ace & The Wild Card

Cousins A’jae And Justin Boyd Help Stack The Deck For Pittsburg •

This article appears in our Dec. 15 SportStars Extra. Click on the cover to view the rest of the issue.


At the start of the 2017 season, it was the unlikeliest of connections.

Cousins Justin and A’jae Boyd were supposed to line up on opposite sides of the field, ready to burn defensive backs and catch passes from junior quarterback Trey Turner.

But in Pittsburg High’s season-opening scrimmage against De La Salle-Concord, Turner tore his ACL and was done for the year.

The Pirates needed a quarterback, and they turned to the younger Boyd, who stepped in admirably.

“He’s one of our better receivers and athletes, but he was thrust in at quarterback,” Pirates coach Victor Galli explained. “Sometimes he’s been really good, but there’s also times where he’s not a true quarterback, so you have to live with it. He’s a wild card. But he makes some great plays.”

Despite the unforeseen swap under center, Boyd put together a stellar season. The junior tossed 21 touchdowns and threw just three interceptions in leading the Pirates to a perfect run through the Bay Valley Athletic League, a playoff win over San Ramon Valley-Danville, and the school’s first CIF state bowl game berth by virtue of a Dec. 9 win over Granite Bay. He threw for three touchdowns as Pittsburg beat the Grizzlies on the road, 37-14.

A’jae Boyd hauls in the first of his two TD catches against Granite Bay, this one a 48-yard grab.

Two of those TDs went to his cousin A’jae — the team’s top returning offensive player from 2016, who proved it on the field by earning league MVP honors this season. A’jae caught a 47-yarder from Justin to end the first quarter, and the duo added a 73-yarder in the second half to shift momentum back to the Pirates.

“People have doubted us lately about putting points on the board, but we finally got to show what we can do,” A’jae said.

The senior wideout’s second-half score busted open what had become a close game.

After Granite Bay blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone to begin the third quarter, and added a four-play, 70-yard touchdown drive on its following series, A’jae Boyd needed just two blocks on a wide receiver screen to find the sideline and scamper 73 yards to the house.

“I just knew I had to score — I knew my team needed points on the board and that was huge,” explained A’jae.

A’jae tallied a season- and career-high 180 yards on eight catches against Granite Bay. The explosive performance bumped his total up to 46 receptions for 897 yards this year, a whopping 19.5 yards per catch.

“A’jae has been doing it for three years — he’s just phenomenal,” Galli said. “He’s our team captain, he’s our leader. He just does a fantastic job. There were a couple of college coaches on our sideline. I was like, ‘Hey you’re sleeping on this kid. Where’s the offer?’ He needs a few more.”

A’jae’s performance also helped Pittsburg claim its first CIF NorCal Regional Division 1-A title.

“I’m at a loss for words,” the senior wideout admitted as he clutched the regional championship plaque. “It feels great. We went out here, took it one quarter at a time, like our coach said, and made play after play.”

Pittsburg coach Vic Galli gets the Gatorade bath at the conclusion of the Northern regional.

Many of those plays involved the two prolific cousins.

“The connection between me and my cousin is amazing,” A’jae said. “You can’t beat it.

“It’s just amazing. We’re so compatible on the offensive side of the ball. We do well together, and at practice it just flows, which is why we get the results we do in the game.”

A’jae and the team’s junior tight end Jaden Tauanu’u picked up the Gatorade bucket with time winding down in the fourth quarter. Although the game was still going, they snuck behind their coach after Galli hugged his quarterback, and doused him in celebratory fashion.

“It’s a great feeling,” Galli acknowledged, still wet from the bath. “It’s a bit of uncharted waters for us.”

Prior to this year, Pittsburg’s Open Division loss to De La Salle in the section championship would have ended their year. But a rule change allowed them to earn one more chance.

“I’m glad they changed the playoff system,” the veteran coach explained. “Our two losses are against Centennial and De La Salle, and to get an opportunity to move on and play a quality program like Granite Bay … it’s great.”

The 37-14 victory bumps the Pirates up to 9-2 this season and thanks to a gutsy performance from their unlikely quarterback, the team will finish with at least nine wins for the fifth straight season.

“This means a lot to me to carry this team to a state championship,” Justin Boyd said. “When Trey went down in the first scrimmage of the year, I knew I had to step up, and play a bigger role on this team.”

Justin’s regional playoff numbers were impressive. He finished 14-for-19 for 262 yards and three scores — the third coming on a deep shot in the second quarter to Willie Harts III, who leaped and made a great play on the ball in the back of the end zone.

Willie Harts III scored a pair of touchdowns in the win over Granite Bay.

Harts — the nephew of former Kansas City Chiefs safety and Pittsburg alum Shaunard Harts — finished the game with just two catches and five carries, but still managed to score twice.

Although the offense was impressive, busting out of a three-game slump where they averaged 12 points, the Pirates’ defense was otherworldly.

Granite Bay didn’t get a first down until midway through the second quarter, and Pittsburg had a shutout at halftime. In large part thanks to a dominant defensive front seven and aggressive man coverage on the perimeter, the Pirates held the Grizzlies to 48 total yards of offense in the opening half.

“Our defense has been playing lights out all season, but really in the last month they’ve been nails,” Galli said. “Our defensive line, our linebackers, our secondary all played well.”

Lineman Jacob Bandes — a national recruit — made a number of big plays in the opponent’s backfield, while linebacker Jack Lacy III created the first of two turnovers for Pittsburg’s defense as he picked off a pass in the first quarter.

“They’re really fast and physical and we didn’t have a good start — it wasn’t at all close to how we wanted to play them,” Granite Bay’s quarterback Jade Foddrill said. “We fell into a trap right away and we didn’t pick it up until the second half when we were already in a hole.”

Foddrill said the Pirates defense dropped seven or eight defenders into coverage on most of his pass attempts, which made it tough to find open receivers. And their unrelenting pressure forced Granite Bay to become lopsided on offense.

“We normally don’t pass that much, and it turned into a game in my hands,” he acknowledged. “It’s hard when you start going one-dimensional.”

The defensive effort was one of the best all season and it gave Pittsburg momentum heading into a CIF 1-A State Bowl game against Narbonne-Harbor City (11-2) on Dec. 16 at Sacramento State.

Perhaps they’ll have one more card to play.


Chace Bryson

Chace Bryson is the managing editor of SportStars Magazine. Reach him at

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