Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008 | 5:44 p.m.
- Prep Sports Now 12/6/08
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RENO - You can't get any closer to a state championship than this.
Tears flowed like one might expect after a game played with such emotion, though the Panthers, who held a 12-7 lead with three minutes remaining, seemed more stunned than devastated.
Despite the loss, coach Darwin Rost told the Panthers they were the best team he's had in his 25 years coaching.
"I know I've won a couple state championships before, but we got beat by a very good team today," Rost said. "You get a bad taste in your mouth whenever you lose, but the thing that will hurt the most is losing these seniors. I think in 20 years from now, they'll be hanging out together."
After cruising to a perfect 14-0 record entering the game, the Panthers trademark big-play offense that allowed them to combine for 92 points in their last two games was largely stopped by a McQueen team that was every bit as physical as advertised.
Though the team was still able to rack up 290 rushing yards, Palo Verde's 12 points were the least it had scored in a game all year.
"McQueen is real physical and they're real big," Palo Verde linebacker Liloa Nobriga said. "They obviously watched tape and they just executed. But only two teams get to play in this game and we're one of them. It was still a great season."
Nobriga and senior linebacker David Castro, who each tallied 9.5 tackles, helped lead one of the better defensive efforts of Palo Verde's season against a McQueen team that routinely scored 50 or more points.
After McQueen running back Anthony Martinez scored on one-yard run less than four minutes into the game, the Lancers didn't score again until late in the fourth quarter.
With his team trailing by five with 2:47 left in the game, it was Martinez who scored the game-winning touchdown on a seemingly routine sweep that turned into a 59-yard touchdown.
The score came on the first play following a Palo Verde punt on fourth-and-1 at the Panthers' 34. During Martinez's run, Palo Verde's sideline complained that cornerback Torin Harris was clipped on the play and could have made the tackle. But no call was made.
"Everything happens like that in a game - it's 48 minutes," Rost said. "I'd never blame the outcome on a call or a play or anything like that."
The Panthers got the ball back twice in the remaining minutes but both drives ended on interceptions following desperation heaves from Panther quarterback Kelly Zurowski.
"This is going to hurt for a long time," Castro said. "I don't know if we're going to be able to put a smile on this for a while. But I'm glad we came this far and this is my team."
Palo Verde scored its first touchdown with 3:55 remaining in the first quarter on a 24-yard run by Harris, who gained 98 yards on nine rushes. The extra point hit the upright, and the Panthers still trailed 7-6.
Both teams played to a stalemate until Palo Verde running back Tyrone Blake broke a 59-yard scoring run with less two minutes left in the third quarter.
"I just bounced it out and had to make one move on the corner, and all I saw was green grass," Blake said. "I thought we had this game won because our defense was playing great. We had no business losing this game."
Though temperatures hovered around 50 degrees and the team had to travel eight hours on a bus to compete, Palo Verde running back Chaz Thomas, who finished with 82 yards on 17 carries, said playing in McQueen's backyard was not a factor.
"A field is a field," Thomas said. "You have to come out there and play. They tried to contain our speed. We got outside a couple of times but I guess we couldn't get out enough."
Christopher Drexel can be reached at 990-8929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.