Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012 | 2:05 a.m.
Bishop Gorman vs. Palo Verde. Arbor View vs. Centennial. The start of the Sunrise region playoffs. The semifinals of the Division 1A playoffs. It's a packed week of high school football for Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer to break down on this episode of Prep Sports Now.
Bishop Gorman High School football coach Tony Sanchez dug deep into his game film library in preparation for this important contest.
When his players gathered for practice in preparation for Friday’s Sunset Regional semifinal against visiting Palo Verde, one of the first things Sanchez did was insert a video of the 2008 game featuring the two Summerlin rivals.
It’s somewhat odd that Sanchez would pick game film from that season because he was still coaching in California and none of his players had entered high school. But that was the last time Palo Verde beat Gorman, rushing for 426 yards in a dominating 50-14 victory — the most lopsided defeat Gorman has suffered in a decade.
You could easily argue that the Gorman players quit competing that afternoon, giving the program a black eye that ultimately led officials to bring in Sanchez as its coach.
After showing a few plays of Palo Verde dominance, Sanchez put in another tape. This one showed the 2009 game — his first year at the helm — featuring a Gorman team that played inspired to erase the previous season’s blowout. They won, 38-28, in a game that was close until the final whistle and still serves as one of Sanchez’s signature wins in 52 victories as the Gorman coach.
“(The film) reminded our kids to be humble and to come work hard every day,” Sanchez said. “It showed them how our kids responded and the passion they played with in '09. That is the biggest thing: the amount of passion and energy those kids played with. That is what we want to emulate.”
The three-time defending state champs haven’t lost to a Nevada opponent since coming up short against Palo Verde in 2008. They win by comfortable margins most Friday nights. The one exception is against Palo Verde, which always keeps the score close and has a chance to win.
In 2009, Palo Verde led briefly in the second quarter before Johnathan Loyd returned a kickoff for a touchdown late in the second quarter. In 2010, Palo Verde kicked a field goal to lead 3-0 with 27.1 seconds before halftime, but Gorman’s Ryan Smith caught a long pass on the first play of the ensuing series, and Gorman needed just four plays to answer with a touchdown to take the lead for good with 1.4 seconds left in the half.
Talk with players on both teams and they’ll likely confirm this is the game they wait all season to play. Gorman plays several times each year on national television against out-of-state foes, but its players agree facing Palo Verde is just as important — if not more.
While Gorman (9-1) could be considered a heavy favorite because Palo Verde is having a down year with four losses, the spirit of the rivalry dictates otherwise. This week, past games in the series and records mean nothing.
“It is funny because great rivalries usually happen during the season,” said Smith, a senior who is starting his fourth Palo Verde game. “But with these two great teams, it always happens in the playoffs, and that adds (importance) to it.”
The game has set NIAA playoff attendance records , creating an atmosphere only seen once annually for Nevada high school football. Some around town feel it’s the only game that matters.
Despite coming up short the past three years, the Palo Verde players still have confidence they can win. Like past games, they are preparing for a contest that won’t be decided until the end.
It’s easy to argue Palo Verde is the one local team that has kept it close against Gorman in Sanchez’s three-plus years. When other teams are mentally defeated before the game begins, Palo Verde’s players seem to cherish their role as the underdog team.
“It is a battle of the big dogs, basically. We know all those kids over there and they know us,” said Palo Verde’s Michael Hughes Jr., a senior defensive lineman and one of the Panthers’ top defenders. “We just need to get into that backfield and make plays. Keep hitting them. Hit them all the time.”
Palo Verde has lost just twice the past two years — each time to Gorman. This year, despite losing to three local opponents by a combined 21 points, the Panthers still are considered one of the town’s elite teams.
They are led by senior wide receiver and defensive back Ryan Beaulieu, who had more than 200 yards received and three touchdowns last week in a quarterfinal win against Legacy. He also returns kickoff and punts and could change the landscape of the game on one play. Defensively, he’ll likely guard Smith — for the fourth straight year — in a matchup of arguably the best receiver and defensive back in Las Vegas.
“He’s a great corner,” Smith said. “It is just the way he plays defense. He knows the deep ball is my favorite route, so he plays a couple yards off.”
That familiarity is one of the reasons the rivalry is so anticipated. The schools are located about a 10-minute drive apart from each other, and several players grew up competing with each other in youth leagues. Like Sanchez in his film library, Palo Verde Darwin Rost also has plenty of tapes of past contests. It’s safe to say both coaches have a good idea of what to expect from each other.
“The kids will be ready. The communities will be ready. It is just a matter of strapping up and getting after it,” Rost said.
Even though Friday will have a state championship feel to it, the winner will have to win three more playoff games to capture the title. They will face the winner of Friday’s Arbor View-Centennial game in the Sunset finals.