Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012 | 2:05 a.m.
Bishop Gorman and Faith Lutheran pulled off upsets against out-of-state opponents last week. Can Liberty follow suit when it travels to Southern California to challenge Crespi Saturday night? Gorman's got another televised contest, too — against Saint Louis in Hawaii. Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer break down these contests and more on this edition of Prep Sports Now.
Coby Newton’s 3-yard touchdown run with 45.3 seconds remaining Friday lifted Centennial to an emotional 24-20 victory against Palo Verde in a rematch of last year’s Sunset Regional semifinals.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Centennial players celebrated as if they had just won the state championship. Some even had tears in their eyes.
You can’t blame them for being happy.
Last year, Centennial led Palo Verde for most of the playoff game, but surrendered a touchdown with about 30 seconds remaining for a devastating loss.
That defeat stuck with the returners players the entire offseason, fueling them during conditioning sessions and summer practices in the grueling heat for another chance at redemption. Now, they have the glory they were so close to enjoying last year.
“We already had a big fire toward Palo Verde. They are always a big rival,” said the senior team leader Newton, who rushed for 193 yards on 26 carries. “Over the summer, (the loss) added more fuel, more fuel, more fuel. We came out and that fire exploded tonight.”
Centennial, unlike last year, made the big play when it counted.
Palo Verde’s defense was solid most of the night in holding Centennial to just a field goal in the second half. But finally, after going three-and-out on consecutive possessions with less than eight minutes to play, Centennial was able to break through on its final drive of the game.
Austin Turley’s long pass to Deontae Gilkey with about 90 seconds remaining put Centennial in business at the Palo Verde 20-yard line. Newton carried the ball the following two plays in powering his way to the winning points.
“This was huge. This was huge,” Centennial coach Leon Evans said. “All they ever hear is how Palo Verde is going to crush them, but they didn’t let it happen tonight. They just fought.
“All spring and summer, (our focus) was getting back to this game and getting the ‘W,’” he continued.
While Newton’s strong running fueled Centennial all night, the most significant play belonged to kick returner Lantz Worthington. Worthington returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown with 27 seconds remaining in the first half to give Centennial a 14-12 lead at halftime and kill the momentum Palo Verde had from scoring 10 unanswered points during a two-minute stretch late in the half.
Centennial led 7-3 toward the end of the first half, but Palo Verde captured the lead with a lengthy drive and 1-yard scoring run from junior quarterback Tom Randall. Turley fumbled the snap on the first play of Centennial’s next possession, and four plays later, Ryan Beaulieu drilled his second field goal of the half, a 30-yard attempt.
Last year, the fumble and poor play late in the first half could have signaled disaster for Centennial. But, then again, this isn’t last year.
“Quitting is not an option in this program. We keep fighting to get that ‘W’,” Newton said. “That is what happened tonight.”
While the victory was arguably the most significant in Evans’ three-year tenure as Centennial’s coach, he made sure to stress to the players that is was just one game. Yes, even against Palo Verde.
It’s still August and there is plenty of football left. Next week, for instance, Centennial plays a Durango squad with a pair of Division I running backs.
That’s not saying they aren’t going to enjoy the victory over the weekend. After all, it’s a win they desperately desired and finally earned.
“We need to stay hungry and continue to work hard every day,” Evans said.
Palo Verde lost for the second consecutive game to open the season. Senior Ryan Beaulieu continued to be the Panthers' top player, coming up with an interception in the end zone in the first quarter, and scoring on a 24-yard pass from Rost in the fourth quarter for a 20-17 advantage.