Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 | 10 p.m.
Kaitlyn Millican’s passion for football started at a young age when she used to throw the ball in the backyard with her dad for what seemed like countless hours.
She always dreamed of passing for a winning touchdown, but quickly realized that likely would never be a reality because the opportunities for girls to play the popular boys game were limited.
That all changed this winter in Southern Nevada.
The Clark County School District offered girls flag football for the first time, giving an opportunity for Millican and others to live out their gridiron dreams.
And get this. Not only did the Palo Verde High School senior quarterback throw a game-winning touchdown pass, she also led her team to the district championship with the scoring strike.
Millican connected with Caitlin Dorsey late in the first half Wednesday in the title game against Silverado for the Panthers’ lone touchdown of the game. On the point-after attempt, she found Morgan Myers for the conversion in what amounted to the winning point in the 7-6 victory.
Millican couldn’t have scripted the outcome any better.
The Panthers trailed Silverado 6-0 with less than a minute remaining in the first half and faced a fourth down play at the Silverado 3-yard line. Palo Verde would either score, or waste the opportunity and turn the ball over on downs.
Millican scrambled out of the pocket to avoid the pass rush, then lofted a pass to Dorsey in the corner of the end zone. It was like she was throwing to her father, a former wide receiver, in the backyard as a child growing up in Alabama and Georgia.
“I’m a football fanatic. When I heard football was up for girls, and there was a chance to play for state, I was all for it,” said Millican, who unofficially completed 16-of-19 passes for 116 yards. “I’ve been dreaming about this since I was 10 years old. If it weren’t for my dad, I wouldn’t have been here.”
The Palo Verde defense did the rest.
Silverado, which won the Sunrise championship Tuesday by knocking off previously unbeaten Green Valley, scored on its initial drive of the game on a 55-yard run from Danni Parven for a 6-0 advantage. However, the rest of the game, Palo Verde held Silverado to less than 100 yards of offense.
“We had a lot of discipline with these kids,” Palo Verde coach Kevin Hagood said. “They really listened to us and bought into us. That is the great thing in the sense from the very bottom up we had to teach them every skill and they listened to everything we said. They did their job.”
When the final seconds started ticking off the clock, and the girls on the Palo Verde sideline realized what they had just accomplished, a joyous celebration immediately started. Forget about the thrill of simply getting the chance to play the new sport, the Palo Verde girls became emotional for the obvious reason: They were champions. The first champions.
Players stormed the field for a celebratory dog pile. Friends, family and Palo Verde students quickly followed to join in — each taking photo and video with their phones. Some girls grabbed water bottles to dump on their coach and several loudly sung the school fight song in unison.
Amid all the chaos, Millican found herself a few feet behind the group by herself. She had tears in her eyes and a smile from ear to ear, basking in the championship feeling that starting to sink in.
“What stood out for me was being able to come out here and play with a group of girls so talented and so level-minded, and that wanted to just go out there and win,” Millican said. “We shared that goal all season long, and today we came out here and became state champs.”
The journey, of course, started in the fall when the district announced plans to add the sport. Palo Verde and Silverado had more than 100 girls express interest, immediately becoming two of the better teams.
Each girl at all of the area’s 30-plus high schools had a similar reason for wanting to play — they loved the game, whether it was watching on the weekends or playing as a child.
That was obvious in the intensity the players from both teams had Wednesday in playing for the title. Flag football isn’t played in Northern Nevada, and while the championship the Panthers won is considered just the district title, they rightfully consider themselves state champs.
“I’ve always wanted to play football. When I was a little girl, I used to play flag football with all of the boys and I would beat them up,” said Markie Henderson, Palo Verde’s senior running back, who is a standout soccer player committed to play at Miami.
“I had to stop playing because it got to Pop Warner and tackle football and I wasn’t allowed to play,” she continued. “This sport right here is for all girls to play. It is so important. I have never been part of a team that has come together as a family and fought for each other like this.”
Playing football at Palo Verde comes with a big responsibility. Palo Verde is one of the state’s most respected tackle programs, and the expectations of winning was something Hagood preached starting with his first practices. Fittingly, Brad Solomon, Christian D’Orozio-Martin and Keyyon Metoyer-Bush, all members of the tackle team, served as team managers and assisted in the coaching.
Now, Palo Verde will have add another football banner to the walls in the school gym.
“Oh man, we just made history,” Henderson said. “That is what I told my team before the game, ‘We’ll make history.’ That is all we have been wanting, waiting for the day and working hard to be champions. That’s Panther football.”
Other members of the team included: Natalia Albarran (who had three catches for 33 yards), Alex D’Acunto, Mariah Kelly, Hannah Kroll, Hailee Lewis, Alyssa Milliren-Garcia,, Logan Nielson, Caitlin Oxford, Emmaleigh Schneider, Tianna Shepard, Taylor Shrader, Emily Strong, Sydney Tuiofea, Gabby Velez, Lindsay Weisbord and Natalie Wright.