Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014 | 1:58 a.m.
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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer try to contain their excitement for the start of the football season enough to get through the first slate of games. They also discuss the two defending state champions, Bishop Gorman and Faith Lutheran.
Darrion Finn wound up in the back of a kicking net on the sideline.
The Palo Verde senior running back dug himself out of the fabric in the second quarter Friday night while Centennial sophomore defensive back James Johnson and teammates celebrated the vicious hit that sent Finn there. In a dominant 16-0 victory to begin the season, the host Bulldogs had the rival Panthers all tangled.
“We played tough,” senior defensive lineman Justin Shellard said after the game with blood dripping down his forehead. “Palo, last year, they were tougher than us. That’s how they smashed us. This year, we just played our hearts out and destroyed them.”
Centennial vanquished Palo Verde in an unprecedented manner. No team, not even five-time defending state champions Bishop Gorman, had shut out the Panthers in at least eight years before Friday night.
Palo Verde’s double-wing run game roughed Centennial up in two meetings last year, including a 42-14 season-ending playoff loss. To start the 2014 season, Palo Verde could barely muster three yards per carry with Shellard and sophomore Greg Rogers controlling the middle of the line of scrimmage.
“We had to be strong in the trenches, fire out and be low,” Shellard described.
Shellard and Rogers made plenty of plays by themselves, but on the rare occasion a Panther broke free to the second level, hard-hitters like junior Tishawn Barnaby, senior Dieyon Scott and junior Demetrious Goodman waited to pounce.
Centennial’s transcendent gang-tackling ability was apparent from the beginning. The Bulldogs stuffed the Panthers on the opening drive of the game, forcing a punt after six plays.
Senior Brandan Harley fielded the punt and took off 62 yards for a touchdown. He especially relished the chance of finding the end zone after he mostly stayed out of it in a summer spent having to practice after the Centennial defense.
“They shut us out on offense,” Harley said. “We get chewed out because they’re so good. We can’t move the ball on them, but tonight showed how good they are.”
Palo Verde tried everything. The Panthers gave seven different backs carries, but none of them gained more than 11 yards on an attempt.
Centennial stuffed Preseason All-City running back Jaren Campbell, who was held to 50 yards on 13 carries, on two fourth-down plays.
The Panthers went to the air earlier than usual with quarterback Logan Hutchison, but Bulldogs senior Nicholas Humenik picked off one of his first passes. Junior Justice Selmon added a couple break-ups.
Palo Verde didn’t earn a single first down throughout the third quarter.
“That’s what we pride ourselves on: Playing great defense,” Centennial coach Leon Evans said. “They came out and played lights out for us.”
Palo Verde’s defense turned in a rigid effort too as Centennial wasn’t moving the ball any better in the first half. It wasn’t until the Bulldogs got in a two-minute drill situation at the end of the first half that they came to life.
Junior quarterback Juan Rodriguez, who finished 7-for-11 for 76 yards, and junior running back Rhamondre Stevenson, who gained 69 yards on 16 carries, led Centennial more than 50 yards down the field with a diminishing clock.
The drive set up a 35-yard field goal from Zach Mays to put the Bulldogs up 10-0 at halftime. Their final score came with less than four minutes to go in the game when Stevenson kept driving his feet through a pack of Panthers to reach the end zone from six yards out.
“He’s a load,” Evans said of Stevenson. “He’s a tough guy to take to the ground and that shows you the power he possesses.”
Power shortages aren’t anything Centennial will have to worry about this season if the win over Palo Verde was any indication. The Bulldogs tossed the Panthers around with their might.
There’s no telling where other opponents will land once Centennial starts hitting them.
“Our defense sets the tone for us,” Harley said.