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May 24, 2022

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Palo Verde disposes of Sierra Vista in fourth

Panthers score two fourth-quarter touchdowns in 21-7 quarterfinal win

Sierra Vista at Palo Verde

Kyle B. Hansen

Sierra Vista’s Darian Yahyavi (4) catches the ball mid-air during Friday’s game at Palo Verde.

Sierra Vista falls to Palo Verde

Palo Verde's Torin Harris (5) tries to avoid Sierra Vista defenders Ivan Vela (28) and Carlos Baez (56). Launch slideshow »

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Palo Verde’s dreams of a state championship grew one game closer Friday night, but the display the Panthers put on in their Class 4A Sunset quarterfinal victory over Sierra Vista left plenty to be desired.

“We certainly can’t expect to get to the title game by playing like that,” Palo senior running back Chaz Thomas said after his team’s 21-7 victory on its home field. “But the most important thing is we got the win and move on to play next week.”

Thomas was one of the main factors in the undefeated Panthers’ (11-0 overall, 8-0 league) advancement to a showdown next week with Cimarron-Memorial (7-4, 6-2), a 35-14 winner over Spring Valley on Friday. He scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns and helped Palo Verde control the clock with 87 rushing yards in the second half.

“I thought in the second half we really started playing tough Panther football,” said Thomas, who finished with 152 yards on 24 carries. “They had a good scheme going against us.”

The Mountain Lions certainly did, especially considering the fact that they’ve lost to the Panthers four times in the last two years — including a 35-6 setback earlier this season.

“We gave them a heck of a run tonight,” said Sierra Vista coach Mark Sauve, whose senior-laden squad finished with a 5-6 mark.

“We felt like we could beat them and came up here with the intention of doing so. For this group of seniors, I think this was a statement that we’re a darn good football team.”

But early on, Palo looked like it would deliver an outcome similar to its previous meetings with Sierra Vista.

Panthers quarterback Kelly Zurowski found a streaking Sidney Hodge for a 43-yard scoring strike on Palo’s third play from scrimmage.

But the Mountain Lions didn’t give in.

Senior running back Akil Sharp, who finished his final season with 1,631 and 21 touchdowns, kept the Panthers on their toes with long gains on the ground and through the air.

After the opening score, Sierra Vista marched down inside Palo’s 10-yard line, but Panther Torin Harris picked off Jeremy Green’s ensuing pass (the quarterback's second interception of the game) to give the ball back to Palo.

“Two times in the red zone we didn’t punch it in and instead we had those two interceptions, which really, really hurt our chances,” Sauve said.

Harris’ pick was one of the only times Friday that the USC-bound product managed to hang onto the football. He could have opened the game up by himself had he snagged two open scoring chances. He certainly would have had a touchdown in the second quarter when he was wide open down the sideline. Instead, the ball fell through his hands as the home crowd let out a collective sigh.

Later in the second half, he again found himself out in front of a Sierra Vista defender, and once again couldn’t hang on.

“We got to make those plays if we want to keep going,” Palo coach Darwin Rost said. “I counted three touchdowns that we dropped tonight. That would have been 21 more points and we only scored 21, so that’s a huge difference.”

Sierra Vista, however, couldn’t convert on the Panthers’ miscues. And Palo didn’t give them many opportunities in the second half as its defense tightened and the Panthers' running game ate away at the clock.

By the time Sharp finally found the end zone with little over a minute left, it was too late. Sierra Vista did recover the pending onside kick, but Green tossed his third pick as time expired.

“Seems like we’ve had wake-up calls all year. Overtime with Cimarron. We’re playing Shadow Ridge and they scoop and score to take an early 6-0 lead," said Rost, whose squad defeated Cimarron-Memorial 17-14 in overtime a month ago.

“But our kids know that you have to let that one play, or that one week go, and move on to the next game," he said. "This game’s over with, we’ll learn from some stuff we did in it. But you got to keep moving forward.”

Andy Samuelson is a sports writer/editor for the Las Vegas Sun. He can be reached at [email protected] or 702-948-7837.

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