Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008 | 1:26 a.m.
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As soon as coach Darwin Rost addressed his Palo Verde football team following the Sunset Regional championship Friday, he took a swig of water and yelled to his players, "I don't have the bad taste in my mouth anymore."
Only it wasn't the water that washed out the bad taste.
It was Rost's Panthers dismantling Bishop Gorman 50-14 in a rematch of last year's title game, a game Gorman won in the final minute.
"It's exciting for these kids to beat Gorman," Rost said. "It wasn't like we lost to a bad team last year, but it was the only game they lost last year as juniors. Our kids worked real hard to get back in this region championship game."
The anticipation for the game was obvious as Palo Verde's home crowd was dressed almost entirely in black and lines to buy tickets stretched more than 100 yards 20 minutes before the game.
The Panthers didn't disappoint as they jumped out to a quick 16-0 first quarter lead. On the third play of the game, Palo Verde cornerback Torrin Harris intercepted Gorman quarterback Joe Huber, broke several tackles and out-ran a host of other defenders while returning the ball 43 yards for a touchdown.
"Our objective the whole week was to come out and start this game with a bang and that interception started it with a bang," Harris said. "Once we get rolling there is no stopping us. All we wanted was to come back and take away exactly what they took away from us last year. It doesn't get better than this."
On the second play of Palo Verde's first possession, Harris was at it again as he ran the ball 70 yards for a touchdown to give the Panthers a 14-0 advantage.
On the ensuing kickoff, a chop block backed Gorman up to its own 10-yard line. And two plays later, Daniel Godkin forced Huber to fumble in the end zone and the ball rolled out of bounds for a safety.
Gorman refused to lie down as the Gaels scored twice in the second quarter, once on a 1-yard run by Raphel Finley and a 54-yard pass from Huber to Xavier Grimble to cut its deficit to 16-14 at halftime.
But Palo Verde would score 34 unanswered points to end the game.
"When our kids were warming up to start the second half, we told them Gorman is a big third quarter team — that's how they beat Cheyenne (37-36 last week)," Rost said. "I said, 'We have to win this right now.' We're the ones that had the big third quarter tonight."
Harris scored his third and fourth touchdowns of the game on a 15-yard run and a 10-yard run to give Palo Verde a 30-14 lead. Both times he took the snap from the quarterback position. The Panthers padded their advantage with a 6-yard scoring pass from Kelly Zurowski to Tyrone Blake just before the end of the third quarter.
Chaz Thomas then scored on a 58-yard run and Sidney Hodge scored on a 57-yarder on each of Palo Verde's next two possessions in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Gorman didn't tally a first down in the second half until two minutes remaining in the game when the benches were emptied. Palo Verde's defense constantly put Gorman in third and long situations in the second half, forcing the Gaels to pass unsuccessfully.
"Ever since we lost to them last year we had a bitter taste in our mouths," Palo Verde linebacker Liloa Nobriga said. "Last year when we were on the bus after the game we said if we ever get back in this position, it's not going to happen again. We fought hard from the beginning to the end tonight."
Gorman coach Bob Altshuler said though he was disappointed with the game, he was proud of his team's season as it finished 12-2.
"We got beat by a better team today," Altshuler said. "Obviously we don't feel like we performed to our capability, but we have to hand it to the Palo Verde football team."
Christopher Drexel can be reached at 990-8929 or [email protected].