Stephen Sylvanie / Special to the Sun
Saturday, Aug. 29, 2009 | 1 a.m.
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Despite graduating nearly its entire starting backfield, Palo Verde did not appear to miss a step in its season opener.
The defending Sunset Regional champion Panthers did what they do best and ran over Spring Valley 35-7 with nearly 300 rushing yards Friday night.
"I'm very excited," said Palo Verde senior Tyrone Blake, who led the Panthers with 92 rushing yards. "This team shows a lot of heart. We have a lot of potential. Like I told people last year when we were leaving (the state championship), this year is about getting back to the state championship and winning it. That's our main motivation."
Although Palo Verde coach Darwin Rost does not think his team is in state championship form yet, the Panthers opened Friday's game in impressive fashion.
On the opening drive, Palo Verde rushed nine consecutive times for 65 yards en route to a 7-0 lead thanks to a 20-yard scamper by junior Brandon Wright less than five minutes into the game.
Following a defensive stand, Wright found the end zone again with a four yard run to put the Panthers on top 14-0 in the final seconds of the first quarter.
"Our whole theme this week was play physical and I thought we did that tonight," Rost said.
With Palo Verde's defense holding Spring Valley to just one first down the entire first half, the Panthers' ground attack picked up more momentum as Blake extended the lead to 21-0 with an 11-yard run late in the second quarter.
The Panthers even displayed a bit of passing prowess as senior quarterback Sean Mears completed 4-of-5 passes for 64 yards and a touchdown in his very first varsity start.
Mears connected with Blake three times, including a 24-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to seal the 35-7 victory.
"If you would have watched our Wednesday night practice you probably would have never thought we'd throw the ball," Rost said. "Mears wasn't completing a thing. That's why we film it and do the Wednesday practice. I told him he had to settle down and get that cockiness back and he did. He played a great game… I thought he came out and did a great job. He was real tough in the pocket and made some great throws."
Spring Valley nearly clawed back into the contest, though, after scoring right before halftime.
The Grizzlies, who received the ball to start the second half, then strung together a 12-play, 82-yard drive that penetrated deep into the Panthers' zone.
Poised to score and slash their deficit to one touchdown, a blitz by Palo Verde's Daniel Godkin forced a Stallworth fumble that the Panthers recovered on their own 11-yard line.
"That was huge," Godkin said. "That was the whole turn of the game. They were driving and driving, pushing and pushing. Our guys came together and held strong."
After recovering that fumble the Panthers controlled the rest of the night.
The Grizzlies almost scored late in the fourth quarter, but failed on four straight tries from inside the Panthers' five-yard line.
"We have to teach our kids we have to practice a little harder," said Spring Valley coach Kelly Murphy. "That's a state championship caliber team. And you have to win the turnover battle. When you play a tough, physical game it's going to come down to field position and turnovers and Palo Verde won both... We had our chances but didn't capitalize."
Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or [email protected]