Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009 | 2:01 a.m.
First-year Bishop Gorman coach Tony Sanchez had barely finished making his way through the postgame handshake line before proclaiming — to no one in particular — that it was now officially 'Palo week.'
Of course, that's in reference to the Sunset Regional semifinal showdown which is now set up for next week between Gorman and rival Palo Verde, who slaughtered the Gaels last year in the regional finals, 50-14.
Gorman did its part to set up the rematch by unloading on Cheyenne on Friday night, 56-15.
"The first day that I sat down and talked to the team and we talked about goals, every single kid on our team mentioned Palo," Sanchez said after capping his postgame address to his team with a similar reminder. "It's something our kids look forward to all year, we knew that it was a tough road, we had to earn the right to play them just like they had to earn the right to play us through the playoffs."
It took the Gaels a little bit on Friday night to look like a team that had earned the right, but once it began to rain, well, boy did it pour on the Desert Shields.
Following a Shaquille Powell fumble which Cheyenne's Marquise Holliday took back for a 67-yard score, the atmosphere at Fertitta Field felt lifeless, with the score tied at 7-7 early in the second quarter.
Then, it was time for Gorman to try mixing things up on offense, as pounding away at the heart of the Cheyenne defense was going nowhere.
"They loaded the box up, they were committed to take away the run," Sanchez said. "It took us a minute to really open it up and start throwing it. If you're going to put nine guys in the box, our freshman quarterback (Anu Solomon), he'll pick you apart. He did that tonight."
On a 70-yard scoring drive which began a big-time Gorman second quarter run, Solomon completed his second pass of the night, then was on the receiving end of a trick play, which had Powell throw downfield to Solomon for a 29-yard gain, setting up a one-yard touchdown plunge by the frosh.
That came with 4:14 to go in the first half, and by the time the intermission came, Cheyenne was stumbling, as the scoreboard read 35-7.
After that go-ahead touchdown, senior Alex Turner would add a three-yard touchdown run, senior Victor Belen added a 13-yard touchdown jaunt and senior John Lloyd weaved his way through all 11 Cheyenne bodies for a 40-yard score on a punt return.
"I really don't think it was so much nerves, it was just playoff time, and everyone comes out to play," Turner said. "They came out coached up real well and they were fired up. We had to get ourselves fired up. We were like 'whoa,' it was a different team than on film."
Noticeably cooler in the second half was Solomon, who began to use his best weapon — burly senior tight end and Southern Cal commit Xavier Grimble — and found fellow freshman Ryan Smith on a couple of bombs down the middle.
He finished the night without a brutally impressive stat line — 8-of-15 for 136 yards and an interception, plus five carries for seven yards and the aforementioned catch — but the experience he gained was more important than any number.
"It was tough for him," Sanchez said. "At the end of the day, how many freshman quarterbacks have won a state playoff game? If you go back and research it, I bet it's not too many. He struggled a bit mentally early, settling on in, but you expect that. I think he's got it under his belt, came back in that second half and hit all those seam routes and he's ready to go, so we're excited."
Now the focus shifts straight to Palo Verde, who routed Desert Oasis in other playoff action, setting up the showdown that everyone in the Valley has waited so patiently to see.
"It's definitely a big game," Turner added. "I know all the guys on the other team, and it's definitely a school rivalry, being down the street (from each other). They put it on us last year, and we just want to come back and show that we're a strong team and show how hard we've been working."