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May 19, 2019

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Gorman tops Palo Verde to dance into Sunset finals

Win helps Gaels ease pain of last year’s five-TD defeat against rival

Bishop Gorman-Palo Verde

Justin M. Bowen

Bishop Gorman football coach Tony Sanchez puts his arms around running backs Victor Belen (left) and Shaquille Powell following the Gaels 38-28 victory Friday in the Sunset Regional semifinals.

Palo Verde vs Bishop Gorman

Bishop Gorman avenges its 2008 post-season loss beating Palo Verde 38-28 Friday night to advance to the Sunset Regional Championship.

Bishop Gorman-Palo Verde — 2009

Johnathan Loyd of Bishop Gorman runs a kickoff back for a touchdown Friday during the Sunset Regional semifinals against Palo Verde.  Gorman came out on top 38-28. Launch slideshow »

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It didn’t matter what song was being played on the loud speakers Friday night in the Bishop Gorman High football team’s locker room.

The Gaels, fresh off a 38-28 victory against rival Palo Verde in the Sunset Regional semifinals, were going to dance and enjoy a moment they had waited one year for.

The win helps erase memories of last year’s five-touchdown loss to Palo Verde in the regional finals. More importantly, it puts the Gaels in the driver’s seat to the capture the large-school classification title.

Nothing screams a big victory like watching some of the state’s fiercest players dancing to Miley Cyrus’ “Partying in the USA.” As silly as the postgame celebrating may appear to outsiders, it was the Gaels’ way of enjoying the moment — a moment they worked hard for with the motivation of last year's humbling defeat.

“They had such a bad taste in their mouth from last year,” Bishop Gorman coach Tony Sanchez said. “You don’t live for days, you live for moments and this was a great moment for the kids.”

Billed as one of the most highly anticipated games in recent memory, the showdown lived up to the hype.

It had game-changing plays, momentum swings and was contested in front of a capacity crowd at Gorman’s Fertitta Field in Summerlin. Some fans were turned away and several who did get in were forced to park blocks from the stadium.

Gorman (12-0) jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead on touchdown runs from Victor Belen and Shaquille Powell in the game’s initial seven minutes.

However, just when it appeared Gorman was going to win another game in lopsided fashion, Palo Verde made things interesting. Gorman entered outscoring opponents 605-58.

The Panthers (10-2) scored the game’s next 21 points, including fumble returns for touchdowns from Brandon Wright and Daniel Godkin, in grabbing a 21-14 lead with 7:34 to play in the second quarter.

“I knew they were going to come back,” Gorman’s Xavier Grimble said. “They are a good team. When they scored, I knew it was nothing big. We just had to get it back.”

Get it back they did.

Gorman needed just 14 seconds to tie the game in only the second time the Gaels had trailed all season. Johnathan Loyd went virtually untouched in returning the ensuing kickoff 79 yards for a touchdown to even the game.

“Johnathan Loyd is Johnthan Loyd,” Sanchez said. “We are in Vegas where people like to gamble. Well, giving him the ball is like gambling.”

Gorman scored the next two touchdowns to build a 35-21 lead in advancing to the Sunset title game. The Gaels will host Cimarron-Memorial, one-point winners against Legacy, at 7 p.m. next Friday.

“We had the momentum there for a moment, but Johnathan Loyd and that kickoff return gave it back to them,” Palo Verde senior captain Tyrone Blake said.

Blake’s 2-yard touchdown run with 11:09 to play cut Palo Verde’s deficit to 35-28, but the Panthers never got any closer. Colin Distworth added a 39-yard field with 5:11 left to extend Gorman’s lead to 10 points.

Palo Verde’s season ended short of the state semifinals for the first time since 2001. Still, coach Darwin Rost praised his players for their effort.

“I’m proud of my kids,” Rost said. “They never gave up and they kept working hard. ...We knew our kids weren’t going to quit. We told them to just keep playing hard.”

Anu Solomon, Gorman’s freshman quarterback, completed 9-of-11 passes for 163 yards and added a 5-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

Solomon did have problems holding onto the ball and a botched exchange in the first quarter on a handoff led to a fumble and a 35-yard return for a touchdown from Wright to even the score at 14 with 1:10 to play in the first quarter.

“You go though 10 games and you don’t have a single one of those (fumbles),” Sanchez said. “Maybe it was nerves. It is what it is and we are going to have to go work on it.”

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