Hodge carries Panthers to victory, Northwest title

One of the things Palo Verde coach Darwin Rost loves about this year’s Panthers team is that any player can be the star on any given night.

Thursday in the regular-season finale against visiting Legacy, it was Sidney Hodge’s turn.

Hodge helped erase a lackluster Palo Verde first half with three second-half touchdowns in a 35-7 victory over the Longhorns that clinched the Panthers’ second straight Northwest League title.

Palo Verde, the lone unbeaten Class 4A team in Southern Nevada, will open postseason play Thursday at home against Sierra Vista, the fourth seed from the Southeast. The Grizzlies will have a tough task against the Panthers (10-0, 6-0), winners of 11 straight home playoff games dating to 1999.

Legacy (7-3, 4-2), which gave leading rusher Deshae Edwards the night off offensively, will travel to Southwest champ Bishop Gorman next week.

Hodge padded a 7-0 Palo Verde lead with a pair of third-quarter touchdowns — a 43-yard fumble return and a one-handed catch of a 21-yard pass from Kelly Zurowski.

“It feels great that we came alive in the second half,” said Hodge, who added a 19-yard TD run in the fourth quarter. “We feel like we can score each time we have the ball. It’s great to win the league title, but we have bigger things to concentrate on.”

Edwards, who had 1,256 yards and 14 touchdowns coming into Thursday, played in the secondary and handled the punting duties but didn’t have a carry. He did attempt a pass but was whistled for intentional grounding.

Without the junior running back, the Longhorns gained just 209 total yards, 94 from Prince Oroke, who had the lone Legacy touchdown.

“What a job our defense did tonight,” Rost said. “They played extremely well and took over the game until the offense got going.”

Palo Verde held Legacy to 111 yards in the first half and stopped Oroke on fourth-and-2 from the Panthers 4 with 26 seconds left until halftime to preserve the one-touchdown lead.

“That goal-line stand was huge,” Rost said. “That play gave us all the momentum, and we carried that into the third quarter. It’s great to have several players on both sides of the ball that can make plays at any time during a game.”

Chaz Thomas led the Panthers with 100 yards on 20 carries, and Tyrone Blake and Grant Bernhardy each had touchdown receptions.

Palo Verde rolls into the playoffs, having outscored its last four opponents 166-34.