Palo Verde’s defense gave up more points Friday night than it had all season.
But it was a performance that any team in town would be proud of.
The second-ranked Panthers limited No. 9 Centennial to 125 yards of offense on the way to a 49-12 home victory.
“Our defense has been playing well all year,” said Palo Verde coach Darwin Rost, whose team has allowed 19 points in four games. “A lot of it was field position in that first quarter. It was because our defense held them and made them punt into the wind. Our defense has done a great job.”
The Panthers (4-0, 3-0 Northwest League) set the tone defensively right away, forcing two three-and-outs to start the game.
Both times, Palo Verde forced Centennial (0-3, 0-2) to punt into a strong wind, setting up the offense with good field position.
“I feel like our defense gets our offense hyped,” said senior defensive end Joshua Symonette, who had 1½ sacks. “It sets the tone for everything, and our offense gets fired up.”
A sack and an illegal procedure penalty on the opening drive pushed the Bulldogs back to their 10, and a 25-yard punt gave Palo Verde great field position.
The Panthers responded by chipping away on an eight-play drive, capped by a 3-yard touchdown run by Lee Griggs with 7:42 left in the quarter.
Palo Verde got the ball at the Centennial 40 following a 24-yard punt after the Bulldogs’ next possession.
This time, Palo Verde wasted no time, as Eric South took the ball to the right side of the line, then cut all the way across the field for a 40-yard TD run that put the Panthers up 14-0 with 5:18 left in the first quarter.
Palo Verde allowed a first down via penalty on Centennial’s next possession, but another short punt into the wind gave Palo Verde the ball in Centennial territory again.
Six plays later, Griggs scored on a 5-yard run to cap a 48-yard drive that made the score 21-0 with 16.8 seconds left in the first quarter. Griggs finished with a team-high 90 yards on 17 carries.
“We’re just a real aggressive defense, and we hit real hard,” Rost said. “And we had great field position, so it kind of opens up your defensive playbook.”
Palo Verde also knocked Centennial’s top offensive player out of the game early. Running back Jacobi Owens, who totaled 390 rushing yards in the team’s first two games, left after the second series and did not return. He finished with minus-1 yard on three carries.
Centennial finally put together a solid drive after taking over at its 32 with 5:18 left in the first half. Austin Turley capped the drive with an 18-yard TD pass to Cody Milford with 2:09 remaining. The ball was slightly underthrown on the play, and Milford came back and made a leaping catch over a Palo Verde defender to cut the lead to 21-6.
But on Palo Verde’s next play from scrimmage, fullback Andrew Simister broke off a 75-yard TD run.