A battle of undefeated teams, sharing the No. 1 ranking in the latest coaches’ poll.
Friday night’s game between Palo Verde and Cheyenne looked like an incredible matchup, a dogfight between two of the area’s best football teams. But that game never materialized.
Instead, Cheyenne shot itself in the foot, turning the ball over six times, as Palo Verde rolled to a 25-0 victory in the Northwest League opener for both teams.
“Too many miscues and too many fumbles in the beginning,” Cheyenne coach Charles Anthony said. “We just shot ourselves in the foot. We’ll learn the from it.”
The Desert Shields (3-1) turned the ball over on three consecutive touches, fumbling to end their first offensive drive, then fumbling consecutive kickoffs.
The Panthers turned the first fumble into the game’s first score, as Kelly Zurowski’s 1-yard run capped a 40-yard drive.
On the ensuing kickoff, Palo Verde’s Sidney Hodge put a hard hit on Cheyenne’s Terrence Brison just as he picked up the squib kick, forcing a fumble. Chappell Thomas jumped on it at the Cheyenne 18. Three plays later, Palo Verde’s Torin Harris scored on a 9-yard run.
“Sid went down, made a great hit and my brother picked up the ball,” said running back Chaz Thomas, who rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown. “Every turnover turns into emotion for us, and we try to capitalize on it.”
Brison fumbled again on the next kick, and Hodge intercepted a Kaeo Helekahi pass later in the half to help stall another drive as the Panthers took a 12-0 lead into halftime.
Even when Cheyenne got some offense going on its final drive of the first half, a mental error kept the Desert Shields out of the end zone.
Cheyenne drove to the Palo Verde 5-yard line. The Desert Shields were out of timeouts, and Helekahi spiked the ball with 4.1 seconds left to stop the clock.
The only problem was, it was fourth down.
Cheyenne drove to the Palo Verde 5 in the third quarter, as well, but Jordan Butler fumbled on fourth-and-goal, and the Panthers recovered.
“We’ve just got to be more focused,” Anthony said. “What Palo did, is they executed. They got down there on the short field, and they scored.
“With us, we’re driving 40, 50 yards, and then it’s a botched play or a fumble or something that breaks our momentum.”
Cheyenne outgained Palo Verde 274-173 yards but fumbled seven times, losing four.
Helekahi was intercepted twice, the second time by Harris, who returned the ball 61 yards for a touchdown to close the scoring.
“It was tough,” Chaz Thomas said. “The score says 25-0, but it seemed like a 3-0 game.”
Marcus Sullivan rushed for 108 yards on 16 carries for Cheyenne, which had outscored its first three opponents 158-18.