Palo Verde hasn’t exactly had a lot of practice with fourth-quarter comebacks.
Most of the Panthers’ 11 games have been decided long before the final minute.
Yet in the Sunset Region semifinal Thursday, Palo Verde found itself in dire straits, trailing Centennial 20-16 with 1 minute, 36 seconds left and needing to convert a fourth-and-6 play at the Bulldog 36.
Quarterback Parker Rost floated a backward pass to Jacob Witham, who ran down the right side for 18 yards.
Three plays later, Palo Verde had a 7-yard touchdown run from Ryan Beaulieu and a date in the region final, securing a 23-20 win over visiting Centennial.
“We didn’t panic,” Beaulieu said. “The seniors showed great leadership and kept us from getting our head down.”
Palo Verde (11-0) will visit Bishop Gorman in the region final Nov. 18.
The Panthers won eight of their games by 30 or more points, and looked to be on their way to a ninth by that margin, taking a 16-0 second-quarter lead.
But Centennial (7-4) didn’t quit.
Using a passing game based around receiver Najeem Popal, who caught nine passes for 119 yards, and a defense that bottled up the Panthers, Centennial turned a 16-6 halftime deficit into a 20-16 third-quarter lead.
Popal caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Austin Turley, and Jacobi Owens raced 64 yards for the go-ahead score with 4:29 left in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Centennial limited the Panthers to 33 second-half yards until Palo Verde’s final drive.
“What changed in the second half was Centennial,” Palo Verde coach Darwin Rost said. “They came out fired up, and we struggled a little bit offensively.”
The Bulldogs punted to the Panther 33-yard line with 3:13 left.
Parker Rost’s shovel pass to Lee Griggs for 30 yards moved Palo Verde into Centennial territory.
Centennial, though, stiffened and forced the fourth-down play.
Parker Rost appeared to want to throw over the middle, then looked behind him to his right and found Witham who raced to the Centennial 15.
A shovel pass to Griggs and a quick pass to Witham moved Palo Verde to the 7, and Beaulieu swept to his right and dived into the end zone for the go-ahead score with 43 seconds left.
“I was going to hit it up tight (inside), but I read it and just bounced it outside,” Beaulieu said.
Griggs had a 1-yard TD run and a 47-yard TD catch in the first half for Palo Verde.