Playing Palo Verde always gets Bishop Gorman junior running back Nathan Starks motivated to perform at a higher level.
“It means so much,” he said. “Everybody says Palo’s a rival and it’s always a big game every time we play them. It’s so much more personal because I know 90 percent of their team.”
He ran the ball Friday night as if he had a personal vendetta against every single one of them.
Starks needed just nine carries to amass 193 rushing yards and three touchdwns to lead the top-ranked Gaels (10-1) to a 71-28 home win over the No. 6 Panthers in a Sunset Region semifinal.
After a slow start by Bishop Gorman standards, an interception on the third play from scrimmage, Starks opened the scoring with a 71-yard run on the Gaels’ second possession.
Quarterback Jarrett Solomon ran in a keeper from 19 yards out four minutes later, and Armand Perry scooped up a fumble and ran it back 34 yards for a score less than a minute after that for a 21-0 lead.
Gorman coach Tony Sanchez was still not pleased with the early performance.
“I thought we were pretty sloppy early in the game,” he said. “We were able to put a bunch of points on the board, but we had a few turnovers and a couple costly penalties. We’ve got to clean that stuff up. The turnovers are what really bothered me. If you want to be a championship team, you’ve got to play a cleaner first half than that.”
Those mistakes, combined with Palo Verde’s rushing attack and a big play in the passing game, did prevent the Gaels from stretching out the lead for awhile.
In the end, the Panthers (7-5) just didn’t have the firepower to stay with Gorman. The Gaels led 42-14 at halftime and started to pull away after Palo Verde scored on the opening possession of the second half.
Starks was a big reason.
“The thing about Nate is he’s learned how to be a grinder, but at the end of the day he’s just a physical specimen,” Sanchez said. “That much size, that much power and that much speed, all you’ve got to do is give him a little bit of room.”
Solomon also completed 8 of 15 passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns before being relieved in the second quarter.
Backup Randall Cunningham ran for 63 yards and a score on just two carries.
Jamir Tillman caught six passes for 96 yards and two scores in the win.
Palo Verde got 154 yards on the ground from Lee Griggs. Ryan Beaulieu caught touchdown passes of 55 and 47 yards from Parker Rost.
Gorman will now host Centennial next Friday. Centennial played Gorman closer than any other Nevada school this year, losing 49-20 at home on Oct. 19.
“I said when that game ended I thought Centennial was one of the best looking teams in town,” Sanchez said. “Tonight’s result didn’t really surprise me. We know they will be a little desensitized. They’ve seen us. They’ve been through a game with us. They’re going to be ready to go.”