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FIELDER’S CHOICES: Look for Gorman, Liberty to advance to state title game

 

Throughout the month of November, people on social media sites have been posting each day what they are thankful for.

Their wonderful co-workers. Their pet turtle, Speedy. Georgia’s defensive backs not being able to knock down a Hail Mary against Auburn. You get the picture.

I got caught napping in English class this week, and as punishment my teacher is making me compile one of those Thanksgiving lists. I bet she’s still on Facebook. SMH.

Regardless, here is what I’m thankful for:

— Digital voice recorders, because nobody speaks faster than a prep football coach. It’s like they all mainline Red Bull and Pixy Stix.

— Artificial turf football fields with the tiny black, rubber pellets.

— Officials who walk off 5 yards for a penalty, not 3½ or 6.

— The Division I state playoffs having two weeks alone in the spotlight.

On that note, here’s a deeper look at Saturday afternoon’s semifinal matchups:

PALO VERDE (10-1) AT BISHOP GORMAN (11-2)

What would Thanksgiving be without a game between these two schools? This is the seventh straight season Palo Verde and Gorman have met in the postseason and the fifth time it has been in the Sunset Region final.

Palo Verde is the last Nevada team to beat the Gaels — the Panthers won 50-14 in the 2008 region title game — and Gorman hired Tony Sanchez as coach a few months after that 36-point drubbing. Since Sanchez arrived from the Bay Area, the Gaels are 4-0 against their Summerlin rival, winning by an average score of 43-18.

How Palo Verde can win: Force Gorman to throw. That’s about all I can come up with.

The Panthers figure to move the ball a bit on offense, and their best chance to slow the Gaels is by loading the box against the run and making Gorman quarterback Randall Cunningham convert third-and-long situations with his arm. Cunningham is completing only 54.6 percent of his passes this season.

Why Gorman will win: It has won 56 in a row against in-state opposition, that’s why.

More to the point, the Gaels’ coaching staff realized its best players are offensive linemen, and Gorman has mauled teams with a four-headed rushing attack since that point. No reason to think the Panthers’ defense will be able to stand up to it, either. … Bishop Gorman by 14.

LIBERTY (10-3) VS. REED (11-1)

The folks in Sparks weren’t happy when they found out in an email Monday that this Division I state semifinal between two perennial postseason bridesmaids had been moved from Reed to Bishop Manogue. And who can blame them? That’s like getting dumped via text message.

Liberty is in the state semifinals for the fourth consecutive year, and this is the Patriots’ most potent offense under fifth-year coach Rich Muraco. The Patriots average 40.5 points thanks to an aerial assault that has produced more passing yards than any other team in the state.

How Reed can win: Run the ball. A lot.

That might seem strange considering pass defense hasn’t been one of Liberty’s strengths this season. But with the exception of their opener against Salpointe Catholic (Ariz.), the Patriots have struggled most when they can’t stop the run. See the Centennial (Calif.), Coronado, Basic and Canyon Springs games for proof.

Luckily for the Raiders, they have running back Jordan DeLeon (1,697 yards, 30 TDs) and quarterback Christopher Denn (1,129 yards rushing).

Why Liberty will win:  Size matters. The Patriots battered and bruised teams not named Gorman in past seasons and are still huge up front to go with a handful of playmakers on the outside. That gives Liberty the ability to wear down opposing teams or turn to quarterback Tyler Newman (3,657 yards, 41 touchdowns) if it becomes a shootout. … Liberty by 6.

Last week: 5-1 (5-1 with points)

Season: 80-23 (71-32 with points)

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