Green Valley managed just four rushing yards in the first half Friday, as the Gators struggled to get their ground game going.
The second half was a different story.
Sixth-ranked Green Valley had three second-half rushing touchdowns on the way to a 28-17 road victory over Palo Verde.
“We went in and talked to guys about getting off the ball and moving some bodies and coming out and needing to run the football,” Green Valley coach Brian Castro said. “We were kind of hanging our defense out to dry with not finishing drives, and we didn’t want to put our guys behind the eight ball, so we needed to run and eat up some clock.”
The Gators rushed for 98 yards in the second half and continued to be effective on the ground even after starting running back Julian Hulse went down with an injury late in the third quarter.
Palo Verde came out and scored on the opening drive of the second half, getting a 22-yard field goal from Matthew Weidlein with 8:15 left in the third quarter to take a 10-7 lead.
The Gators then took advantage of the first of two Palo Verde turnovers when Israel Robinson recovered a Chamere Thomas fumble at the Palo Verde 33-yard line. Five plays later, Hulse punched it in from 1 yard to give the Gators a 14-10 lead with 4:22 left in the third quarter.
“We didn’t flinch,” Castro said. “We’ve been down there before, and our guys will fight. That’s probably one of the things I’m most proud of with our guys is they will fight and scrap.”
The Gators then drove 57 yards on nine plays, with reserve running back Avery Fleharty scoring on a 12-yard run to make it 21-10 with 11:48 to play. Fleharty bounced off a Palo Verde defender inside the 10 and completed the run to give the Gators the lead.
Another Palo Verde miscue led to Green Valley’s next score, when a bad snap on a punt gave the Gators the ball at the Palo Verde 16-yard line.
Fleharty scored on a 2-yard run three plays later to make it 28-10 with 9:01 to play.
Palo Verde made things interesting when Robert Sharp recovered a blocked punt in the end zone with 3:15 to play to cut the lead to 28-17. But Green Valley recovered the onside kick and was able to run all but the final 24 seconds off the clock.
Palo Verde struggled offensively against Green Valley’s defense. The Panthers finished with 219 yards of offense, 179 on the ground. But the Panthers averaged only 4.4 yards per carry and had only one sustained drive.
That came in the second quarter when they went 59 yards on nine plays, capped by Max Miller-Hooks’ 2-yard TD run. Quarterback Jonathan Schofield had a key 18-yard scramble to help set up the TD.
“It was a good job by them to finish that drive, but our defense stood its ground tonight and played well,” Castro said. “I couldn’t be more proud of those guys.”
Sophomore quarterback Kalyja Waialae completed 18 of 29 passes for 203 yards. He had a 42-yard TD strike to Christian Mayberry in the game’s opening minute. Mayberry got behind his defender and snagged the pass with one hand near the 15-yard line before trotting into the end zone for the score.
“He’s doing a good job,” Castro said of Waialae. “He still makes some young errors here and there, but he doesn’t let the game get too big, and he does his best to do what we’re teaching him to do. He’s done a hell of a job.”
Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at 702-380-4587 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @DamonSeiters