Loyd’s return drives Gaels past Panthers

Johnathan Loyd has quickly become Bishop Gorman’s not-so-secret weapon.

And the senior came through with perhaps his biggest play of the season Friday night.

After Palo Verde rallied from a 14-0 deficit to take a 21-14 lead, Loyd returned a kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown and the Gaels wouldn’t trail again in a 38-28 home win over the Panthers in the Sunset Region semifinals.

Gorman (12-0) will host Cimarron-Memorial (9-2) in the Sunset Region title game at 7 p.m. Friday.

“When we need him, he’s a go-to guy,” Gorman senior Xavier Grimble said of Loyd. “That was a big kick return right there. If we didn’t have that play, I don’t know. That was a lot of momentum in the game.”

Palo Verde had just taken the lead on a 57-yard fumble return by Daniel Godkin with 7:34 left in the first half.

But Loyd scooped up the ensuing squib kick and raced 84 yards, tiptoeing down the sideline for the score. Loyd, a standout basketball point guard, has scored six touchdowns this season while moonlighting on the football field. He has four punt returns for scores, and also has returned an interception for a touchdown.

“John Loyd is a big-time football player,” Gorman coach Tony Sanchez said. “Someone’s going to give that kid an opportunity and he’s going to make them look like a prophet. That guy is absolutely incredible.”

Gorman raced to a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter on a 17-yard TD run by Victor Belen and a 20-yard TD run by Shaquille Powell.

Palo Verde (10-2) got a 1-yard TD run by Sean Mears and then jumped in front by capitalizing on Gorman turnovers. Brandon Wright scooped up a fumble and returned it 30 yards for a TD to tie the game at 14 with 1:10 left in the first quarter.

Godkin’s return then gave the Panthers the lead and the momentum, but it didn’t last long.

“It was like slow (motion),” Palo Verde coach Darwin Rost said of Loyd’s return. I was thinking, ‘Are you kidding me, he’s actually going to take this all the way to the house?’ We had a little momentum and that kind of killed us.”

Gorman took the lead for good on a 5-yard TD run by Powell with 39 seconds to go in the first half.

Powell finished with 156 rushing yards on 21 carries to lead the ground attack as the Gaels rushed for 241 yards and four touchdowns.

“We won the game with being able to run the ball right at them,” Sanchez said. “I don’t think anybody thought our approach was going to be to run right at them. People thought we were going to come out and just throw the ball all over the place, and we can, but we’re just as capable of running the football.”

Gorman steamrolled opponents in a weak Southwest League this season, but was in control throughout most of the game against the defending Sunset Region champs.

“Everyone questioned all year long whether or not we’d be able to play in the big game, and I think our kids answered it well tonight,” Sanchez said.

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