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Opportunistic Panthers strike down Desert Shields for first loss

Palo Verde met Cheyenne for a high-stakes match billed as a game between two undefeated teams in the Northwest League.

The stakes didn’t last long.

The Panthers used a punt return, a blocked punt and a long run following a turnover to score three touchdowns in the first quarter in a 41-8 victory over the host Desert Shields.

“We started fast,” said Darwin Rost, who notched his 125th victory as Palo Verde head coach. “The first score was huge. We gained steam from there. (The Desert Shields) have a very good football team. It was our night.”

Palo Verde scored less than two minutes after the opening kick when Ryan Beaulieu returned a punt 54 yards for a score. On the PAT, senior Kenneth Counts was flagged for a personal foul and ejected from the game.

The Panthers (6-0, 5-0 Northwest)  would only continue to gain momentum.

KamBrenn Heatley blocked a Cheyenne punt on the next possession, and the Panthers opened at the Desert Shields five. Lee Griggs scored on a 2-yard run three plays later, and Palo Verde led by 14.

Cheyenne nearly clawed back, driving into the red zone on its next possession. But Desert Shields quarterback Tyler Power fumbled at the Palo Verde 11 to kill the drive.

On the next play, Griggs went 88 yards to the Cheyenne one, and Eric South plunged in for a 20-0 lead.

“We do a great job of making plays after turnovers,” said Rost, whose team won 34 of the past 35 league games. “It never gets old, winning in this division. We love playing in the black uniforms. Maybe its gives us some football luck.”

Palo Verde gained 216 yards in the opening half, holding Cheyenne (4-1, 3-1) to 101.

Griggs led the Panthers with 120 yards on nine carries.

Myloe Lewis had 78 yards on 10 carries for the Desert Shields.

“We just got to continue to get better,” Rost said. “We have to get healthy and continue to play good football.”

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