Palo Verde steamrolls rival Cimarron

Palo Verde had to approach Friday night’s football matchup against Cimarron-Memorial like a playoff game. Without a victory over their Northwest League rival, the Panthers would have no chance of advancing to the postseason.

That’s why Palo Verde head coach Joe Aznarez set a lofty goal — no punting in the game.

His team followed through on the expectations, garnering 427 yards of total offense en route to a dominant 41-6 win at Cimarron. Aside from one turnover on downs, the pledge not to punt worked for the Panthers.

“Our kids came out and executed the gameplan,” Aznarez said. “Having a good balance on offense really opens up our running game.”

Palo Verde’s rushing attack was led by Chamere Thomas, who netted 133 yards and two touchdowns on the day. His first TD came early in the second quarter on a 1-yard run. On the Panthers’ next possession, Thomas scored from 45 yards out to give his team a commanding 27-0 lead.

“It was just a simple play that went straight through the middle,” Thomas said about his second TD run. “I tried to fake (the defender) out so he would pick one side, and I went to the other side. He tried to tackle me but I broke free.”

Fullback Ryan McCormick also reached the end zone twice, scoring from 1 yard out in the first quarter and 22 yards out in the fourth quarter. Brenton Lee, who finished with 83 rushing yards, also had a 17-yard TD run for the Panthers (3-4, 1-3), who racked up 295 yards on the ground.

“We came out today with more anger and more discipline,” Thomas said. “We were all focused on (Cimarron-Memorial) so we could win this game.”

Quarterback Nick Zuppas supported the running attack by having his best passing game of the season. He went 7-for-13 passing for 132 yards and one touchdown. His No. 1 target was Daniel Bellinger, who caught four passes for 92 yards and one score.

The Spartans had trouble getting into an offensive groove, even when they made it to Palo Verde’s 6-yard line late in the second quarter. The Panthers’ Laulea Nobriga ended the 14-play drive when he recovered a fumble — his second recovery of the game.

Cimarron-Memorial’s only score came from George Tribbles 4-yard quarterback sneak at the end of the half. The Panthers defense held Cimarron-Memorial (3-3, 1-3) to just 175 yards of offense.

“The backbone of our team is our defense, so when they get going, they set the tone for us,” Aznarez said. “We try to play a physical brand of football on both sides of the ball, but our defense is very well-coached.”

If the Panthers want to continue their streak of 17 consecutive playoff appearances, they’ll probably have to win their final two Northwest League games. That will mean scoring an upset when Shadow Ridge (5-2, 2-2) visits next week.

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