GLENDALE, Ariz. — Palo Verde’s Ryan Beaulieu thought he had made the play to turn the game around. Then he saw the flag on the field.
Beaulieu’s 47-yard punt return for a touchdown in the final minutes was nullified by a helmet-to-helmet hit, essentially ending the Panthers’ hopes, and they lost to Desert Vista (Ariz.) 20-10 in the Sollenberger Classic at University of Phoenix Stadium on Saturday night.
“As soon as I scored, I was just happy my team was back in the game,” Beaulieu said. “As soon as I found out it was called back, there was nothing you could do but hold your head up high and move on to the next play. Unfortunately it happened there.”
Desert Vista was forced to punt from its own 12 with just over three minutes remaining. Beaulieu, an all-state return man as a junior, fielded it at the 47, broke to the outside and streaked just inside the pylon.
But as had happened on many key plays throughout the night, Palo Verde was called for a penalty. The Panthers watched the replay on the stadium’s scoreboard screen and pleaded their case, but after a meeting, the officials called the personal foul and the play was overturned.
“That was a really big thing when it came to the penalty on the punt,” Beaulieu said. “We really needed that. I was in shock. But you can’t change what happened.”
It was fitting that a penalty ended the Panthers’ chances, as flags derailed them all night. Palo Verde was called for 15 penalties for 119 yards, and the call on the punt return wasn’t the only big one.
The Panthers were whistled for two personal fouls at the end of a 10-yard Desert Vista run, giving the Thunder a 40-yard gain. Four plays later, Zach Gonzalez scored on a 1-yard run to put Desert Vista up 20-10. Palo Verde was called for three encroachment penalties on the Thunder’s first scoring drive.
“That was a huge factor in the game,” Palo Verde coach Darwin Rost said. “We’ve got to clean that stuff up.”
The Panthers looked strong early, answering a Desert Vista score with a 71-yard touchdown run by Lee Griggs in the second quarter to tie the game at 7.
But Griggs missed the final 4:30 of the half after injuring his left ankle, and Palo Verde seemed to run out of gas in the second half. Griggs returned with a noticeable limp in the second half, and Beaulieu also missed time after injuring his right ankle in the second half.
“I think we got a little tired,” Rost said. “We’ve got a lot of kids going both ways, and we didn’t catch any breaks in the second half either.”
Rost said the penalty on the punt return and an interception thrown by the coach’s son, Parker Rost, with 4:28 to go turned the game.
“We had the punt return called back and then we had a fade route down the stretch where Parker threw an interception,” Darwin Rost said. “Both of those could have been scores.”
Desert Vista quarterback Matt Young was intercepted by Beaulieu on his first pass attempt. But he answered that by completing his next 12 attempts, capped by a 47-yard scoring strike to Austin Hicks with 10:00 left in the third quarter to put the Thunder up 14-10.
Desert Vista could have taken better advantage of Young’s hot streak, but fumbled seven times, with Palo Verde recovering three.
Griggs led Palo Verde with 132 yards on 10 carries, and Tom Randall hit a 23-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to give the Panthers a 10-7 lead.
Young was 12-for-15 for 164 yards to lead the Thunder, who where limited to 115 rushing yards.
“Penalties, we can work on that,” Beaulieu said. “But I’m proud of the defense and the offense did good.”
Darwin Rost was happy his team got the chance to play in an NFL stadium to open the season, and he also got to find out some things about his team a week before the official start of the season.
“Coming down here, what a great opportunity for them,” Rost said.
“You get to check and see how physical you are. And I was kind of happy how hard we hit tonight.”