Palo Verde coach Joe Aznarez gathered his team around after a big opening night win and delivered a simple message: we’re still the worst football team in the Northwest League.
The intent was to keep his team hungry heading into next week, even if the statement is a little hard to believe after Friday.
The Panthers turned two second-quarter fumbles into touchdowns at Sierra Vista to earn a 24-7 road win to open their 2017 season, erasing memories of an 0-6 start to last year.
“We’re more motivated than we were last year. We’re more encouraged to play better and play harder,” senior Daniel Bellinger said. “(Because of last year), we have a chip on our shoulder. We were disrespected in the paper and now we want to prove something so we’re going to go out and do that.”
Palo Verde raced out to a 10-0 lead on the road, but then the Mountain Lions put together an 80-yard touchdown drive and their defense got the ball back. That’s when the Panthers defense started making plays.
Palo Verde senior Jonathan Carpenter pounced on a fumbled exchange on the ensuing Sierra Vista drive and returned the ball 45 yards for a touchdown. On the Mountain Lions’ next possession, Bellinger grabbed another fumble to put the Panthers in scoring position just before the first half was over.
To cash in on the turnover, Aznarez called for a fake field goal on fourth down at the 27-yard line with one second remaining in the first half. Quarterback Nick Zuppas got the ball and lofted a pass to Bellinger, who broke a tackle at the 10-yard line and scored to give his team a 17-point halftime lead.
“We had been working on it. We had a little fake in and that was it,” Aznarez said. “They loaded up on the other side and we flipped our tight end. He was with the right man in the right spot.”
The Panthers’ defense worked to secure the win from there, holding Sierra Vista to only 169 yards of total offense.
The night began with plenty of fanfare with representatives of the Raiders on fans as part of the team’s community outreach program, with former defensive tackle Roy Hart and cheerleaders appearing at midfield for the coin toss. A giant Raiders banner was hung by the east end zone, saying the professional team supported the Mountain Lions and their “commitment to excellence.”
Friday night, that statement certainly applied more to the other team on the field.
“Everyone thought we were going to do bad, but we came in here and proved them wrong,” Carpenter said. “I think that shows what we’re about.”
Green Valley 42, El Toro (Calif.) 35 — At Lake Forest, Caliornia, quarterback A.J. Barilla connected with Kalyja Waialae on a 70-yard touchdown pass with 1 minute, 5 seconds left in the fourth quarter for the go-ahead score as the Gators earned the road win.
After Waialae’s TD catch, the Green Valley defense forced El Toro into a four-and-out before taking over on offense and kneeling.
“I’m super excited for our kids and how they fought down to the wire,” Green Valley coach Brian Castro said. “We knew we were playing a good football team, and they were up to the challenge.
“(The go-ahead TD) is something we’ve run a lot in practice and during the spring time. We hadn’t run it all night long, and it was just one of those deals where we had to get it down the field in a short amount of time. Waialae caught it and outran the defender for the touchdown.”
Barilla also threw a touchdown pass to Christian Mayberry and ran for another score to lead Green Valley (1-0), which led 21-14 at halftime.
“It was nice to have (Barilla) back,” Castro said. “More than anything, with what he’s been through with his injury, it was just exciting to see him back on the field. I couldn’t be more happy for him.”
Braxton Harms and Noah Hawthorne each had a rushing TD, and Reyden Morett returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown for the Gators.
Cimarron-Memorial 30, Coronado 23 — At Cimarron, senior quarterback George Tribble completed 12 of 19 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns to help the Spartans hold off the Cougars.
Tribble hit Marcus Poole on a screen pass for an 81-yard score with 4:14 left in the third quarter to give the Spartans a 24-16 lead, and teammate Alonzo Pollard added a 1-yard TD plunge early in the fourth quarter to increase the lead to 30-16.
Cimarron led 17-0 in the first quarter on a 43-yard TD strike to Karion Harrell from Tribble, a safety, and a 15-yard scoring hookup to Marcus Phillips from Tribble.
Coronado responded with three straight scores to cut the lead to 17-16 late in the third quarter, including a 38-yard field goal by Gavin Wale and a 35-yard TD run by Zac Holbert.
Cougars’ quarterback Keegan Tharpe capped a 60-yard scoring drive with a 1-yard run with 7:23 left for the game’s final margin.
Holbert rushed for 114 yards on 14 carries.
Shadow Ridge 47, Desert Oasis 6 — At Desert Oasis, the Mustangs rushed for 411 yards and seven touchdowns to run away from the Diamondbacks.
Elisha Young scored on a 60-yard run on Shadow Ridge’s first play from scrimmage and the Mustangs never looked back, handing the ball off to eight players on the night. Young scored both times he touched the ball from scrimmage, adding a 35-yard touchdown later in the first quarter.
Aubrey Nellems led Shadow Ridge with 138 yards on the ground and had a 75-yard second-quarter touchdown, and Mustangs quarterback Kody Presser picked up three rushing touchdowns, the last of which put Desert Oasis in a 41-0 third-quarter hole.
Christian Vaughn got the Diamondbacks on the board in the fourth quarter with a 1-yard run and led the team with 47 yards on the ground. Colton Zobrist threw for 113 yards for Desert Oasis, 62 of them going to Isaiah Fuller.
Shadow Ridge attempted just two passes in the game, completing one — a 33-yard gain from Presser to Brenan Lyman.
Mojave 36, Del Sol 0 — At Mojave, four Rattlers rushed for touchdowns as the rolled past the Dragons.
Most of the damage came in the first half, which ended with a 30-point lead and 223 total yards of offense for Mojave. Tawee Walker led all rushers with 147 yards on 11 carries, including a 10-yard TD run near the end of the first quarter.
Xavier DeLong, who took most of the snaps behind center for Mojave, rushed for a pair of TDs and threw for 58 yards. Ivan Parra and Elijah Alvarez also rushed for Mojave touchdowns. A total of 10 Rattlers had carries in the game.
Del Sol struggled to get in an offensive groove as the Rattlers took advantage of three interceptions. If it wasn’t turnovers, penalties hampered many of the Dragons’ drives.
Del Sol’s Taariq Flowers was second among all rushers with 96 yards on 11 carries. Keith Seldon was the Dragon’s leading passer, going 5-for-12 for 36 yards and two interceptions.
Durango 26, Pahrump Valley 19 — At Pahrump, junior T.K. Fotu had nine carries for 90 yards and a touchdown, as the Trailblazers held on to beat the Trojans.
Fotu also had a team-high 11 tackles for Durango, which led 19-6 at halftime.
Kaden Renshaw went 13 of 18 passing for 148 yards and a TD and also ran for a score. Tai Foster had a TD catch, and Karon Shomo had a rushing score for the Trailblazers (1-0).
Pahrump Valley’s Dylan Coffman threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Cory Bergan and ran for another score.
David Roundy also had a 8-yard TD run for the Trojans (0-1).
Boulder City 34, Clark 33 — At Boulder City, Thorston Balmer rushed for 150 yards and three TDs, and the Eagles scored 20 points in the third quarter to pull away and beat the Chargers.
It was the Eagles’ first win over a Class 4A team since they defeated Rancho at Sept. 12, 2014.
Clark scored twice in the first quarter and led 13-6. After a scoreless second half, the Eagles woke up. They continued to pound the ball on the ground, and finished with 261 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Balmer led the way, and Shaun Jones rushed for 73 yards and a score.
On defense, Ryan Vanario had 2½ sacks and the Eagles finished with five on the night.
Valor Christian (Colo.) 30, Faith Lutheran 21 — At Highlands Ranch, Colorado, the Crusaders struck first and led, 21-14 at the half but couldn’t get on the board in the second half, losing the lead for good on a third quarter safety.
Crusader quarterback Sagan Gronauer passed for 310 yards and Elijah Kothe had 103 yards receiving.
Valor Christian won the battle of ground games, 212-32.
Moapa Valley 13, Sunrise Mountain 12 — At Overton, Leo Rios scored on a 24-yard touchdown with 2:25 left to help the Pirates knock off the Miners.
Moapa Valley quarterback Daxton Longman completed 12 of 17 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown. Teammate Derek Reese had 116 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Both teams scored in the first and fourth quarters, but the game came down to extra points. The Pirates connected on their first-quarter PAT, and it was the only converted extra point in the game’s four touchdowns.
Virgin Valley 31, Canyon View 12 — At Mesquite, Jayden Perkins ran for 128 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries and caught four passes for 168 yards and three scores to help the Bulldogs to the victory.
Quarterback Cade Anderson completed 6 of 8 passes for 205 yards and four TDs for the Bulldogs (1-0).
Vicente Pino had a 25-yard TD catch for Virgin Valley.
West Wendover 32, The Meadows 6 — At The Meadows, the Wolverines took advantage of two first-half turnovers and rolled past the Mustangs.
After a scoreless first quarter, West Wendover recovered the first of two Mustang fumbles and quickly turned the change of possession into points courtesy of a 2-yard touchdown run by David Sharp.
A successful 2-point conversion gave West Wendover an 8-0 lead. The Meadows promptly fumbled again on its next possession and the Wolverines turned it into a 1-yard TD run to make it 14-0.
Perez led West Wendover with 49 yards on seven carries.
With just over two minutes left in the first half, the confident Wolverine offense decided to attempt to convert a fourth down deep in their own territory. The Meadows defense was able to stop the Wolverines and running back Reno Iannuccilli rewarded the defensive effort by scoring the only Mustang touchdown on the next play with a 15-yard touchdown run.
Wide receiver Eric Correa, who led the Wolverines with five receptions for 111 yards, caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from Fabian Haro just before the end of the first half to give West Wendover a 20-6 halftime lead.
Haro led Wolverines with 147 passing yards.
Iannuccilli and Justin Badoyen each rushed for 34 yards to lead the Mustangs.
Pahranagat Valley 50, Wells 8 — At Wells, quarterback Preston Higbee completed 7 of 11 passes for 221 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 113 yards to lead the Panthers over the Leopards.
Higbee threw a pair of touchdowns to Richard Lewis and also connected with Culen Highbe and Stockton Maxwell on TD passes.
Lewis finished with three catches for 145 yards, and Highbe caught two passes for 64 yards for the Panthers, who led 38-0 after the first quarter.
Hunter Hollingshead, who returned the opening kickoff 83 yards for a score, had five carries for 47 yards and two TDs to lead the Panthers’ ground game. John Hansen had five carries for 61 yards and a TD, and Brodey Maxwell had a rushing TD for Pahranagat Valley.
Dayton 44, Lincoln County 38 — At Dayton, Landen Smith had 16 carries for 94 yards rushing and returned a kickoff 72 yards for a score but the Lynx fell to the Dust Devils.
Noah Smith had 14 carries for 125 yards, and Hunter Cluff had an interception on defense for Lincoln County, which trailed 30-22 at halftime.
It was the Lynx’s first regular season loss since a 26-22 decision to White Pine on Sept. 11, 2015.
Mineral County 82, Tonopah 56 — At Hawthorne, the Serpents topped the Muckers.
Tonopah quarterback Dillan Otteson completed 20 of 38 passes for 349 yards and five TDs. Otteson also had nine carries for 73 yards and a touchdown.
John Shiflet caught nine passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns, and also rushed for 79 yards and a TD for the Muckers. Shiflet had 12 tackles on defense.
Tonopah’s Vance Day had two catches for 103 yards and a touchdown, and a team-high 13 tackles. Kevin Pope added nine catches for 92 yards and two TDs and had 11 tackles for the Muckers.
Fredonia (Ariz.) 51, Beaver Dam 6 — Beaver Dam, short-handed to begin the game, was forced to call the game after injuries mounted up and the Diamondbacks fell at home.