When Tony Sanchez was hired as the football coach at Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
in March 2009, he needed to familiarize himself with the program he was taking over.
So Sanchez popped in the film from the memorable 2008 Sunset Region final and instead found out what he was going to be up against as the coach of the Gaels.
"That was my first experience with who Palo Verde was," Sanchez said of the 50-14 thrashing the host Panthers administered to Gorman that cold November night. "I knew they were well-coached and they were physical. I knew that was a program you had to take seriously. I knew they were going to be tough."Click here to view MaxPreps' Nevada football playoff brackets.
Gorman (11-2), which is No. 1 in the MaxPreps state rankings, and second-ranked Palo Verde (Las Vegas)
(12-0) have established as themselves as the dominant programs in the Sunset Region. The powerhouses will renew their rivalry on Saturday when they meet in the region final for the third time in four years.
The winner advances to the 4A state championship game Dec. 4 at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas against the winner of other state semifinal between Liberty (Henderson) and McQueen (Reno).
"On the schedule there's always a matchup that's important to the community and means a lot to the players," Sanchez said. "I don't think either of us is overlooking other programs, but in the back of your mind you're constantly bringing it up. You know they are a team that's right in your way."
Bishop Gorman won 24-20 in 2007 on the way to a state title before the Panthers evened the score in 2008 with the blowout victory. Last season in the Sunset Region semifinals, the Gaels beat Palo Verde 38-28 in Gorman's closest game of the season.
"Our kids are neighbors to a lot of Gorman kids so it's like beating your brother. You always play a little harder trying to beat your brother or neighbor," Panthers coach Darwin Rost said. "We have a goal of getting better each week and winning a state championship, and this game is in our way. To get there, we have to play real physical and play our best ball or it's not going to happen."
The game features two of the state's top running backs in Gaels junior Shaquille Powell
and Palo Verde senior Brandon Wright
Powell missed most of the second half of the regular season due to injury before returning for the opening round of the playoffs. The standout has rushed for 1,059 and 15 touchdowns.
"When he is in the game our whole offense rallies around him," Sanchez said. "He does things I haven't seen any junior do. Every time he has the ball in his hands he has a chance to score."
Wright, who has gained 1,499 yards and scored 24 touchdowns, has also battled injury. The speedster sat out the opening round of the playoffs and was limited to 51 yards on 17 carries in a 30-0 win over Centennial (Las Vegas), but Rost expects him to be at 100 percent for Gorman.
Junior Jonathan Maxwell
has run for 774 yards and 12 scores in Palo Verde's double-wing offense.
"He's been the guy all year," Rost said of Wright. "He's such a team player, it's like having a coach on the field. And Maxwell has really stepped it up. It's nice to have a lot of different options."
Bishop Gorman had allowed 12 points in nine games against Nevada opposition before last week's 49-14 win over Arbor View (Las Vegas). But Sanchez hopes to make this game a high-scoring affair.
Gaels sophomore quarterback Jarrett Solomon
has continued to develop and Sanchez said the coaching staff has asked him to do more as the season has gone along. Solomon has thrown for 2,060 yards with 36 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
"Honestly, I think we've got to do a great job on offense," Sanchez said. "We've got to score some points. We don't want 14-7. We want to make them keep pace. We have to make sure we get three-and-outs. The most important thing is first down. We don't want them in second-and-4. We want to make sure they have second-and-8, second-and-9. If we keep them there, I think that's the biggest thing.
"We're going to give up some yards. I really feel like when you play a team with that kind of offense, you have to play bend-don't-break. I'm not concerned about how many yards they get, I'm concerned about touchdowns."
Rost, meanwhile, didn't hide the fact the Panthers want to control the clock with their running game and a defense that the 15th-year coach said is "one of the better defensive teams in school history."
"We have to play physical and play good defense, and we've got to be able to execute offensively," Rost said. "It's our field. We have to have that home pride and play the best game we've played all year. We feel like we're playing our best ball at this time."
Sanchez expects a frenzied atmosphere for the 1 p.m. kickoff on Saturday, but said after traveling to Northern California to take on nationally-ranked De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) and playing Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.) in Flagstaff, Ariz., to open the season, the Gaels will be ready.
"These kids have been in some pretty raucous environments and that's what you want," Sanchez said. "It will be nice to get out and play in that type of environment."Prediction: Bishop Gorman 28, Palo Verde 21
STATE SEMIFINALLiberty (Henderson) at McQueen (Reno), 1 p.m. Saturday
Fans who enjoy the battles in the trenches will love this game as two of the most physical teams in the state knock heads with a berth in the state title game on the line.
Third-ranked Liberty (11-1) dominated Las Vegas on both sides of the line of scrimmage and rolled to a 35-14 victory in the Sunrise Region championship game. The Patriots held Las Vegas' explosive offense to minus-2 yards in the first half on the way to a 28-0 lead and 216 overall, most of which came after the game had long been decided. Defensive tackle Teu Tai
finished with three of his team's four sacks and added two more tackles for loss to lead the charge. Behind its massive offensive line, Liberty rushed for 242 yards, including 86 yards and two scores from 215-pound fullback Jordan Kapeli
McQueen, meanwhile, overcame an early 14-point deficit and a howling wind to roll past Carson (Carson City) 34-14 in the 4A Northern Region title game. The No. 4 Lancers (11-1) rushed for 337 yards and held Carson's standout running back Dylan Sawyers
to a season-low 74 yards.
Senior running back Nick Shepard
rushed for 136 yards and three touchdowns, while junior Arnold Carillo
added 120 yards and a game-changing score on the final play of the first quarter. After Carson called a timeout with 2.9 seconds on the clock to force the Lancers to run another play into the stiff breeze, Carillo busted free for a 64-yard touchdown that changed the momentum of the game.
McQueen took a 22-14 lead into halftime and, after Carson forced the Lancers to go into the wind for the third quarter, went on a backbreaking 14-play drive that chewed up 8:22 off the clock before Shepard scored on a 2-yard run.
"Our offensive line just dominated," McQueen coach Jim Snelling told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "And after those first two scores, our defense played really well."
Liberty has won 11 in a row since falling 24-21 to Palo Verde in the season opener. The Patriots, who feature UCLA commit Sam Tai
at defensive end, are making their first appearance in the state semifinals after winning just 14 games in their first six seasons as a varsity program. McQueen, on the other hand, won its 12th region title since 1990.
Southern Nevada teams traditionally struggle in 4A state semifinals held up north. Before Gorman routed host Reed (Sparks) 62-21 last season, southern Nevada teams were just 1-6 in such games, with the only other victory coming in 2004 when Las Vegas beat Reed 21-14.
As if slowing down McQueen's running game isn't a big enough assignment, Saturday's forecast in Reno also calls for frigid temperatures and possible snow showers, adding to the difficulty for Liberty.Prediction: McQueen 24, Liberty 21
TRUCKEE WINS SECOND STRAIGHT STATE TITLETruckee (Calif.)
put on another dominating defensive display, putting the clamps on Moapa Valley (Overton)
and earning its second straight 3A state title with a 27-7 win at Arbor View High in Las Vegas. It was the second year in a row the Wolverines (12-0) beat Moapa Valley in the championship game and Truckee's 24th consecutive victory.
Truckee, which went unscored upon in its first six games of the season, held the Pirates (7-5) to 26 yards rushing, added seven sacks and also intercepted Moapa Valley quarterback Kelan Weiss three times.Morgan Nevin
rushed for 142 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries to lead the Wolverines. He also caught three passes for 77 yards.
Truckee fumbled the second-half kickoff and the Pirates recovered trailing 13-7. Moapa drove to the Wolverines' 8-yard line, but Truckee's Tony Rodriguez
blocked Dylan Mortensen's 25-yard field goal try and Moapa Valley never threatened after that.PERSHING COUNTY WINS 2A CROWNPershing County (Lovelock)
scored 14 unanswered points in the second half and beat Mountain View Christian (Las Vegas)
14-12 to win the 2A state title.
Mustangs sophomore running back Jared Jensen
rushed for 153 of his 207 yards after halftime as Pershing County (8-4) outgained the Saints (7-6) 184-59. Mountain View had a chance to take the lead with less than 6 minutes remaining, but the Saints' field goal try was blocked.PAHRANAGAT VALLEY IS THE 1A WINNERPahranagat Valley (Alamo)
won its third straight 1A state title by beating Coleville (Calif.)
40-6. It was the 34th consecutive victory for the Panthers (12-0), who are No. 4 in the MaxPreps.com eight-man football rankings.
Coleville (11-1) was held to 161 yards and the six points was the fewest by the Wolves since 2006. Coleville entered the game averaging 63.8 points and 412.6 yards per game.Tyler Higbee
ran for 88 yards and two touchdowns, while Austin Poulsen
added 51 yards. Cody Hosier
passed for 133 yards and two scores, finishing his senior year with 36 touchdown passes and one interception.David Schoen works at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and is a former Associate Sports Editor and Turn2 columnist for the Oakland (Calif.) Tribune. You can reach him at ByDavid1@aol.com.