Jummel Hidrosollo/Special to the Home News
Saturday, Sept. 27, 2008 | 1 a.m.
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It was appropriate Darwin Rost’s Palo Verde football team was facing Centennial.
The man who started the Panthers’ program registered his 100th win as head coach at the school with a 56-35 whipping of host Centennial Friday. Rost, who has led Palo Verde to an appearance in the last five state semifinals and a state championship in 2004, downplayed the milestone.
“I’ve never been into that. It’s about the kids,” Rost said. “But I love coaching, and I take a lot of pride in Palo Verde. It’s the school, the administration, the faculty, the kids. It’s the whole community. Everybody backs that school, and it’s fun to be at.”
Palo Verde’s offense provided plenty of fireworks to celebrate Rost’s 100th win. The unit was paced by senior running back Chaz Thomas, who rushed for 235 yards on 16 carries, including two touchdowns.
It was a career-high in yards for the Panthers’ featured back.
“I was just getting the ball and running as hard as I could,” Thomas said. “The line was blocking excellent today. I just read the holes and ran through them.”
Thomas said he was proud to be a part of his coach’s 100th win.
“Definitely -- I love coach Rost,” Thomas said. “I think he’s the best coach in the state. He just keeps us on top of our game, makes sure we don’t get too overconfident. He’s so close to his players. He’s just a nice guy and a great coach.”
It took Palo Verde less than two minutes to get its first points on the board when Sidney Hodge scored on a 26-yard run.
Centennial answered midway through the first quarter when Brandon Wright broke a run up the middle 67 yards for a touchdown. The extra point gave the Bulldogs a 7-6 lead, but they wouldn’t hold onto it for long.
On the first play of Palo Verde’s ensuing drive, Thomas broke several tackles, some near of the line of scrimmage and some down field, to score on an 80-yard run. Hodge’s two-point conversion run gave the Panthers a 14-7 lead.
Palo Verde stretched its advantage to three scores late in the first quarter when quarterback Kelly Zurowski connected with Grant Bernhardy for a 50-yard touchdown pass.
The game’s furious pace came to an abrupt halt with 21 seconds remaining in the opening quarter when Centennial’s Gabe Easler appeared to suffer a serious injury. The defensive tackle crumbled to the turf and lay motionless for several seconds as trainers hovered over him.
The game was delayed more than 20 minutes as an ambulance arrived on the field and paramedics rolled Easler on a stretcher. Easler had movement in all his extremities and was talking clearly before being taken away.
Following the game, Centennial coach George Baker said Easler was diagnosed with a severe concussion but had no damage to his spine as was originally feared. Baker said Easler was knocked unconscious while absorbing a heavy block on the play.
“It was just like two ram bulls smacking together, and Gabe got the short end of the stick on a block,” Baker said. “But he knew what he had for lunch and everything. So we knew he was going to be all right.”
After both teams ran through warm-ups and the game resumed, Palo Verde scored just 18 seconds into the second quarter on an 18-yard run by Hodge.
Then, on their next possession, the Panthers found the end zone again, this time on a 31-yard pass from Zurowski to Torin Harris. Another two-point conversation by Hodge made it 35-7.
Down four scores, Centennial refused to let the game get any uglier as it scored the final two touchdowns of the half, including a 1-yard run by Chris Henderson and a 9-yard touchdown pass from Henderson to Steven Wicker. But the Bulldogs wouldn’t get any closer than that.
Tyrone Blake had touchdown runs of 7 and 12 yards for Palo Verde in the second half while Thomas added a 16-yard score. Henderson threw touchdowns to Matt Holley (6 yards) and Chris Stinson (11 yards) for Centennial in the second half.
“Against that caliber of a team, you can’t get down like we did,” Baker said. “But our kids did a nice job of coming back. They fought hard the whole game.”
Christopher Drexel can be reached at 990-8929 or [email protected].