Published Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010 | 3:57 p.m.
Updated Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010 | 7:02 p.m.
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Las Vegas Sun reporters Case Keefer and Ray Brewer break down this week's high school football state semifinals. Can Liberty handle traveling to Northern Nevada to face McQueen — and the Reno area's cold weather? Plus, everything you need to know about the much anticipated showdown between Bishop Gorman and Palo Verde.
It took less than 27 seconds.
Members of the Bishop Gorman High football team went from having their heads hung in disappointment on the sidelines to running off the field full of confidence in the blink of an eye Saturday.
The defending state champion Gaels fell behind 3-0 to host Palo Verde in the Sunset Regional title game with 27.1 seconds to play in the first half. They were limited by penalties, turnovers and a solid Palo Verde defense in failing to mount anything substantial in the initial two quarters.
Then, following Garrett Dunlap’s 33-yard field goal to give Palo Verde a brief lead, the Gorman offense woke up.
As they raced off the field for halftime, one thing was clear in the stadium of more than 3,000 fans: not only did Gorman steal the lead, it had the game’s momentum.
The Gaels proceeded to score 21 points in the third quarter in finishing off Palo Verde for a 28-10 win to capture the region and advance to next Saturday’s state championship game. They’ll play McQueen High of Reno, which beat Liberty 7-6 in the other semifinal at noon at Sam Boyd Stadium.
“Momentum was on our side, but we knew we still had one half to play,” Gorman senior safety Evan Zeger said. “Palo Verde is a good team and we knew they would come back.”
Solomon was intercepted inside Gorman territory with 3:08 to play in the first half and Palo Verde picked up a quick first down to bring the ball inside the 20-yard line.
While Palo Verde ultimately took the lead, Gorman coach Tony Sanchez said holding the Panthers to three points instead of a touchdown was more important than the ensuing drive to take the halftime lead.
The Gaels’ defense has been consistent all year, and in its biggest game of the season, it didn’t disappoint. Defensive linemen Jaylon Jackson and Jalen Grimble penetrated Palo Verde’s line most of the game, Zeger forced a fumble and had an interception in the second half and senior linebacker Ronald Lyles was solid from start to finish.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Lyles is often overshadowed by the likes of Grimble (USC) and Zeger (Washington), a pair of defenders who have verbally committed to major colleges. But whenever the Gaels needed a big play Saturday, it was Lyles who rose to the occasion.
“He’s just an absolute stud. He's a tremendous football player,” Sanchez said of Lyles.
Lyles, who led Gorman in tackles for a second straight year, reopened a cut on the top of his nose in the third quarter. Not even blood dripping down his face could distract him.
“With the offense struggling, we had to buckle down and make plays,” Lyles said. “Our coaches had us prepared. They told us what to expect and how to stop it.”
With the defense holding Palo Verde in check, it was only a matter of time before the Gorman offense found its rhythm.
Solomon, who misfired on five on his first seven attempts, finished with 176 yards passing and two touchdowns. His 59-yard completion to sophomore Ryan Smith brought the ball to the 4-yard line before halftime to set up Tillman’s touchdown.
Solomon found Smith for a 65-yard scoring strike to cap Gorman’s streak of 28 unanswered points with 1:06 remaining in the third quarter. Smith finished with four catches for 137 yards.
Palo Verde made things semi-interesting in the fourth quarter. Brandon Wright, the Panthers’ top player who is a major Division I recruit, cut the deficit to 28-10 with an 80-yard touchdown run with 7:13 to play.
Palo Verde (12-1) recovered the ensuing onside kick, but couldn’t score any points in dropping its first game of the season. Wright rushed for 155 yards on 21 carries, but the rest of Palo Verde’s offense was limited to 85 yards.
"Everybody hates losing, but that's a good football team,” Palo Verde coach Darwin Rost said. “I'm proud of our kids. Our goal was to get better each week and we had to win a game like this. Gorman is good and they have a great shot to win another state championship."
Gorman is looking for its third state crown in four years. It beat McQueen, its Northern Nevada opponent next week, for the 2007 title. Gorman is looking to become the first Nevada team to capture consecutive crowns since Las Vegas High in 2005-06.