The last time Desert Vista walked on the field at the University of Phoenix Stadium, the Thunder played a nearly perfect game.
This time? Just about the opposite.
And yet the end result was the same — a victory.
While this one was slightly less significant — that night in November brought home a Division I state title — it still felt good.
Desert Vista knocked off Palo Verde (Nev.) 20-10 on Saturday in the Barry Sollenberger Classic to give Arizona a sweep of the day in this annual event. Lakeside Blue Ridge beat Moapa Valley 23-14 earlier in the day.
“They were a physical team and they were a little chirpy,” senior wide receiver Kaleb Germinaro said. “We got the win, but it was first-game jitters. Being on this big stage and being in Cardinals’ stadium gets you fired up. It kind of got in our heads, but we will clean it up by next week.”
The Thunder put the ball on the ground seven times — losing three of them — and had an interception through 2 1/2 quarters of play. Add in mental mistakes like fielding punts inside their own 10-yard line, drawing personal foul penalties, and fundamentals were scarce.
“We have to get better and we made mistakes, but those are things we can fix,” Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds said. “This will give us an opportunity to get better. They exploited a lot of things we need to work on.”
The Thunder pulled it together in the second half and played a similar style to what was so successful in 2011. They opened the second half with a nice scoring drive when Matt Young, who completed 12 consecutive passes following an interception on his first attempt, connected with Austin Hicks on a 47-yard pass play for a 14-10 lead.
“(Hicks) got behind coverage, made a great adjustment, caught the ball and scored,” said Young, who finished 12 of 15 for 164 yards passing with a touchdown and the interception.
Two drives later, aided by two personal fouls by Palo Verde, the Thunder pushed it to 20-10 when Zach Gonzalez scored from 1-yard out. The drive was done mostly on the ground as Desert Vista, which rushed for 164 yards of its 279 total yards, used its big offensive line to wear down Palo Verde, control the line of scrimmage and the clock.
“We were really working well as an offensive line group,” senior center Cole Preston said. “We knew we had to settle in and get the run established.”
The game has some uneasiness to it as Palo Verde was flagged for 119 yards on 15 infractions while Desert Vista had nine for 68 yards. Palo Verde threw two interceptions and the Thunder had four turnovers.
There were several 15-yard penalties as the two teams got physical, verbal and physical again.
“We have to sharpen that up,” Young said. “The second half we shut our mouths, they were jawing at us and pushing us. We will take our 15 yards every time.”
The Thunder defense subbed liberally within the linebacker corps, and did a solid job stopping the double-Wing T. The only significant gaffe allowed Lee Griggs (10 carries, 132 yards) free for a 71-yard touchdown in the second quarter to make the score 7-7 with 10:16 left in the second quarter.
Palo Verde showed signs of the explosiveness that allowed it to rush for more than 3,000 yards last season, but not in the third quarter when the Panthers were held to minus-1 yards of offense.
“We got kind of tired in the second half,” Palo Verde coach Darwin Rost said. “They are a physical team and we knew that coming in. They did a great job of getting to the ball and bringing down the runner. We can usually pop free a few more times.”
Desert Vista defensive coordinator Greg Battle said it took some adjusting to the 11-man in the box offense, but thought the Thunder defense held its own.
“One thing about that one long run,” he said. “We were experimenting and we called that defense one time. One time only.”
It all led to a win for the Thunder in a stadium they hope to return to again at the end of the season.
“It was really good and we got a trophy for winning the Sollenberger, but it is just the first game of the season,” Preston said. “It’s just another football field. Last year is done and this year is what matters now.”
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