After graduating six defensive starters from last year, Palo Verde's football team is looking for playmakers to rise to the occasion early this season.
Defensive backs Donald Anderson and Ryan Beaulieu emerged as two of those players Friday night.
Anderson's fourth-quarter interception deep in Liberty territory helped seal the Panthers' 24-21 victory over the visiting Patriots.
The senior was tackled at Liberty's 13-yard line almost immediately after picking off Kai Nacua's pass toward the sideline. On the next play, Palo Verde's Brandon Wright ripped off a 13-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers a 24-14 lead with 5:28 remaining.
"During the fourth quarter, we adjusted and had me spy the running back and quarterback," Anderson said. "I spied it out, and I knew he was going to throw it away, but he didn't see me. So when he threw it away, I made a play."
The Panthers (2-0) forced three turnovers by the Patriots (0-1), and Anderson's interception wasn't the only big play provided by Palo Verde's secondary.
Beaulieu, a sophomore, returned an interception 47 yards to Liberty's 8-yard line with 18 seconds left in the first half. The ball was moved to the 4 following a personal foul on Liberty, and Wright ran for a 2-yard touchdown two plays later to give Palo Verde a 14-7 lead with 5.5 seconds left in the first half.
"Donald didn't play a lot last year, went down and played on the JVs for us as a junior (and) got some experience," Panthers coach Darwin Rost said. "Donald just keeps playing hard and made a huge interception, and Ryan's only a sophomore. This is a good win for us."
Offensively, Wright carried the load for the Panthers, rushing for 180 yards and two TDs on 27 attempts. The senior ran for 292 yards and four scores in a win over Green Valley last week.
"The game has kind of slowed for Brandon right now," Rost said. "He's so far ahead of the game. It's kind of like having a coach on the field with his leadership and firing everybody up."
Nacua scored on a 2-yard run with 1:38 remaining, and the extra point pulled the Patriots within 24-21. But the Panthers recovered the ensuing onside kick and were able to run out the clock for the win.
Palo Verde quarterback Chaisson Prescott threw for 104 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown pass to Thayer Coon in the first quarter.
Niko Kapeli rushed for 121 yards on 19 attempts for Liberty, and teammate Ty Byrd carried 14 times for 109 yards and one TD. But the Patriots were anemic through the air, going 1-for-6 for 3 yards with two interceptions.
Liberty played without one of its top players, senior defensive end Sam Tai, who was sidelined with a left leg injury he sustained in a preseason scrimmage.
Contact reporter Tristan Aird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5203.