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Canyon Springs stops Palo Verde on final play to clinch win — PHOTOS

Updated October 8, 2021 - 9:01 am

Canyon Springs held on for a 13-6 home victory over Palo Verde in Thursday night’s Class 5A Desert League matchup.

The Panthers entered the game without a true quarterback on the roster, with all three QBs injured. Trailing by a touchdown, it was up to wide receiver and defensive back Edward Rhambo to lead a game-winning drive on the final possession.

Rhambo did an admirable job, completing three passes for 23 yards and helping the Panthers move the ball on the ground, but the Pioneers defense held steady in the end. Canyon Springs thwarted a last-second effort at the 6-yard line — a pitch from Rhambo to Paisley Nickelson that went for negative yardage on the final play.

“When it comes to crunch time, they always bail us out,” Pioneers QB Quay Willis said of his team’s defense. “I can’t be any more thankful for them than I am right now. They’re like my best friends.”

Willis finished 6-for-12 passing with 154 yards and a touchdown.

It wasn’t pretty, but Canyon Springs (4-3, 1-2) earned its first league victory. After the game, coach Gus McNair held a sledgehammer over his shoulder — it’s been a symbol of strength and resilience for Canyon Springs, something a team leader runs out onto the field carrying.

“It’s just been that type of year for us,” McNair said. “Somehow, we were able to make plays when we needed them.”

That game-ending stop wasn’t the only big play for the Pioneers.

Midway through the first quarter, Willis connected with Dionn Whittaker for a 76-yard touchdown pass to give Canyon Springs a 6-0 lead. Whittaker was virtually uncovered streaking down the middle of the field. He caught Willis’ pass around the Palo Verde 30 and had a clear path to the end zone.

Another 76-yard TD, this one a run by Omarion Ireland, put the Pioneers up 13-0 with nine minutes remaining in the first half.

Later in the second quarter, the Panthers (3-4, 0-3) capitalized on a Canyon Springs miscue. Pioneers punter Luis Ortega fielded a high snap deep in his territory, and Palo Verde took over on downs at the Canyon Springs 28. That led to a short Nickelson TD run and cut the deficit to 13-6.

Nickelson carried the ball 22 times for 100 yards and a touchdown. Blair Thayer added 80 yards on 17 carries.

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