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Defense sets tone as Centennial blanks Palo Verde

Centennial football coach Leon Evans was impressed with the way his defense played in the first half of Friday night’s season opener. By the end of the night, a proud Evans wanted a trivia question answered.

“When was the last time Palo Verde was shut out?” Evans asked.

The host Bulldogs held Palo Verde to 147 yards in total offense and grinded out a 16-0 victory in a clash of two of the top teams in the Sunset Region.

It was the first time the Panthers have been blanked since a 35-0 loss to Galena on Nov. 25, 2006.

“Our defense, that’s what we pride ourselves on is playing great defense,” Evans said. “And they came out and played lights-out for us.”

Centennial (1-0) forced two turnovers and stuffed Palo Verde on fourth down three times, including twice in the opening half in Bulldogs’ territory. The Panthers’ traditionally strong running game was limited to 129 yards on 39 carries and was shut down during the second half.

Palo Verde (0-1), which beat the Bulldogs twice last season, gained only 33 yards and had one first down after the break.

“The big thing is not to let them go north and south,” Evans said. “You’ve got to make them bounce sideline to sideline. We told our kids, ‘Let’s get them stopped before they get started.’ ”

Rhamondre Stevenson ran for a game-high 72 yards on 18 carries and tacked on a late 7-yard touchdown run for the Bulldogs.

While the defenses dominated throughout, the two biggest plays came from Centennial wide receiver Brandan Harley. The senior opened the scoring less than four minutes into the game when he caught a punt on the run and weaved his way 64 yards for a touchdown.

“I think our defense set the tone,” Harley said. “I give it up to my defense, because if they didn’t stop them right there, that punt return would have never been there.”

After Palo Verde quarterback Logan Hutchison was sacked on fourth-and-15 from the Bulldogs’ 36-yard line late in the second quarter, Harley hauled in a 26-yard pass from Juan Rodriguez on the first play of the ensuing drive. That helped set up Zach Mays’ 35-yard field goal, which gave Centennial a 10-0 lead at halftime.

Harley had two catches for 32 yards and also had 11 yards rushing, while Rodriguez finished 7-of-10 passing for 73 yards.

Jaren Campbell led the Panthers with 43 yards on 12 carries, but the senior only had one rushing attempt in the second half. Teammate Darrion Finn added 38 yards on 10 rushes.

“Any time you can beat a Palo Verde football team it’s a huge accomplishment,” Evans said. “That’s been one of the best dynasties in the state we’ve had. … We’re just going to use this to build on and get better each week.”

Contact reporter David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidSchoenLVRJ.

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