When Tony Sanchez was hired as Bishop Gorman’s football coach two years ago, he couldn’t figure out why people said Palo Verde was the team’s biggest rival.
He knows now.
"I didn’t understand it because they weren’t on our schedule," Sanchez said. "Now I get it. You’ve got to earn the right to play them."
The Gaels (13-1) and Panthers (11-0) meet in the playoffs for the fifth straight season at 8 tonight at Gorman with the Sunset Region title on the line.
The game is expected to be a sellout.
"It’s a great atmosphere for the kids," Palo Verde coach Darwin Rost said. "We kind of play for this every year, but it’s not on the schedule. You have to win, and they’ve got to win. Five years in a row, here it is."
Gorman has won the past two meetings, topping Palo Verde 38-28 in the Sunset semifinals in 2009 and beating the Panthers 28-10 in the Sunset title game last season.
"We know from the last couple years that this is always going to be a good game," Sanchez said.
The Gaels haven’t lost to a Nevada school since Palo Verde won the Sunset title game 50-14 in 2008.
Gorman has won 37 consecutive games against Nevada schools since, including a forfeit win over Western this season. In the 36 contested games, the Gaels have outscored opponents 1,958-203, an average margin of victory of 48.8 points.
Palo Verde is 33-1 against schools not named Gorman over the past three seasons and is the only Nevada school to keep the margin within 24 points against Gorman. The Panthers think they have what it takes to stay with the Gaels this time, as well.
"Every year, whoever wins this game goes on to state," Palo Verde senior linebacker Jerrol Garcia-Williams said. "I’ve never beat Gorman myself. I know if we work hard, we can get that done. We’ve beat them before; it’s not like they’re unstoppable. They’re a good team. You’ve got to be confident against whoever you play."
Sanchez expects the Panthers to try to control the ball with their double-wing offense, so he thinks scoring early could be important for his club.
"Offensively, we have to be very aggressive," Sanchez said. "That’s a team you want to get up on and have them chase a little."
Palo Verde has been strong defensively this season, allowing an average of 7.5 points and posting three shutouts.
The Panthers have been strong against the run but haven’t faced a passing game quite like Gorman’s.
Junior quarterback Jarrett Solomon has completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 2,026 yards and 33 touchdowns. He’s been intercepted only once.
"He’s huge in a game like this," Sanchez said. "He’s really done a fantastic job of managing us. He doesn’t throw interceptions, and with his feet the last couple weeks he’s really been on fire."
Over the past three weeks, Solomon has rushed for 174 yards and three touchdowns to complement an already strong rushing attack led by Shaquille Powell (1,819 rushing yards, 30 TDs).
"We really look forward to this," Sanchez said of playing Palo Verde. "At the end of the day, you want to play the best team in the biggest environments. This is really a great football game in the state of Nevada."
Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at email@example.com or 702-380-4587.In-depth high school sports coverage
Blog to follow region finals
Nevadapreps.com will offer a live blog tonight, featuring frequent updates and commentary from the Sunrise and Sunset region final football games.
The Sunrise Region final, which showcases Foothill at Liberty, kicks off at 7 p.m. The Sunset final begins at 8.
The blog will begin approximately 10 minutes before the Sunrise game and will give viewers the opportunity to get updates, leave comments and ask questions about each game and will continue through the end of the Sunset final.
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL