Palo Verde repels Cimarron surge, advances to face Gaels

Palo Verde didn’t need overtime to beat Cimarron-Memorial this time. Chaz Thomas made sure of that.

Thomas scored on a 48-yard run with 2:42 remaining to halt the Spartans’ comeback and carry the host Panthers to a 35-21 victory in the Sunset Region semifinals Friday.

Palo Verde (12-0) hosts defending state champion Bishop Gorman (12-1) for the Sunset title at 7 p.m. next Friday.

"We came in trying to set the record straight from last time," said Thomas, whose team needed overtime to edge Cimarron 17-14 in the regular season. "By the looks of the scoreboard, we did that."

Thomas finished with 181 of the Panthers’ 296 rushing yards. Senior quarterback Kelly Zurowski completed 6 of 8 passes for 85 yards, including touchdowns of 42 yards to Sydney Hodge and 18 to Alex Bonczyk, the latter pushing Palo Verde’s lead to 28-7 late in the third quarter.

Cimarron (7-5) didn’t go away quietly, thanks to junior running back Stephen Nixon. He scored on runs of 35 and 3 yards in the fourth quarter to get the Spartans within 28-21 with 3:04 remaining.

Palo Verde needed Thomas’ late touchdown run to settle the decision. The Panthers recovered the onside kick after Nixon’s latter TD, and Thomas bolted down the left sideline on third-and-8 to restore Palo Verde’s 14-point lead.

"(David) Castro, (Edwin) Cruz and Liloa (Nobriga) made amazing blocks," Thomas said. "Coach told me to just try to hit it up in there and get the first down and run out the clock. I just bounced it outside."

A fumble by Thomas on the Panthers’ first play from scrimmage had resulted in a 7-0 Cimarron lead. Kenneth Banks recovered the loose ball and returned it 24 yards for a TD. But Palo Verde answered with 28 straight points.

"We told the kids in a game like this you have to move forward," Panthers coach Darwin Rost said. "Whatever happens, the play’s over, go forward. They did a great job of that."

Cimarron coach Rod Vollan was similarly impressed with how his team fought back.

"For whatever reason, we came out with a little bit of the deer-in-the-headlights look," he said. "But we battled back in the fourth quarter and made it interesting."

Nixon finished with 177 yards on the ground, 133 in the fourth quarter. He set up his 3-yard touchdown by breaking free for a 65-yard run.

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