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Palo Verde bleeds success

I would think if you traced the family tree of Palo Verde High football coach Darwin Rost, you would stumble upon some uncanny connection to that Annapolis shoemaker in 1893, the one who created the first helmet from leather.

He did so after doctors warned a Navy player that he would risk “instant insanity” by taking another kick to the head.

Yep. Old-school stuff. Perfect for Rost.

He couldn’t explain the blood trickling from his mouth following his team’s 42-21 state semifinal victory against Las Vegas on Saturday, but what’s a little slice when perfection is this close to reality?

“I don’t know if I bit my tongue or what,” Rost said. “I walked out of a huddle, and the kids said, ‘Coach, you’re bleeding.’ Well, I’m fired up for this game.”

His team is 14-0 and more than deserves its place in the state championship opposite McQueen on Saturday in Reno, because this is what happens when continuity defines a program. It wins a lot. It sets the standard others chase. It all but guarantees playoff advancement. It bleeds success.

This is not close to the level of Texas or California or Florida prep football, and that’s OK. Elite players are more exception than rule in Nevada. High school football here has gone from dreadful to decent over decades, meaning the more stability you offer a program, the better opportunity you have of winning.

Meaning there is a reason Palo Verde and Las Vegas always are playing this late in a season.

You have to like Rost, the one coach alive who’s on the playing field during games more than Mike Sanford. It was in 2002 when Rost went retro and installed the double-wing formation. Maybe he is related to a shoemaker and Pop Warner.

Rost’s idea was for the varsity staff also to coach junior varsity and for the freshman squad to join the double-wing family. The JVs have lost just twice since he began directing both teams. Rost doesn’t get much time off. Christmas Day, maybe.

“We have all three levels coming along together,” he said. “It’s the same reason Las Vegas is on the other sideline. They have had continuity on their staff as well.”

A big play or two invariably separate teams this close in tradition and talent playing this significant game. Or, in the case Saturday afternoon at Arbor View, a big-time player.

Torin Harris is one of those exceptions, a Palo Verde senior whose skill set exists far beyond most prep players in the state.

He rushed 10 times for 129 yards, caught two passes for 25 more, scored two touchdowns, threw a shovel pass for another, had two interceptions and took one back for a score. If the kid drives the team bus to Reno next week, no one will blink.

Few players can change games on one snap. Harris can, which is one reason he will continue playing next season at Southern California.

“The kid is a whole different level, above what we normally see in this state,” Las Vegas coach Chris Faircloth said. “He is a once-in-every-10-years kid. The last one like him here was Steven Jackson. That’s the kind of player he is, a guy like that can really turn things.

“He’s going to make it real tough on McQueen next week.”

Teams defined by championship banners don’t die easily, so it went that Las Vegas rallied from a 28-7 halftime deficit to trailing 28-21 with 11:50 remaining.

But running the double wing for so long with the same players has allowed Rost to merge enough wrinkles into his offense that it becomes nearly impractical to stop.

I think there might have been a formation or two with wide receivers split out, although that might have just been Rost on the field again.

Whatever the plan, it worked. Palo Verde quarterback Kelly Zurowski said it felt like Las Vegas was running a “10-1 defense,” which makes us want to suggest a “1-10” scheme for UNLV’s pathetic secondary next season.

“We’ve waited four years for this,” Zurowski said. “This is it. One more game.”

Zurowski also was bleeding during his postgame celebration chat with reporters, his forehead cut caused by an angry helmet. Maybe he should try a leather one in Mackay Stadium on Saturday.

I’m guessing some long-lost relative of Rost could provide one.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at (702) 383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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