GLENDALE, Ariz. – The last time Desert Vista walked onto the field at the University of Phoenix Stadium the Thunder played nearly perfect.
This time? Just about the opposite.
And yet the end result was the same – a victory.
While this one was slightly less significant – considering the one in November brought home a state title – it still felt good.
“They were a physical team and they were a little chirpy,” senior wide receiver Kaleb Germinaro said. “We got the win, but it was first game jitters. Being on this big stage and being in Cardinals’ stadium gets you fired up. It kind of got in our heads, but we will clean it up by next week.”
Desert Vista knocked off Palo Verde (Nev.) 20-10 on Saturday in the Barry Sollenberger Classic to give Arizona a sweep of the day in this annual event. Lakeside Blue Ridge beat Moapa Valley 23-14 earlier in the day.
The Thunder put the ball on the ground seven times – lost three of them – and had an interception through two and ½ quarters of play. Add in mental mistakes like fielding punts inside their own 10, getting personal and dead ball fouls and the fundamentals were scarce.
“We have to get better and we made mistakes, but those are things we can fix,” Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds said. “This will give us an opportunity to get better. They exploited a lot of things we need to work on.”
The Thunder pulled it together in the second half and played similarly to the style of play that was so successful in 2011. They opened the second half with a nice scoring drive when Matt Young, who completed 12 passes in a row after throwing an interception on his first attempt, connected with Austin Hicks on a 47-yard pass play for a 14-10 lead.
“(Hicks) got behind coverage, made a great adjustment, caught the ball and scored,” said Young, who finished 12 of 15 for 164 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Two drives later, aided by two dead ball fouls by Palo Verde, the Thunder pushed it to 20-10 when Zach Gonzalez scored from 1-yard out. The drive was done mostly on the ground as Desert Vista, which rushed for 164 yards (279 total yards), used its big offensive line to wear down Palo Verde to control not only the line of scrimmage but also the clock.
“We were really working well as an offensive line group,” said senior center Cole Preston. “We knew we had to settle in and get the run established.”
The game has some uneasiness to it as Palo Verde was flagged for 119 yards on 15 infractions while Desert Vista had nine for 68 yards. Palo Verde threw two interceptions and the Thunder had four turnovers.
There were several 15-yard penalties as the two teams got physical, verbal and physical again.
“We have to sharpen that up,” Young said. “The second half we shut our mouths, they were jawing at us and pushing us. We will take our 15 yards every time.”
The Thunder defense, which subbed liberally at the linebacker corps, did a solid job stopping the double Wing T other than when Lee Griggs (10 carries, 132 yards) broke free for a 71-yard touchdown in the second quarter to tie at 7 with 10:16 left in the second quarter.
Palo Verde showed signs of the explosiveness that allowed it to rush for more than 3,000 yards last season, but not in the third quarter when the Panthers were held to a total of minus-1 yards of offense.
“We got kind of tired in the second half,” Palo Verde coach Darwin Rost said. “They are a physical team and we knew that coming in. They did a great job of getting to the ball and bringing down the runner. We can usually pop free a few more times.”
Desert Vista defensive coordinator Greg Battle said it took some adjusting to the 11-man in the box offense but thought the Thunder defense held its own.
“One thing about that one long run,” he said. “We were experimenting and we called that defense one time. One time only.”
It all led to a win for the Thunder in a stadium they hope to return to at the end of the season.
“It was really good and we got a trophy for winning the Sollenberger but it is just the first game of the season,” Preston said. “It’s just another football field. Last year is done and this year is what matter’s now.”
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN