Galena is in a great state of mind
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – It would be easy to say that the Palo Verde Panthers were doomed against the Galena Grizzlies as early as Wednesday after the arrest of four its players on arson charges related to a pair of fires at Faith Lutheran Junior-Senior High School in August.
Although no players were mentioned by name in a report by the Associated Press, four juniors – starting quarterback J.D. Buonantony (841 yards passing, eight touchdowns), leading running back Rashan Lawrence (1,468 yards, 20 TD’s), the Panthers’ leading receiver, tight end Ryan Patterson (12 catches, 357 yards and six touchdowns in six games) and tight end Travis Skochenko – did not play in Saturday’s NIAA Class 4A state semifinal playoff game at Galena High School.
But while the absence of its top offensive players certainly didn’t help Palo Verde, there’s no saying it would have made a difference if they played against the Grizzlies, as Galena shut down the Panthers’ double wing formation, forced five turnovers and had a balanced offensive attack in winning the game, 35-0, to advance to its first state championship game.
Galena will face 15-time state champion Las Vegas Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium, in Las Vegas. The Wildcats defeated Del Sol, 38-8, on Saturday.
The Grizzlies’ defense held Buonantony’s replacement – freshman Jahari Selmon – without a completion in five attempts and forced him into committing two second-quarter turnovers. Galena defensive back Jake Mansfield intercepted Selmon and junior defensive tackle Levi Stafford got one of his two fumble recoveries off him.
Galena also outgained Palo Verde, 350-270, running back Jimmy Sargent picked up 141 yards and a touchdown and quarterback Jacob Anderson went 9-of-16 for 135 yards and three touchdown passes with no interceptions as the Grizzlies made it look easy in the win.
“It was a hell of an effort,” fourth-year Galena coach Steve Struzyk said. “The kids keep surprising me. Week in and week out they’re ready to play. My hat’s off to Palo Verde. We’ve been in that boat, having to travel – especially with their losses (suspensions). We just keep chugging along. We’re more than ready to get on the bus for Las Vegas.”
Galena committed only one turnover and opened the scoring after it marched 81 yards in seven plays, capping the drive off when Anderson hit wide receiver Jason Parkinson for a 24-yard touchdown with 1 minute, 37 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The Grizzlies struck again after senior defensive back T.J. Latino pounced on a fumble by Palo Verde sophomore Torin Harris 64 seconds later on the Panthers’ 27-yards line. Three plays after the turnover Anderson found junior tight end P.J. Tomaino from 26 yards out to make it 14-0.
Stafford ruined the Panthers’ subsequent drive when he fell on Selmon’s fumble at the Galena 30. In an exercise of ball control, Galena capped off an eight-play drive when Jake Hess ran it in from 33 yards on a trick play for the 21-0 lead.
“It was the Old Miss,” Hess said of the play. “We saw Old Miss run it at the beginning of the season. Jacob hands the ball to me under my legs. Everyone is keying on Jimmy. Jacob acts like he’s got the ball. I waited for a couple of seconds to go and told the offensive line to go. There was no one within 40 yards and I had three blockers in front of me.”
The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Stafford once again made Palo Verde pay, snatching up Rockney Ricafrente’s fumble on the Palo Verde 34.
“He fumbled the snap and I dove in,” Stafford said. “I got my finger stepped on and I cradled the ball like a baby. I held on as hard as I could. When the crowd cheered…man, it was the best feeling I’ve ever had. It pumps you up for the rest of the game.”
Four plays later Galena made it 28-0. Anderson hit Parkinson for a 9-yard completion, but Parkinson made a lateral to a speeding Pete Lazzari, who took it in with 6:26 to go in the half.
The double wing can cause a lot of trouble, but it wasn’t conducive for a four-touchdown comeback against a well-prepared and fired-up Grizzlies defense.
“During this week’s preparation we focused on our assignments and focused on our gap defense,” Stafford said. “We just trust everyone around us. Nobody had many mistakes. We played hard. We want to go to Vegas for the first time in team history.
“Jake Hess, Jesse Snodgrass – everybody out there gave 100 percent. We wanted to make sure we didn’t get pushed back. Everybody played a great game.”
Sargent, who upped his season total to 2,016 yards with his 141 yards, also ran in his 23rd touchdown from 37 yards out to round out the scoring at 8:18 of the third quarter.
“Jimmy Sargent stepped it up today,” Stafford said. “Jacob Anderson stepped it up today. Our offensive line was working its butt off to push back the D-line to get Jimmy some yards. It all starts with the offensive and defensive lines. We have a great quarterback, running back and wide receivers.”
Hess said Sargent told his team not to underestimate the Panthers even though they had four suspended players.
“That was the kind of thing we talked about,” Hess said. “Jimmy was telling everyone that they were quick and fast and had people to replace them. This team really stepped up for the win. We wanted to stop them. We started passing and it worked out really well.”
Hess said Palo Verde could not deal with Galena’s physical play.
“We were hitting people so hard that kids were crying,” Hess said. “We hit them so hard that they fumbled almost every time they had the ball.”
Stafford said his team is eager to get after the Wildcats.
“It’s gonna be great,” he said. “This week’s practice will be insane. It’ll be the most fun we’ve ever had. We’re going to work our butts off and go for that for that first state banner for the first time in school history.
“We’ve got to go out and play assignment defense (against Las Vegas). We know our offense can score. We have to step it up and shut them down.”
Hess said it would be more of the same when it comes to the Grizzlies’ preparation.
“We’re not going to change a thing,” Hess said. “We going to come out and work hard like we always do every single game.”
The Grizzlies improved to 10-3 on the season, while ending Palo Verde’s run at 9-4. Las Vegas improved its record to 11-2 with its win over Del Sol.