A great Thanksgiving tradition: Bishop Gorman-Palo Verde: A Holiday Weekend Showdown

Originally posted by Ray Brewer at LasVegasSun.com

The high school football players in this Las Vegas area Thanksgiving weekend tradition know they are fortunate.

They realize the obvious: They could be like the players at other schools whose season is already over, watching from the stands with envy because they’ve long turned in their gear.

Instead, they’ll suit up Saturday in the one game some wait their entire careers to be part of.

Host Bishop Gorman and Palo Verde meet at 1 p.m. Saturday in the state semifinals, renewing a rivalry many consider the state’s most fierce.

Every three years, the Sunset Regional championship game doubles as the state semifinals and falls on Thanksgiving weekend. For the past three cycles, the game has pitted the Summerlin rivals playing in front of a standing room-only crowd. The schools are located a few miles apart and some of the players were former classmates or teammates growing up, setting the stage for a friendly — and heated — afternoon of football.

Gorman against Palo Verde, regardless of when it's played during the playoffs, always includes high emotions and intensity from players on both sides. Add in the appeal of playing over the holiday weekend and it’s expected to be a packed house.

“We look at it as a privilege to be here on Thanksgiving,” said Zack Singer, Gorman’s two-way lineman and captain who attended his first game in the rivalry as a seventh-grader. “We get to practice through the week and still be out here playing football when most of the teams in the city and state have turned in their pads. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

And it doesn’t get any better than Gorman-Palo Verde.

They are two of Nevada’s unquestioned perennial powers. Gorman is the four-time defending state champions; Palo Verde has a 64-11 record since 2008. In 2010 and 2011, Palo Verde lost just once — to Gorman.

Gorman has a four-game winning streak in the series, including scoring more than 70 points last year in a blowout victory. That defeat was the end of one of the worst Palo Verde seasons since the school opened in 1996, giving returning players motivation to improve in the offseason and show the 7-5 record wasn’t an indication of the program’s quality.

They realized the schedule aligned this fall for the rematch to be the marquee game over Thanksgiving weekend, putting in extra work to guarantee this year’s game equals the hype. Palo Verde (10-1) won the Northwest League title and has just one loss, narrowly falling in overtime to Green Valley.

The Panthers promise this year will be different and the game will be closely contested, similar to the 2007 and 2010 Thanksgiving contests that could have been won by either team.

“It was disappointing last year. I hated it,” said Michael Hughes Jr., Palo Verde’s four-year defensive lineman. “The next day I was sick to myself. I couldn’t believe we gave up so many points. It was all on us; we weren’t a team. This year, nobody is selfish and everybody is playing for each other.”

Still, it might not be enough to dethrone Gorman.

The Gaels haven’t lost to a Nevada opponent since falling to Palo Verde in the 2008 Sunset championship game. In more than 60 games against instate foes, only once have they not won by more than 20 points. That game was the 2010 Thanksgiving game against Palo Verde — it was scoreless until the final minute of the first half, and Gorman won 28-10.

The crowd of 4,102 in 2010 was the largest paid crowd to watch a prep football game in Southern Nevada history. It broke a record set during a previous Gorman-Palo game.

“That was an awesome game,” said Singer of the 2010 contest, when he was a freshman. “The stadium was absolutely packed. The atmosphere was ridiculous.”

Palo Verde is led by senior quarterback Parker Rost, who has passed for 1,008 yards and 16 touchdowns, and rushed for 328 yards and 11 touchdowns. Rost’s success passing has created another dimension to the Palo Verde offense, which is always known for its strong rushing attack.

“I remember (Rost) from his sophomore year. From then to now, what a great player he has become,” Gorman coach Tony Sanchez said. “We are going to have to do a good job with him. It’s still the same old Palo where they want to pound the ball, but they are going to give you enough other things to look at where you have to defend the field.”

“You have to be sound in the pass (defense) because they aren’t the same team that used to run two or three passes,” he continued.

Palo Verde coach Darwin Rost, Parker’s father, was equally complimentary about Gorman quarterback Randall Cunningham II. Cunningham has passed for 1,553 yards and 15 touchdowns, and rushed for 1,083 yards and seven touchdowns in creating matchup problems for defenses with his ability to pass and run.

“Randall has had a really good year. He runs the ball, he throws the ball. We’ll have to slow him down,” coach Rost said. “You have to play sound defense. Like we have told our kids all year long, ‘Do your job first. You can’t do anyone else’s job.’”

It’s shaping up to resemble one of those classic Gorman-Palo Verde games. Rost easily recalls all of the other legendary games in the series, especially in 2007 when the schools opened Gorman’s new Fertitta Field with a Thanksgiving weekend state semifinal game. Gorman drove the length of the field in the final two minutes to score the winning touchdown in arguably the best game in the rivalry.

“It was such a great crowd that day. That’s the way high school football should be,” coach Rost said.

That’s something everyone in this rivalry agrees on.

“There is nothing better than eating turkey on Thursday after you just got home from football practice,” Sanchez said. “When I was growing up, we went to the park to play football (on Thanksgiving). We actually get to come and practice. It’s a neat thing. We tell the kids all the time we don’t want to turn in our gear until we are the last team standing.”