Panthers too much for Wildkats in opener

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Superior Sun

Despite only a limited number of practices under their belt due to some late scheduling changes, the Panthers looked in midseason form as they routed the Duncan Wildkats last Friday, 48 – 0. The game was the season opener for both schools.

“We came out focused and determined,” Panthers’ head coach Ryan Palmer said after the game. “The players did an excellent job of executing the game plan, especially on defense. It was a total team effort.”

The shutout was the first by a Panthers’ team since a 42 – 0 season opening win over Patagonia on August 28, 2009. Sophomore Edgar Pacheco led the team with nine tackles in the game. Seniors Eric Oatis and Matthew Zavala each tallied seven tackles. Elias Olmos had a 20-yard interception return.

Newcomer Michael Salazar made a first good impression with his new teammates, scoring three touchdowns (1 rushing, 2 receiving) in his first game. He led the Panthers with 116 all-purpose yards. Sophomore quarterback Gage Cruz proved to be too much for the Wildkats defense, rushing for 81 yards on 10 carries and throwing for 152 more with three touchdown passes. Pacheco made an impact on offense too, rushing 63 yards and two touchdowns. Austin Navarrette caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Cruz, as well.

“Our speed was the biggest factor,” Palmer answered when asked what his team did well in the victory. “We were definitely outsized, but our team speed more than made up for it.”

Palmer saw some things which need to be improved, including more consistency on offense. Against some stiffer competition, lack of consistency could come back to haunt his team. Reducing mental mistakes and penalties are also areas of concern for the Panthers’ coach. With a bye this week, the Panthers will have time to work on improving in those areas.

“We were able to bail ourselves out with the big play,” said Palmer, referring to how the Panthers overcame mistakes in Friday’s game. “We will be game planning for Ft Thomas, but we are going to use this extra week to get better at technique, fundamentals and timing.”

The growing pains of last year appear to have paid dividends so far. The Panthers equaled last season’s win total in the first game of this season. And it’s likely just the first of many more in 2014.

After a bye this week, the Panthers take on Ft Thomas in their home opener on September 5. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.

Andy Luberda (918 Posts)

Andrew Luberda began writing for Copper Area News Publishers (CANP) in February 2013 after working 15 years in Healthcare Financial Management. Andy covers sports for 11 high schools. His stories are published in Copper Basin News, San Manuel Miner and Superior Sun, in addition to the San Tan Valley Daily PRSS and CopperArea websites. Additionally, he has written human interest stories and business profiles. In May 2012, he earned an AAS in Sports Management at Central Arizona College before graduating with a BS in Communication from Arizona State University in 2014. He and his wife, Kelli, have three sons – AJ, Kyle, and Kade.


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