The Coconino Panthers showed Friday night that they can handle the heat.
Coming off a resurgent season and under the direction of a new head coach, Coconino got a big special teams play from Eli Deherrera, 259 rushing yards from Zach Bennett and led from start to finish en route to a season-opening win over Thunderbird on Friday in the Valley.
The 4A Conference Panthers took a 6-0 lead when Deherrera took a blocked punt into the end zone, and Coconino added 21 points to the scoreboard in the second quarter alone for a 27-0 lead at halftime. It was the fourth straight season-opening win for the team.
Three different Coconino rushers contributed to the second-half scoring, with Manuel Cardoza punching it in from two yards out, Bennett exploding for an 85-yard touchdown and Bailey McCauslin finding his way in from 35 yards out.
Coconino battled the heat for the duration of its season opener against a 4A Thunderbird team it beat 42-28 a year ago in Flagstaff.
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"Tried to ignore it," first-year Panthers head coach Mike Lapsley said of the temperature, "but having a handful of two-way players, we got the good substitutions and rotations we needed. I was sweating pretty hard myself, so I think it was something we had to overcome."
Bennett hardly slowed down from the heat, recording the first 200-yard rushing game of his career to go with two TDs on the ground. McCauslin added 45 yards rushing on five touches.
Panthers starting quarterback Jordan Lucero went 2-for-3 passing for 22 yards in his debut under center for a team that replaced its signal caller this season.
"The boys played really hard, did some really good things, and we know what we need to build on moving forward," Lapsley said.
Coconino's next game is at home in Cromer Stadium against Carl Hayden on Friday at 7 p.m.