It happens every fall. And for the better part of the past 15 years there has been excitement and anticipation in the air about Pahranagat Valley football.
First, because they are the record setting seven-time defending NIAA state champions, and because they also own the longest active winning streak in the nation at 81.
Yet the team does have several questions to face as the season begins. Even though the Panthers only graduated eight players, they were a good bunch including league Most Valuable Player and school record-setting running back Wade Leavitt, and his equally talented teammate Jordan Cryts, on both offense and defense So who to fill those spots? Also who will step up to fill holes left on defense by the likes of Paden Higbee, Caleb Hansen, Utah Ray and Austin Horrocks? In addition, can record-setting junior quarterback Tabor Maxwell maintain his strong play at the position?
Leavitt leaves behind the single season school rushing record of 1,515 yards and 43 touchdowns, as well as the all time single-season state scoring record of 312 points.
PVHS coach Dr. Ken Higbee said, “You don’t replace a Wade Leavitt, you just have other kids who step up and fill that role.”
Higbee has been very fortunate this century though in having players who step up. One in particular was Jake Carter, who was the rare recipient of the league’s MVP honor as an offensive and defensive lineman in 2013.
Higbee says he feels the kids who are coming back give the team this season quite a bit of depth. Maybe not the same speed of last year’s team, but nevertheless good things are expected. “The best part of this group is the work they put in during the offseason to get ready for this. They have really dedicated themselves to coming out and being ready. It says a lot about the makeup of our kids. The beauty of our depth is the competition we have in practice. It really pays off for us on a daily basis,” he said.
Returning this season for the Panthers are All-League selections Maxwell, Shawn Wadsworth and Christian Higbee.
Maxwell, the All-League First-Team quarterback in 2014, threw for a school record 2,625 yards (155 for 227, 68.28 percent) and 38 touchdowns, with only two interceptions, in his sophomore season. It ranked him first among all high school quarterbacks in southern Nevada, even ahead of Bishop Gorman’s All-State First-Team QB Tate Martell. And even though Martell plays for the No. 3 nationally ranked Gaels, it ought to be most interesting to watch how the two juniors will fare this year also. Martell was the MaxPreps national sophomore of the year in 2014.
Maxwell’s 38 TD passes, which he has done in both seasons, is the single season state record in Division IV. He also tied the school record (with Cody Hosier, 2010) of six touchdown passes in a single game.
In his first two seasons, Maxwell has thrown for 4,998 yards (310 for 466, 66.5 percent) and 76 touchdowns.
At present, he is third in the Division IV state record book for career passing yardage behind the 8,740 of Jason Peters of Coleville (2006-2009) and Mitchell Lehner of Tonopah (2004-2006) with 5,784.
Wadsworth, a senior, will be the favorite receiver target. “He can catch and he’s fast,” Maxwell said. “The two of us have played together since the second grade.”
The versatile Wadsworth was third among all southern Nevada players last year with 60 receptions, 1,069 yards and 17 touchdowns.
He holds the school record for receptions in a single season, surpassing the mark set by Kale Leavitt in 2010 and will again be on the watch list as one of the best receivers in southern Nevada.
In the Division IV record book, Wadsworth is second for single-season net receiving yards behind Coleville’s Emmi Sandoval in 2008 with 1,686. Wadsworth also had 39 tackles on defense.
Junior Christian Higbee, (131 yards rushing, 31 catches, 370 yards) will be one of the main running backs with junior Ike Taylor (127 yards). “Ike has had a phenomenal training camp,” said Higbee. Senior Oscar Heredia and two speedster underclassmen in sophomore Hunter Hollingshead and junior David Ingram are also expected to carry the ball often.
On the line, Higbee expects good things from Mateo Linares, Dustin Stewart, Cody Stirling, Daved Wilson and Garett Higbee. “Those kids are doing really good things up front for us.”
Alamo’s current winning streak is gaining on the national 8-man record of 92 by Shattuck, Okla. (2003-2009). The all-time national record, including 11-man teams, is 151 by De La Salle (Concord, Calif.,) 1992-2003.
After opening the season August 28 at their traditional first game opponent, the Wells Leopards, the Panthers travel to Thacher Academy in Ojai, Calif., about 20 miles north of Ventura, for a Sept. 11 game at 4 p.m. Thacher (12-1) was the California Division II 8-man runner-up in 2014.
Nicknamed the Toads, Thacher and PVHS surprisingly do have one common opponent: Joshua Springs, Calif. Thacher split with the Lightening in 2011 and 2012, while the Panthers have two wins over Joshua Springs in 2010 and 2011.
Alamo’s first three games are on the road, including Tonopah Sept. 18, and they begin the home season hosting Beaver Dam, Sept. 25.