The script was flipped in the Division IV state championship game last week between Pahranagat Valley and Whittell. The passing team used the run, and the running team used the pass.
In the end, it was the larger Pahranagat Valley Panthers wearing down the Whittell Warriors 54-28 on a picturesque Saturday afternoon at Dayton High School to win a record eighth consecutive NIAA Division IV state title.
Pahranagat offensive coordinator and assistant coach Brian Higbee said, “Whittell, by virtue of their alignment, was keying in on the pass a lot and we knew then we might have some space up inside. Our linemen did really good up front and our two backs found some holes. I kind of figured that they would be playing us like that. We knew they weren’t going to give us the long ball, so we threw underneath and ran underneath.”
Juniors David Ingram and Christian Higbee accounted for 298 rushing yards and three scores between them. Higbee had 22 carries for 138 yards and Ingram 10 carries, 161 yards.
But the passing was there too as junior quarterback Tabor Maxwell was 13-for-21, 208 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a 1-yard dive.
Alamo’s current 93-game win streak ties them with Shattuck, Oklahoma (2003-2007) for the national record in 8-man football. Maxpreps.com has Shattuck with 92 wins, but a check by the Las Vegas Review-Journal with Shattuck High themselves corrected the total to 93.
The Panthers (12-0) took the opening kickoff and went on a nine-play, 72-yard drive that looked stalled with a 4th-and-10 at the 28. But Maxwell tossed a sideline pass to Cody Williams who took it in for the touchdown, and a two-point conversion gave Alamo an 8-0 lead.
Whittell came right back though, aided by a fine kickoff return, and Dismas Womack scored from seven yards out at 5:51 in the first, but a missed conversion try left the Warriors down 8-6.
Then PVHS responded with another long drive capped by a 1-yard dive from Christian Higbee at 3:28 and a 14-6 lead.
Head coach Ken Higbee had said he thought the key to the game was going to be who could control the line of scrimmage, and the Alamo boys did, especially in the second quarter when they stopped Whittell twice, and at the same time scored two more touchdowns for a 30-6 halftime lead.
Ingram had a 5-yard score at 9:33, and Wadsworth took a 22-yard shovel pass in for a score at 4:06 remaining.
The biggest play of the first half was Pahranagat holding Whittell on first-and-goal at the 4-yard line with only seconds remaining.
Caleb Moretti intercepted a Maxwell pass and returned it to the 4. But from there the defense stepped up in a major way and stuffed Warrior’s quarterback Colin Buchholz on three straight quarterback sneaks from the 1-yard line, and they had to turn the ball over on downs.
Alamo defensive lineman Duston Stewart said line coach Mike Strong “put us in a 6-2 set and told us to pinch down on the center and that’s exactly what we did. It was a team effort.”
The Panthers defense also held Whittell star running back Cory Huber, who came into the game with 1,620 yards (147.3 per game average), to only 49 yards on 14 attempts. Dismas Womack had only 69 yards on 13 carries and three touchdowns. As a team, Whittell was limited to only 129 yards rushing, nearly 188 yards below their normal average.
“That was our focus all week,” Higbee said, “and Coach Strong put a really good game plan together and then our kids executed, stepped up and got it done.”
Buchholz, who usually does not pass much, did have a good day for the Warriors because he was being forced to, going 14-for-20, 188 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Whittell (11-1) made halftime adjustments on both sides of the ball and made it much more interesting in the third quarter scoring 22 points.
They took the opening drive 64 yards in eight plays for a score, including six running plays from Womack to cut the lead to 30-14.
A Pahranagat fumble on their next possession, followed by a 47-yard pass from
Buchholz to Moretti set Whittell up at the 3-yard line and Womack scored again to cut the lead to 30-20.
But again, the Panthers stayed on the ground and carved out a 64-yard scoring drive that featured six straight running plays to up their lead to 38-20.
The Warriors answered, marching downfield and scoring on a 13-yard pass from Buchholz to Aubrey Felton in the final minute of the third quarter to trail 38-28.
The fourth quarter belonged to PVHS. They stopped Whittell on two more possessions and scored twice themselves to put the game out of reach.
Whittell coach Phil Bryant said he liked the effort and the heart shown by his team. “You’ve got to hand it to these kids. They’ve never been on a stage like this before. From almost dropping football a few years ago, 1-7 in 2013, then to go to 9-2 and now 11-1 this year, it’s a huge turnaround.”
Maxwell finished the season with a school record 2,766 yards, (137 of 217, 60.37 percent), 45 touchdowns and four interceptions. It gives him a three-year total of 7,937 yards and 121 touchdowns.
Wadsworth, finished the season with 1,078 receiving yards on 56 catches and 21 touchdowns.
The win also gives coach Higbee a record 10 state titles, one more than legendary Wooster and Bishop Manogue coach Joe Sellers. The title ties PVHS with Reno High for the record of most state football championships, 19. Reno earned 15 of their titles between 1924 and 1956.