A defensive battle between the two top teams in Nevada 1A for the state championship saw the lowest score for either team in the first half.
Pahranagat Valley (13-0) wrested the title from defending champion Spring Mountain 28-14 Nov. 22 at Moapa High School in Overton.
The Panthers led 6-0 at halftime. It was the first time all season Spring Mountain (9-2) had been held scoreless in the first half and the fewest points for Pahranagat Valley High School as well. Both teams came in averaging over 50 points per game.
Pahranagat wanted to keep the ball in front of them and slow things down by going primarily to the ground attack with their powerful three-man senior backfield of Preston Higbee, Reece Thornton and John Hansen.
They gave up the little out passes, which were effective for the Eagles in the third quarter, but didn’t give up the long bomb that Spring Mountain quarterback Masiah Pagota was so good on all season.
Paul Lewis intercepted two passes, including one in the end zone that ended a long drive the Eagles had mounted. He later caught a 22-yard touchdown pass with under two minutes left that gave the Panthers a bit of extra insurance for a margin of victory.
The championship is the 13th for the Panthers since 2001 and a state record 21st in school history as well as being the sixth time in the past eight years the two teams have met in the state finals. PVHS has won five times, and Spring Mountain once.
Keeping the ball mostly on the ground, Thornton rushed for 117 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries. Higbee passed 6-for-8 for 107 yards and made the late touchdown to Lewis. He also ran the ball for 61 yards and managed a four-yard touchdown plunge that gave Pahranagat a 6-0 lead at 3:44 of the first quarter, the only score of the first half.
Earlier in the first quarter, Pahranagat’s opening drive took them to the five-yard line, but Higbee’s pass was intercepted in the end zone at 8:47.
Late in the second quarter, the Eagles mounted a long drive that took over six minutes, but the final pass play of the half was knocked away by the Panthers.
Spring Mountain dominated the third quarter. After a punt backed them up to their own seven-yard line, Pagota then engineered an 11-play, 93-yard drive that took nearly five minutes and ended with a 41-pass touchdown pass to Jimmy Smits at 3:09. With the conversion try, the Eagles took an 8-6 lead.
Pagota scored again in the fourth quarter on a two-yard run at 7:39 for the Eagles’ last points of the game.
He was 17-for-31 passing for 197 yards and a touchdown and ran the ball 17 times and a score. But he was intercepted three times and the Eagles were stopped three times on fourth down in the first half.
Spring Mountain halfback Davion Diggs ran the ball 19 for 74 yards.
For Pahranagat, Higbee ran the ball 10 times for 61 yards. John Hansen rushed eight times for 50 yards and a touchdown.
In the fourth quarter, the Eagles drove deep into Panther territory, but Lewis intercepted a short pass in the end zone for a touchback at 11:22.
“They don’t make many mistakes, but that one was huge. It was a big turning point for us,” said Pahranagat coach Brett Hansen.
Just as Spring Mountain had dominated the third quarter, the Panthers rallied and dominated the fourth quarter by scoring three times.
Offensive coach Brian Higbee said, “They were coming up pretty hard to stop the run so we thought we could get something to Paul, John or Reece.”
A fourth-down pass to Hansen kept a drive alive. “I don’t think they were expecting that,” he said, “instead biting on the run, but the kids made the play.”
Moving to the Eagles’ 25-yard line at 9:04, Thornton replaced Higbee for a play as he was hobbled briefly with a thigh injury. Thornton then created the play of the game on a direct snap from center and ran to the outside for a 25-yard scoring burst and Pahranagat regained the lead at 12-8.
On Spring Mountain’s next series, Lewis picked off Pagota again and Hansen cashed in on a 12-yard run to push the lead to 20-8.
Pagota used short sideline passes to get the Eagles into the red zone and scored on a two-yard run at 3:09 in the fourth quarter to draw within 20-14.
But Pahranagat recovered the on-side kick attempt and after a first down, Higbee hit Lewis with the 22-yard touchdown pass at 1:45 remaining with a 28-14 lead.
Pagota was intercepted a third time at 1:23 and as the Eagles had no timeouts left, the Panthers just ran out the clock.
Spring Mountain coach Aaron Masden said, “It was a great game with a lot of little things happening that don’t show up in the stat book. A handful of plays that go different ways [i.e., three interceptions, fourth-down turnovers], and it could have been a different outcome.”
Coach Hansen again praised the Panthers’ offensive line and the holes they opened to allow the running backs to gain the needed yardage.
Thornton said, “I would say this has been on our minds since we lost [in the quarterfinals] last year. It has not left our minds. We’ve been working and grinding since July. It’s the greatest feeling to bring back [the championship] to Pahranagat Valley.”