ST. GEORGE — Pine View has been here before. Six times, in fact. But each previous time the school reached the state finals in football, it walked away with nothing but a consolation prize. The Panthers are hoping that this Saturday, they’ll push through and earn the school’s first football state title at Dixie State University at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
The Panthers enter the finals 12-1, having won every game but their season opener. They steamrolled through the early rounds of the state tournament, scoring at least 42 in each of the three contests and allowing 10 at most.
Pine View entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed, and will face the No. 1 seed in the final. Its opponent, Sky View, hasn’t lost a game in nearly 15 full months, including last year’s state title match. It has only two losses in the past three seasons. The Bobcats outscored their opposition 446-139 in their 12 games so far. They’ve posted three shutouts, including one last week of Ridgeline in the semifinal, the same team that dealt Pine View its only loss on the season.
As the old adage goes, you have to beat the best to be the best, and that’s been Sky View for some time now. The Panthers wouldn’t want it any other way.
“The boys are excited about this matchup,” Pine View assistant coach Ben Meier said. “There’s no better matchup than facing the best team in the state. They’re looking forward to that challenge. It’ll be awesome.”
Pine View brings 4A’s top offense, with 541 points for on the season, and pits it against the classification’s best defense that allowed only 139 points all year. Sky View’s offense ranks fourth (446 points) and Pine View’s defense ranks fifth (250) in the state.
Meier says a big key is to score early on and make Sky View play from behind and then control the offense as much as possible. They want to control the run game and slow Sky View running back Walter Collins and quarterback Kasen Carlsen on the ground and force Carlsen to throw the ball. It’s the same outline Pine View employed against Bear River in the quarterfinal that resulted in five Panther interceptions. That means they’ll rely heavily on their defensive linemen and linebackers, like senior Enoch Takau.
“I think as a team, if we keep doing us without getting too big in our heads, we’ll do great,” Takau said.
Takau said the team has to stay disciplined and on assignments to succeed. It’s a group that has a lot of confidence after allowing just 24 points across its last four games coming in, including the semifinal win that saw Snow Canyon score single-digit points for the first time all season.
Offensively, Meier said it comes down to using a high-speed tempo to keep Sky View’s tough defense basic and on its heels. They’ll mix in Takau, also the team’s primary running back, with quarterback Brayden Bunnell’s bounty of passing targets in the speedy Dominique Mckenzie, Preston Mann and others.
“We’re hoping to keep them pretty basic and vanilla, and not allow them to run too many defensive things at us,” Meier said.
He also noted that the Panthers’ triple-option offense and high tempo is unlike anything Sky View has seen this season. He said teams in the northern region of the state to not move with the same pace as the Panthers, and that could play to their advantage.
These two programs have not met since the 2017 quarterfinals, a 35-21 Sky View win. So there’s not a lot of familiarity between the two teams, other than film each has on the other. Sky View beat common opponents five times this season, including back-to-back knockoffs of Region 9 teams in the playoffs: topping Desert Hills 42-12 on Oct. 30 and then Cedar 35-7 on Nov. 6. Pine View went 3-1, including that loss to 42-38 l0ss to Ridgeline.
A win would give Pine View head coach Raymond Hosner his first state title in his 20th season leading the Panthers. To do so, his team will have to deal one of the state’s top teams its first loss of the season.
The fan attendance is capped at 300, with priority given to an allotment of two guests per player and the leftover available for sale. All attendees will be required to wear masks and social distance for the entirety of the game.
Updated Nov. 21, 10 a.m.: Attendance information added
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