Ken Higbee said before the season he was anxious to gauge where Nevada eight-man football stood in comparison to other states in the western United States.
The Pahranagat Valley head coach has to like the answer so far.
Only two games into the season, the Panthers (2-0) have already posted convincing road wins over Challis (Idaho) and Avalon (Calif.) to start the season. They have two more significant hurdles before opening Class 1A Southern League play at Round Mountain on Oct. 1.
Pahranagat Valley’s biggest test might come Friday, when the two-time defending 1A state champion Panthers host reigning California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Eight-Man Division II champion Joshua Springs (Calif.) at 7 p.m.
“We’ve shown that Nevada can play football,” Higbee said. “I think these next two games are as quality of opponents as we may play. Both are traditionally good programs.”
After Friday’s game against the Lightning (1-0), the Panthers host Carey (Idaho) on Sept. 25.
Higbee said scheduling became “a matter of scrambling to find games” after Northern Nevada eight-man teams consolidated into a 10-team league, making games like last year’s season opener against Wells more difficult to arrange.
But to the Panthers’ benefit, Higbee jumped at the chance to schedule two games each against California and Idaho schools. He hopes it helps prepare his players for a possible run at a third straight state title.
“That was kind of the thought process behind picking up the teams,” Higbee said. “It’ll be fun to get through these four games.”
Higbee was impressed with how his players responded to long trips to his alma mater, Challis, and Long Beach, Calif., where they played Avalon.
“You drive 12 hours to Challis, then to Long Beach. To have the kids get off the bus from those long trips and play as well as they did is really a statement about the quality of football players,” he said. “They could have gotten off the bus sluggish, but they got after it.”
The Panthers took many positives out of their two early wins. But foremost among them might be the play of running back Chase Hansen.
The junior had surgery on his right shoulder during the summer after he trudged through three sports playing with bone spurs he suffered while weightlifting before the school year.
His comeback has been strong, scoring four touchdowns against Avalon. He carried seven times for 81 yards and two scores, and added punt-return TDs of 20 and 46 yards.
“Chase works as hard as any kid I’ve seen in the offseason,” Higbee said. “After the shoulder surgery from baseball, he went to work on his lower body. He has exceptional balance.”
Panthers quarterback Cody Hosier also has picked up from where he left off last season. The senior completed 6 of 8 passes for 122 yards and two TDs against Avalon.
Higbee said the Panthers aren’t fixated on maintaining their 24-game winning streak, which dates to the 2008 season opener. In fact, he wasn’t even sure when it began.
“You’re only as good as the next game,” he said. “What you’ve done in the past doesn’t really matter.”