Pahranagat Valley football coach Ken Higbee has all the evidence to consider his team favored going into its Class 1A Southern League showdown with Tonopah at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Panthers are 7-0, at home and ranked No. 1 in the 1A Southern League coaches’ poll.
But Higbee paints his team as an underdog against the second-ranked Muckers.
Both teams are 4-0 in league, and they’ve combined for the last three 1A state titles.
The game is likely to determine who snags the South’s No. 1 seed for the state playoffs.
“With our team being as small and young as it is, I don’t think you can prepare for the size and speed that Tonopah brings to the table,” Higbee said.
Tonopah coach Curt McElroy could not be reached for comment.
In some sense, Higbee is right about the youth — the Panthers have only five seniors.
But four are starters, including dual-threat quarterback Taylor Poulsen and explosive running back Brady Whipple, who have combined to account for 24 touchdowns.
Chase Leavitt is the team’s leading rusher with 444 yards and nine TDs.
Center David Hicks has anchored the offensive line and “taken on a leadership role,” Higbee said.
“They’ve come a million miles,” Higbee said of his offensive linemen.
The only losses for Tonopah (5-2), the defending state champion, came at 8-0 Carlin and 4-3 Diamond Ranch (Utah).
With their starters often not playing beyond the third quarter, the Muckers have averaged more than 53 points per game.
Tonopah senior quarterback Scott Thibodeaux has had a hand in 28 touchdowns, with 17 coming on the ground, five through the air and five via returns.
The Muckers utilize a three-pronged rushing attack out of the shotgun option/pistol formation featuring Thibodeaux (982 yards), Denver Otteson (525) and Mike Dolfin (440).
“The Thibodeaux kid is pretty important to that team,” Higbee said. “Defensively, they are big and fast. It comes down to fundamental football. If we can block and tackle, we’ll be able to compete with them.”
For Higbee, whose team hasn’t been challenged since Week 2, Friday can’t come soon enough.
“You don’t coach for the 70-point wins,” he said. “You coach and the kids play for the games when you’ve got to lay it on the line.”