Panthers’ defense primed for showdown with Spring Mountain

Eight-man football games often end with final scores that look like they came from basketball season.

Unless Pahranagat Valley’s defense has something to say about it.

The Panthers, winners of four straight Class 1A state titles, sent a message to the renamed Division IV Southern League about their defense last week with a 48-0 win at Carlin.

“Our kids are doing a really nice job tackling right now and filling lanes,” Pahranagat Valley coach Ken Higbee said. “They’re doing a nice job maintaining lanes. It all comes down to tackling the ball carrier in eight-man football with so much one-on-one.”

Eight-man football places a premium on tackling because the game is played on an 80-yard equivalent field, shortening drives and piling up the points.

Pahranagat Valley, however, began the season with a 62-13 romp at Wells before shutting out Carlin in a rematch of last year’s 1A state title game.

The Panthers (2-0) hope to continue their strong start when they visit Spring Mountain (2-0) in a Division IV Southern League opener at 1 p.m. today.

Pahranagat Valley owns a state-record 48-game winning streak, not including a cancellation against Beatty in 2009. Still, Higbee said a chance to play a quality opponent like Spring Mountain is something his program looks forward to.

“We saw them up at a preseason jamboree. They’ve got phenomenal speed and athleticism,” Higbee said. “It’s a matter of us doing the things that we do to be successful. They’re really athletic, they’ve got great speed, they do a good job up front. It comes down to us doing our little things really well.”

Pahranagat Valley has a veteran backfield that most teams struggle to contain. Quarterback Austin Poulsen has passed for 295 yards and six touchdowns in two games, and running back Tyler Higbee has rushed for 223 yards and two TDs.

Tyler Higbee led the charge against Carlin, running for 124 yards on 19 carries, catching four passes for 26 yards and making seven tackles at linebacker.

“Tyler’s such a good kid,” Ken Higbee said of his nephew, who is the son of assistant coach Brian Higbee. “That’s a kid that scored a 30 on his ACT. Those type of kids, you just love to coach.”

Spring Mountain will take a huge step up in competition after opening the season with an 84-0 win over Beaver Dam (Ariz.) and a 34-0 rout at Mineral County that was terminated in the second quarter after the Serpents had too many injuries to continue.

“This is a big test early on, our biggest test on the schedule, certainly,” Eagles coach Aaron Masden said. “We’re excited as a coaching staff and as a team to see how we match up and how we fare against the state champs.”

Spring Mountain rode a multifaceted rushing attack to last year’s 1A state semifinals, and it looks as if the Eagles are using a similar approach this season.

Quarterback Marcus Thomas has 134 yards and three TDs rushing, and running backs Bruce Travis-Collins (123 yards, three TDs) and Isaiah Brooks (111 yards, two TDs) also have been putting up big numbers.

“Our running backs, they can rotate through and we don’t miss a beat,” Masden said. “That’s huge for us to be able to substitute and not drop off.”