One win away: Whittell football takes aim at Paharanagat Valley’s 92-game winning streak in Div. IV State championship
Div. IV State Championship
Whittell (11-0) vs. Pahranagat Valley (11-0)
Saturday, noon at Dayton High
The only winning streak the Whittell football team is concerned with entering the Div. IV State championship game on Saturday, Nov. 21, is its 11-game unbeaten run since the start of the 2015 season. To win a state title, the Warriors will need to end a streak that stretches a little bit longer.
“It’s the perfect way to end our season,” Warriors senior Aubrey Felton said. “We’ve heard about all the records we’ve broken and all the history we’ve made, but we have one more game and that’s all we’re thinking about.”
Div. IV West League champion Whittell (11-0) faces Div. IV Southern League champion Pahranagat Valley (Alamo, Nev.) (11-0) for the state title at Dayton High on Saturday at noon. The seven-time defending state champion Panthers have won 92 straight games, and are a victory away from setting a national eight-man record.
“We’re not focused on the win streak, we’re just focused on the opponent, what they do and how they do it,” Warriors coach Phil Bryant said. “The kids aren’t intimidated — they’ve looked at them on film, and they’re looking at a high school team that executes well.”
Whittell hasn’t lost this season, including wins over Carlin (Nev.) and Spring Mountain (Las Vegas) at home in the playoffs. Pahranagat Valley’s streak stretches back to the 2008 season, and is currently equal to the eight-man mark set by Shattuck (Okla.) from 2003-09.
“There’s a mystique that goes with Pahranagat that you can’t duplicate in practice,” Bryant said. “Looking at them on film makes it a little familiar, but it’s still there — you know that it’s going to feel different.”
The Warriors know that the road to a state championship would have to include a win over Pahranagat Valley, and are aware that the Panthers will present a great challenge. But Whittell is confident, and sees Saturday’s state title game as a tremendous opportunity.
“It’s the best opportunity in the world,” Felton said. “Not many people get the opportunity to stand where we are right now, and we plan to do as much as we can with it.”
Whittell’s defense has delivered stellar performances throughout the season — including four shutouts — and concludes the campaign against its most unique test. Pahranagat Valley boasts the best passing game in Div. IV, quarterbacked by junior Tabor Maxwell.
“They’re the only team in the state that passes like this — it’s a completely different look from anything we’ve seen all year,” Warriors defensive coordinator Doug Patton said. “It’s their best against our best, and we’ll see who wins the matchup.”
Maxwell has thrown for 2,558 yards and five touchdowns this season, completing 60 percent of his pass attempts. His favorite target is senior Shawn Wadsworth, who has caught 51 passes for 1,031 yards and 19 touchdowns — 6-foot-8-inch sophomore tight end Culen Highbe also creates matchup issues for opposing defenses.
“The key is not to let them get behind us and keep the ball in front of us,” said Warriors sophomore Corey Huber, who will start at cornerback opposite junior Dismas Womack. “Their quarterback has an arm to where he’ll drop it right where they need it.”
The Warriors will play man-to-man pass coverage on the outside Saturday, and will also try to generate a pass rush to pressure Maxwell led by Felton, Quinn Kixmiller and Kai Mangiaracina. Both elements will be key to slowing the Panthers’ attack that will throw on any down.
“The quarterback has really never been rushed, so I think it will be interesting if we can make it a challenge for him,” Felton said. “We’re going to see if we can change it up some.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Whittell has run for an average of 353.5 yards in its two playoff games, and will look for a similar performance on the ground in the state championship. Huber has run for a team-high 1,620 yards and 21 touchdowns this season while Womack has rushed for 762 yards and 18 scores — and both have had success running behind the blocking of the Warriors’ offensive line.
“Our linemen have gone up against bigger, stronger and heavier guys the whole year and they’ve done a great job,” Huber said. “They tough it out and punish these guys.”
Quarterback Colin Buchholz has also run for 11 touchdowns, to go along with 1,654 passing yards and 17 scores. Pahranagat Valley runs a 3-3 with zone coverage and shuts down opposing teams by reading their offensive keys, making misdirection and disguising plays important for Whittell to move the ball.
“They know within a split second what you’re going to do and they’re really good at it,” Bryant said. “We have to make our runs look like passes and our passes look like runs — we have to give them some false keys and try to break that down.”
When Bryant took over the Warriors’ program two seasons ago, it was hard to imagine Whittell football playing for a state championship. The Warriors have a 20-2 record over the past two years, and will conclude an already historic 2015 season doing exactly that.
“We might have been the only ones that expected ourselves to be here, but we’re not looking at it like we’re happy to be here,” Bryant said. “We are happy, but we’re not done.”
Win or lose against powerhouse Pahranagat Valley, Whittell will bring an end to a stellar campaign on Saturday. None of the Panthers’ 92 straight wins have come against the Warriors — and they have the chance to keep it that way.
“We’re pretty confident,” Felton said. “They execute well and so do we, they have their big players and so do we.”