Whittell football back at home for Div. IV state semifinals, faces Spring Mountain
Div. IV State Semifinals
(1W) Whittell (10-0) vs. (2S) Spring Mountain (8-2)
Friday, Nov. 13 at 6 p.m.
After waiting more than two decades to host a playoff game in Zephyr Cove, the Whittell football team will be back on its home field to play for a spot in the state championship. The Warriors host Spring Mountain (Las Vegas) on Friday, Nov. 13, in the Div. IV State semifinals.
Div. IV West League champion Whittell (10-0) faces Div. IV Southern League runner-up Spring Mountain (8-2) on Friday night at 6 p.m. Spring Mountain makes the eight-hour trip to Zephyr Cove riding a four-game winning streak, including a 72-14 win over Tonopah (Nev.) in its playoff opener.
“Spring Mountain is by far the best team we will have played since I became coach at Whittell,” Warriors coach Phil Bryant said. “There are big, fast and very athletic.”
The Golden Eagles’ only losses this season have come to unbeaten teams — Joshua Springs (Yucca Valley, Calif.) and Div. IV Southern League champion Pahranagat Valley (Alamo, Nev.). Spring Mountain topped 70 points in six of its games this season, and it will present a tough test for Whittell on both sides of the ball.
“All we need to do is compete and not lay down because they are a Las Vegas team,” Bryant said. “I believe in our kids and I think they will step up to the challenge.”
Offensively, Spring Mountain operates out of a spread set and has passed on one-third of its plays this season. Senior quarterback Diquan Spiller has thrown for 1,101 yards, 20 touchdowns and six interceptions this season while running for a team-leading 600 yards and 10 scores.
“He throws very well and they do a great job of protecting him with big linemen,” Bryant said. “Not too many teams have tried to pressure the quarterback because he has very good escapability.”
Against Spiller, Bryant said most of Spring Mountain’s opponents have opted to sit back in coverage and wait for a mistake. Whittell’s plan Friday night will be to pressure the Golden Eagles’ quarterback with its line led by Quinn Kixmiller and Kai Mangiaracina and the occasional blitz.
“I think we will go after him,” Bryant said. “There is no tomorrow, so we plan to do what we have done to get to this point.”
The Golden Eagles’ defense has allowed 17 points per game this season, and Bryant considers it the team’s stronger unit. Spring Mountain typically crowd the line of scrimmage inside and on the perimeter and use their speed to recover, led in the trenches by nose guard Frederick Stevenson — a 6-foot, 250-pound senior that has running back-type quickness.
“They really fly to the ball and get a lot of people involved on the tackle,” Bryant said. “They play press coverage in the secondary and challenge you to try and complete a pass.”
Whittell ran all over Carlin (Nev.) in its playoff opener, gashing the Railroaders for 378 rushing yards en route to a 36-20 win led by backs Corey Huber and Dismas Womack. The Warriors will likely need more balance against Spring Mountain to advance, and quarterback Colin Buchholz (1,501 yards, 15 TDs) will need to have a strong game.
“We know what we have to do and it will be up to us to play our game and not get away from the things we do well,” Bryant said.
Though Whittell and Spring Mountain don’t have familiarity on the gridiron, its not the teams’ first meeting in the state playoffs. The Warriors and Golden Eagles have met in the Div. IV state semifinals in basketball each of the past two seasons. Whittell won in 2014 and Spring Mountain exacted revenge last year, with each team going on to win the state championship.
The second state semifinal features Div. IV Southern League champion and seven-time defending state champion Pahranagat Valley (10-0) hosting Div. IV West League second seed Virginia City (Nev.) (8-2) on Friday at 7 p.m. The championship game is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 21, at a Northern Nevada site to be determined.