Whittell football downs Spring Mountain 48-26 in Div. IV state semifinals, advances to championship
ZEPHYR COVE — The Whittell football team will end its 2015 season playing for a state championship. The Warriors continued their postseason run on Friday, Nov. 13, with a 48-26 victory over Spring Mountain (Las Vegas) in the Div. IV State semifinals, delivering a complete performance on their home field to extend a historic campaign one more week.
“It’s our one-week season, we won, and now we’re moving on,” Warriors senior Colin Buchholz said. “We rose to the occasion immensely.”
Early on in Friday’s game, Whittell (11-0) found itself in an unfamiliar position — behind on the scoreboard. On the second play from scrimmage, Buchholz threw a pass that was ruled a fumble and recovered by Southern League second seed Spring Mountain (8-3).
Deep in Warriors’ territory, the Golden Eagles needed only one play to find the end zone. Whittell’s early 6-0 deficit marked the first time all season it trailed an opponent, but the Warriors quickly responded.
“It’s not something we’re used to,” Buchholz said. “We knew that we needed to make tackles — we didn’t on that first play and it really woke us up.”
Whittell scored on its next two possessions — a run from Buchholz and a pass from the senior to Caleb Moretti — to take a 14-6 lead midway through the first quarter. The Warriors maintained that eight-point advantage following the opening frame, showing from the outset they could compete against the bigger, athletic Golden Eagles.
Spring Mountain struck first in the second quarter, pulling to within 14-12 on a 21-yard run from Deonze Paster with 9:18 left in the frame. Paster’s run up the middle was the first of five touchdowns in a back-and-forth frame.
The Warriors extended their lead to 20-12 four plays later on a 5-yard touchdown run from Corey Huber with 7:55 remaining — carries of 21 and 38 yards from Dismas Womack set up the score. Then after a Spring Mountain fumble, Womack then found the end zone with a 22-yard run that included a stiff arm as he got into space.
“They were definitely bigger than us, so it was about being physical and technique,” Warriors senior Quinn Kixmiller said. “We were looking to tie them up so our running backs could get a hole and just break out.”
The Golden Eagles cut Whittell’s lead to 27-18 on the next possession, scoring on a 78-yard pass from Diquan Spiller to D’Quan Porchia with 3:00 to play in the half. The Warriors then marched 74 yards in six plays to answer just before halftime — an 8-yard run from Womack with 31.9 seconds left in the second quarter gave the hosts a 34-18 lead they took into the break.
“We ran on them a lot more than they expected,” Buchholz said. “It was just form. Our linemen were able to get lower than them and move them around like they wanted to move us around.”
Whittell stopped Spring Mountain near midfield on the opening drive of the second half, but an interception by Porchia two plays later gave the ball back to the Golden Eagles. On the first play after the pick, Spiller connected with Paster for a 52-yard score and a two-point conversion run from Kevion Berry made the score 34-26 with 8:45 left in the third quarter.
“We felt that they would have to score on big plays,” Bryant said. “We did not think they could drive the ball on us — and that was the case.”
In need of a drive to keep control of the game, Whittell’s offense delivered. The Warriors answered with a 13-play, 85-yard march during which they faced only one third down; Buchholz found Moretti in the corner of the end zone for a 13-yard score to cap the drive and extend their lead to 40-26.
“For our guys to go out and play like they did — establish a good running game, then take charge of the game and hit some plays when we needed them — was huge,” Bryant said.
From there, Whittell’s defense closed out the game by stopping Spring Mountain on four straight possessions. After the fourth stop, an incomplete pass from a scrambling Spiller on fourth-and-10 at the 33, the Warriors produced one more big play to punctuate the victory.
On the first play of the next drive, Buchholz ran up the middle for a 4-yard gain. Two snaps later Whittell ran the same play, but first sent Huber in motion to move Spring Mountain’s linebacker out of the middle of the field — and the result was a touchdown.
Buchholz ran up the middle after taking the snap, and appeared to be stopped near the line of scrimmage. Then the senior suddenly broke free, running for a 62-yard score that gave the Warriors a decisive lead — a two-point conversion pass to Moretti made it 48-26 with 3:47 to play.
“I got hit from the side, and I don’t know if the kid didn’t realize I had the ball — but then he fell off and it was wide open,” Buchholz said. “I took an angle and tried to get to the end zone as fast as I could.”
Whittell ran for 284 yards against Spring Mountain, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. Womack rushed for 117 yards on 14 carries, Huber had 91 yards on 21 rushes and Buchholz ran for 76 yards on eight carries. Buchholz finished 11-of-22 passing for 153 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
“It was a great performance all the way around,” Kixmiller said. “We were quick, we were awake and we did an excellent job — everyone completed their assignments and it was solid.”
For Whittell, the victory marked its 11th straight and means the Warriors will play for a state championship. Reaching this point of the season seems nearly inconceivable for a program that won more than four games only once in the decade prior to Bryant’s arrival — including a one-win campaign in 2013.
“Who would have thought that we would be here in this position two years into my tenure as head coach,” Bryant said. “To be able to play for the state championship is a great feeling.”
The Warriors will play Southern League top seed Pahranagat Valley (11-0) in the Div. IV State championship game on Saturday, Nov. 21, at Dayton High — kickoff is scheduled for noon. The seven-time defending state champions have won 92 straight games, one away from setting a national eight-man football record.
“If you’re going to win a state championship, you have to be able to beat them — you don’t win 92 games in a row by accident,” Bryant said. “It’s a real honor and challenge to play those guys. It’s a great opportunity and I don’t think our kids will be satisfied with anything other than another great effort.”