OVERTON — Pahranagat Valley’s game plan against Spring Mountain’s potent offense in the Class 1A state football championship game Friday night was simple.
The Panthers wanted to keep the ball in front of them and hope they could force a mistake. That strategy allowed the Golden Eagles to keep the ball for long stretches of time and drive down the field, but Pahranagat stiffened when it needed to.
Paul Lewis intercepted two passes, including one in the end zone to end one sustained Spring Mountain march, and caught a 22-yard touchdown pass with less than two minutes left to clinch Pahranagat Valley’s 28-14 victory over the defending state champions Friday night at Moapa Valley High School.
“I knew I was going to get it,” Lewis said of the final touchdown. “I worked hard all season for it.”
The championship is the 13th since 2001 and a state-record 21st in school history.
Reece Thornton ran for 117 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries for Pahranagat Valley (13-0), while Preston Higbee threw for 107 yards and the late TD. He also ran for 61 yards and a 4-yard touchdown that put the Panthers ahead 6-0 late in the first quarter, a lead they carried into halftime.
Higbee was intercepted in the end zone to end Pahranagat Valley’s first drive of the game and was limping after hurting a knee in the fourth quarter.
“That’s phenomenal,” Thornton said of Higbee’s effort. “That’s leadership, that’s just being a senior and a captain on this team. I wouldn’t want anybody else back there.”
Masiah Pagota was 17-for-31 passing for 197 yards and a touchdown, and he rushed for 74 yards and a score on 19 carries. But he was picked off three times, and the Golden Eagles (9-2) were stopped three times on fourth down in the first half.
That included a pass on the final play before halftime that was knocked away, as the Panthers turned away a 14-play march that lasted more than six minutes. The Eagles finally broke through to start the third quarter, an 11-play drive that took nearly five minutes and was capped by a 41-yard pass over the top from Pagota to Jimmy Smith. Pagota’s two-point run gave Spring Mountain an 8-6 lead.
The Golden Eagles got it back with a chance to go up two scores, but Pagota threw a short pass in the right flat and Lewis took it away from the receiver in the end zone.
“They don’t make many mistakes, but that was huge,” Pahranagat Valley coach Brett Hansen said.
The Panthers capitalized with a 25-yard scoring burst from Thornton to retake the lead. Lewis picked off Pagota again on the first play of Spring Mountain’s next possession, and John Hansen cashed it in with a 12-yard touchdown run. Thornton’s two-point run made it a 20-8 game.
Pagota drew Spring Mountain back within one score with a 2-yard run with 3:09 left, but Pahranagat Valley recovered the onside kick. After a first down, the Panthers threw one over the top to Lewis.
“I would say this has been on our minds since (we lost) last year,” Thornton said. “It has not left our mind. We’ve been working and grinding since July. It’s the greatest feeling to (bring the championship) back to Pahranagat Valley.”
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