ST. GEORGE — After a tough shootout loss to Ridgeline last week, the Pine VPanthers looked to bounce back on their home field Friday night, and they did just that.
“We just talked to the kids about having to man up and show an effort better than we showed last week,” head coach Raymond Hosner said. “Last week, I thought we played flat, we didn’t get to the football, we just kind of waited for everyone else to do their job. I just called on them to fly around for four quarters and they did it so I was proud of them.”
The game was a battle for the Panthers as Highland continued to pound the ball on the ground throughout. The Pine View defense looked great in the first half, holding the Rams to zero points while their offense was able to capitalize on some big plays.
Brayden Bunnell threw for two touchdowns in the first quarter and gave the Panthers a 14-0 lead early. Both teams went scoreless in the second quarter and the score remained the same heading into the second half.
The Rams opened up the second half with a long seven and a half minute drive that resulted in a touchdown. It was a drive that took a lot out of the Panthers defensive line.
“It was pretty tiring but over the summer we were doing our acceleration and getting in shape so our guys weren’t tired,” Brennan Shaw said. “Our middle backers were filling the A gaps and helping me out at nose. We were just flying around tonight.”
Hosner knew his offense would respond after the long drive and he made it known that he wanted to respond early. Hosner said he went to offensive coordinator Gary Crowton and told him to answer quick.
A couple of plays after, the Panthers did just that on about a 30-yard pass from Bunnell to Mckenzie. Hosner said that was a big shift in the momentum.
“We got a touchdown and all of the sudden you see them deflate a little bit,” Hosner said. “Overall, they executed. They did the little things they needed to do and we did a good job doing our jobs.”
Where the Panther had some trouble was in the secondary. The offensive line did a great job stopping the run, but the Rams seemed to continually convert over the top.
Hosner said his team has to trust one another. The encouragement needs to be there so that players will not get down on themselves, allowing them to come up big later in the game.
That’s exactly what happened on Friday.
After a fumble was recovered by Highland late in the game, that Pine View secondary stepped up in a big way with under two minutes remaining. On a Highland pass deep in Pine View’s territory, the secondary got an interception that ended the game.
“You get down a little bit but you’ve got to trust in your guys, have faith and keep encouraging them,” Shaw said about the completions in their secondary. “If you don’t encourage them, they’re going to get down on themselves and they won’t be able to make the plays. Our guys at the end of the game started making those plays.”
As for Bunnell, the first-year starting quarterback, Hosner said he saw some big progressions from him this week. One big focus for the coaching staff and Bunnell has been his handling of pressure situations.
When the pocket is collapsing or there is pressure, Bunnell will sometimes rush or get uncomfortable. That changed against Highland.
“The progression for him is, how do we get him to feel comfortable in those situations,” Hosner said. “I think he’s starting to trust his O-line a little bit more now and he made some big passes and big plays.”
After the game in the Panthers huddle, one of their coaches likened their game against Highland to a Region 9 game. He spoke on the physicality and the struggles they endured before pulling out the win.
Hosner agreed, pointing to that physicality as a big factor for his team.
“It’s the belief that our kids have realized they can play against a physical team because that’s a physical football team,” Hosner said when likening the game to a Region 9 game. “You see that line? I was walking in the hallway with them earlier and they are big dudes. The physicality of a game like that lets our kids know we can answer.”
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