ST. GEORGE — Pine View met little resistance in its path to going undefeated through Region 9 play and an 11-1 overall record on the season, but if field goals were still located in the end zone, as opposed to behind it as they used to be, it’s possible that the Panthers’ semifinal opponent, Snow Canyon, would’ve walked away with the win in their regular season matchup. Now the Warriors get their second chance against Pine View on Friday, with a trip to the state championships on the line.
The contest on Oct. 2 was decided by only point, 36-35. Snow Canyon kicker Jake Wittwer came up just short on a 46-yard field goal attempt in the closing seconds that was so close he thought he had made the kick. The Warriors also held a 35-28 lead late into the third quarter but yielded a safety and then the deciding touchdown on Pine View’s next possession.
It was a heartbreaking loss, but Snow Canyon coach Mike Esplin said he thinks his team actually came out better for it.
“You never want to lose, but there are times after a loss, you say, ‘This is what we needed to come all the way together as a team,'” Esplin said. “I think that loss taught us some things that we maybe couldn’t have learned had we won that game by one point that would help us in this next one.”
Esplin said coming up just short against the eventual Region 9 champion just fed the hunger of his players, and they’re more than happy to take on Pine View in round two. The Warriors ran over their remaining three regular season opponents by a combined score of 114-47. The loss to the Panthers turned out to be their only one in region play.
The semifinal will pit the Panthers’ high-speed and high-scoring offense, which ranks No. 3 in 4A with 493 points, against the Warriors’ No. 2 defense, which has allowed only 183 points. But neither team is far behind the other in the respective leading categories: Pine View ranks fifth in defense, and Snow Canyon ranks sixth in offense.
Pine View’s offense runs through senior quarterback Brayden Bunnell, who has thrown for 3,444 yards this season and 37 touchdowns – both tops in Class 4A. He averages 287 yards per game and completes 62% of his passes. Wide receivers Peyton Mann and the speedy Dominique Mckenzie give Bunnell versatile targets with the ability to carry the ball after catch. And running back Enoch Takau gives a legitimate ground threat that keeps defenses honest. Offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, who served as a head coach at BYU and an OC in the NFL, ties it all together.
“Coach Crowton is amazing at what he does,” Pine View head coach Ray Hosner said. “He does a great job getting mismatches. Look at what he’s done with our receivers and our quarterback. Two years in a row now, we’ve got a kid close to 4,000 yards. … He gets it done.”
Snow Canyon will counter with a young core of defensive backs that Esplin said has only improved as the season progressed. Senior Brenton Childs led the team with six picks, tied for the most in Region 9, but sophomore Will Warner was not far behind with four. The Warriors secondary held Bunnell to just a 53.7 completion percentage, his third-lowest single game score on the season and well below his average mark of 62.4.
The Warriors use a more balanced offense, averaging 177.3 yards per game throwing and 171.6. Quarterback Landon Frei and running back Bretton Stone give the team solid options both in the air and on the ground.
Per stats guru George Felts, Hosner has a 4-1 edge all-time against Esplin in head-to-head matchups. It is Pine View’s third straight trip to the semifinals, but it hasn’t seen the championship game since 2016. For Snow Canyon, a win will put them in the finals for the first time since 2006. The final is slated to be held at Dixie State University’s revamped Greater Zion Stadium on Nov. 20.
“They have a great football team,” Hosner said. “It’s one of those things, it could go either way.”
The first semifinal matchup between two Region 9 teams since the dissolving of Class 3AA in 2016 is expected to be just as close as the regular season contest. However, the atmosphere might not be what one would expect from a conference-foe game late in the playoffs. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, access to the game will be limited to only two guests per player. That means there will be less than 300 fans — likely much less — in attendance.
Kickoff is at 5 p.m. and will be streamed on KSL for fans who can’t attend.
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