“It definitely feels good,” Hare said. “We knew we had a good group. This is just a great group of guys and it’s fun to go to work everyday. We could have been out of the title tonight, but luckily we’re not and I think that these kids do deserve an opportunity to play for that title. It’s such a tough region and to only lose once and not have a chance at the title would have been a tough pill to swallow so it’s nice that we have that shot.”
The Cougars needed a win at North Valleys as well as help from Reed against Reno. The Purple and Silver made sure to take care of its own business as it used a suffocating defense, along with a high-tempo offense, to breeze past the Panthers.
Spanish Springs set the tone early as it took its second possession of the night 80 yards down the field for the game's first score. After the SSHS grddiers advanced to midfield, Cougars’ quarterback Hunter Fralick threw a deep pass to receiver Gehrig Parks. When a North Valleys defender attempted to deflect the pass and missed, that left Parks uncovered. He caught the ball at the 30-yard line and coasted the rest of the way for the 53-yard score at the 7:31 mark of the first quarter.
A Panthers’ three-and-out gave SSHS the ball back and again the Cougs went to work, this time taking advantage of a short field.
After converting on a 3rd-and-11 as well as a 4th-and-1, Spanish Springs running back Jeff Jurgensmeier took a hand off and bounced to the outside for a 9-yard touchdown run to give the visitors a 14-0 edge with 2:28 left in the first.
North Valleys’ ensuing possession resulted in another three-and-out, thanks in part to a 12-yard sack by Cory Kleidosty which resulted in another Spanish Springs score.
Standing at the fringe of the red zone, SSHS running back CJ Carithers made a beautiful run as he stutter-stepped a pair of Panthers before making a quick cut to leave the would-be-tacklers standing still. He ran into the end zone for a 20-0 lead.
Spanish Springs added to its advantage later in the second quarter when Fralick hit receiver Vance Lively for a 26-yard TD after faking a handoff to Parks, which left Lively all alone behind the Panthers’ secondary. The touchdown pushed the lead to 27-0 with four minutes to play until halftime. Just before the intermission, North Valleys finally broke through the stout Spanish Springs defense. NVHS QB Daniel Lewis ran a keeper up the middle and raced 76 yards to make the score 27-7 at the half.
Lewis’ run would prove to be the highlight of the Homecoming night for the Panthers as the touchdown was the Spanish Springs’ defense's idea of being generous.
“I thought they had a great week of practice, Hare said of his defense. “We were really focused this week and I thought we had a really good understanding of what North Valleys was trying to do to us. We executed tonight. Outside of one long run, I thought we were in the right spots at the right time and did a really good job of that.”
The Cougars’ offense took advantage of repeated NVHS three-and-outs and turnovers on downs, adding scores and putting the running game clock into affect. A 10-yard touchdown pass from Fralick to Parks made the score 34-7 before Kenny Depree took a 2-yard plunge to leave the scoreboard reading 40-7 at the 7:57 mark of the third quarter. Less than three minutes later, Zach Perez got into the act as he slashed through the line en route to a 26-yard scamper and a 47-7 lead.
North Valleys threatened to get in the end zone again, but on a 4th-and-goal try from the 3-yard line, Blake Nauman made a jumping swat on a pass attempt to deny the Panthers. Not to be outdone, Garrett Nauman closed out the night with a 61-yard touchdown dash to leave the score at 53-7.
Now the Cougars will prepare for their annual rivalry showdown with Reed, with a little more at stake, in what equates to an HDL championship game Thursday at 7 p.m.
“We just have to stay with the same pattern,” Hare said of preparing for the Raiders. “I can’t change practice or the way we do things. We’re not going to keep them longer or do anything different. We’re going to do the same things we’ve been doing and that way hopefully they just stay in the same routine.”
Fralick finished the game 20-of-29 passing for 269 yards and three touchdowns. Lively was on the receiving end of eight of those completions, racking up 101 yards and a score. Parks accounted for a pair of scores and 92 yards on five catches. On the ground, Jurgensmeier ran the ball 11 times for 63 yards and a touchdown while Carithers rushed nine times for 42 yards and a score. Perez also got in on the act, recording four rushes for 55 yards and a score, as did Garrett Nauman to the tune of 70 yards and a TD on three runs.