POCATELLO — Snake River coach Jeb Harrison said there’s only been one moment of toxicity for the Panthers this season.
It surely didn’t happen Saturday during the 3A semifinal round against Gooding.
Snake River’s defense stomped Gooding’s usually-potent offense, 34-20, en route to a meeting with Fruitland next week for the 3A state championship. The championship will be played at Holt Arena. Kickoff is at noon.
And from the opening kickoff Saturday, Snake River came ready to play against Gooding. The Panthers have won seven in-a-row to reach their third title game appearance since 2011.
Snake River beat Fruitland in both previous title games.
“The team didn’t stop fighting,” said Harrison reflecting on the season. “And we could’ve went to the dark side. Thrown in the towel. It happened to us against Sugar-Salem. And that’s a big thing: you don’t go to the dark side. That’s when you start complaining and pointing fingers and it gets toxic. And then it ends (your season). And they started doing it for it just a minute, and we’ve never done it again. It’s all that positive energy we’ve had.”
But to meet the Grizzlies once again, the Panthers had to stop a Senator’s offense that averaged 44 points heading into Saturday’s semifinal round bout.
Lead by Carson Dance’s two interceptions and Ceaton Howell’s three sacks, they made it look easy.
Despite a late rally — which saw Gooding score two touchdowns in the final 4:31 minutes of regulation — Snake River’s defense held Gooding to just eight points in the first three quarters of play.
At one point, the Panthers caused Senators’ quarterback Shane Jennings to throw seven-straight incompletions and one interception.
Jennings would finish with 219 passing yards and three passing touchdowns on 16 completions. He had three picks, including one on the final play of regulation.
Gooding’s 20 points matched a season-low from week one (a 20-14 win over South Fremont).
“We just started out saying, ‘Hey, we’ll do what we know,’” Howell said. “Just keep working. We knew we could beat ‘em if we just kept pressuring the quarterback.”
The Panthers’ offense helped slow the Senator’s spread offense, too.
Harrison complimented his team’s running attack Saturday along with quarterback Coby Young, who finished with 194 passing yards on eight completions and two touchdowns. One was a 58-yard pass to Clancy Thomas, who was found wide open down the left seam. The other was a 46-yard catch by Dance to help the Panthers go up 34-8 with 35 seconds left in the third quarter.
Kade Mortensen, who picked off Jennings in the third quarter, had 17 yards rushing and an important 5-yard touchdown run before the first half ended to give the Panthers a 20-8 lead.
“The goal is to do your job and do it right and limit mistakes,” Dance said. “And we did that. Obviously, there were some mistakes, but we can improve for sure.”
Both teams scored quickly to start the game.
Treyton Young took a hand-off from his brother, Coby, bounced it to the right seam and got into the endzone from 26-yards out.
Jennings then found Shawn Pamplona on a 55-yard dart just a minute, 18 seconds later to give Gooding an 8-6 lead.
Clancy Thomas — who had a solid defensive outing Saturday, too — responded to Gooding’s score a minute, 24 seconds later after taking a Coby Young pass 58 yards down the left hash.
Three scores in six minutes.
There wouldn’t be another until Mortensen bulldozed into the endzone from five yards out with 12 seconds remaining in the first half.
Mortensen’s second quarter touchdown can be looked at metaphorically, too. After starting the season 0-3, the Panthers have bulldozed their way into the 3A state championship.
“We started out slow in the beginning of the year. I don’t know if we were just stuck in the past, last year we didn’t have the best season, but when we were younger, we were a damn good team,” Howell said. “We just knew we had to keep pushing and pushing and we could make it there.”
SNAKE RIVER 34, GOODING 20
Snake River 12 8 14 0 — 34
Gooding 8 0 0 12 — 20
Snake River — Treyton Young 26-yard run (PAT no good) 8:41
Gooding — Shawn Pamplona 55-yard catch from Shane Jennings’ 2-point conversion good) 7:23
SR — Clancy Thomas 58-yard catch from Coby Young (2-point conversion no good) 5:59
SR — Kade Mortensen 5-yard run (Treyton Young 2-point conversion good) 0:12
SR — Gunnar Ramsdell 42-yard run (Treyton Young 2-point conversion good) 5:51
SR — Carson Dance 46-yard catch from Young (PAT no good) 0:35
G — Cayden Loveland 8-yard catch from Jennings (2-point conversion no good) 4:31
G — Loveland 6-yard catch from Jennings (PAT blocked) 0:43
Passing — Snake River: Coby Young 8-12-194-2. Gooding: Shane Jennings 16-30-219-3-3.
Rushing — Snake River: Treyton Young 22-121-1, Gunnar Ramsdell 12-56-1, Kade Mortensen 8-17-1. Gooding: Michael Needham 14-74, Shane Jennings 12-67.
Receiving — Snake River: Clancy Thomas 3-116-1, Carson Dance 2-72-1, Kade Mortensen 2-8, Treyton Young 1-(-2). Gooding: Shawn Pamplona 6-120-1, Cayden Loveland 5-51-2, Logan Strom 3-23, Andrew Prince 2-15.