One more win on the gridiron and the Carey High School Panthers will be state champions.
Friday's 36-28 semi-final victory over the Mackay Miners, the defending state champion, set the Panthers up for their first State 1A Division 2 championship match since 1998, when they brought home the title.
"It's kind of exciting to get back to that championship game after eight years," said Carey coach Lane Kirkland.
To take the title, the 10-1 Panthers will have to go through the Salmon River Savages, a tough 8-3 team from Riggens. They'll have the opportunity at 6 p.m. this Friday at Holt Arena in Pocatello, where the championship will be decided.
Kirkland is fond of Holt Area. It's where the Panthers won their last state title and where they beat the Mackay Miners last Friday.
"It's a good place to play," Kirkland said. "It's a lot warmer than it is up here right now."
The Panthers high-powered offense generated enough of its own heat to beat the Miners for the second time this year. The first time was a regular season battle on Sept. 29 in Carey when the hometown squad won 34-26.
Both games against the Miners were hotly contested. The teams matched point for point, but the Panthers scored last to secure the wins.
"It was nearly identical to the last time we played them," said Kirkland.
In Friday's semi-final bout, Mackay drew first blood on a first-quarter 60-yard run by Josh Hannah. A two-point conversion put the Miners up 8-0.
The Panthers matched that with a touchdown of their own on an 18-yard pass from quarterback D.J. Simpson to Panther standout Brad Hunt. A successful two-point conversion tied the score at 8 each.
The Miners reclaimed the lead in the second quarter when quarterback Kelvin Krosch connected with Kolton Kimball on a four-yard pass. A failed extra point attempt left the Miners up 14-8.
Another touchdown pass from Simpson to Hunt, this one for five yards, tied the game at 14-14. Then the Panthers scored again on a 31-yard scamper by Blake Whitby. A Successful conversion run by Simpson put Carey up 22-14 at half.
Defense took over in the third quarter and neither team scored.
Mackay edged within two points of the Panthers in the fourth quarter when Hannah scored on a three-yard run.
But Carey rebounded to an eight-point lead when Cody Baird scored on a 56-yard pass from Simpson.
Then it was Mackay's turn. Hannah scored on a 1-yard run and Krosch threw a two-point pass to Kimball to tie the game at 28-28.
With 2:09 left in the game, a Mackay kickoff went out of bounds and the Panthers chose to make the Miners rekick. Baird caught this one and ran it back to the Miners 40 giving Carey great field position for a final run at the end zone.
Six plays later, Simpson scored on a quarterback sneak, and then threw a two-point pass to James Carlson to give the Panthers a 36-28 lead with only 13 seconds left on the clock.
An unsportmenlike conduct foul after the two-point conversion allowed Carey to bury the Miners deep when they kicked off from their own 45-yard line. Two plays later and the game was over.
"The kids just all banded together and we managed to hold them off one last time," Kirkland said.
Now, if the Panthers can hold off the Salmon River Savages, the state title will be theirs.
The Savages have shown that they're not a team to be taken lightly, nor a team that can't bounce back from adversity. After being drubbed by Notus 59-12 in the regular season, the Savage's reaped their revenge in the state quarterfinals by routing Notus 46-28.
The Savages earned their way to the state championship game with a 42-8 mauling of Mullen on Saturday.
Kirkland said his Panthers will face a tough quarterback in Savage senior Charlie Mignerey. But more fearsome is senior Jake Mann, a 6'3" 285-pound lineman.
"He's been an animal on the line," said Kirkland. "He's a dominating kid."
Nonetheless, Kirkland and his Panthers face the game with confidence.
"We're not overconfident," said Kirkland. "But I think we have some momentum going and we're looking forward to putting forth our best for this last game. If we can get the job done, we can bring home another state championship."
The Carey Panthers have two other state football championships. The team made five appearances in state championship games in the 1990s and came home with the title in 1994 and 1998.
CAREY Line Score
Carey 36, Mackay 28
MACKAY 8 6 0 14 28
CAREY. 8 14 0 14 36
MACKAY— Josh Hanna 60-yard run (Kelvin Krosch run); (8-0 M)
CAREY—Brad Hunt 18-yard pass from D.J. Simpson (Connor Rivera pass from Simpson); (8-8Tie)
MACKAY—Kolton Kimball 4-yard pass from Kelvin Krosch (pass failed); (14-8 M))
CAREY—Brad Hunt 5-yard pass from D.J. Simpson (run failed); (14-14 Tie)
CAREY—Blake Whitby 31-yard run (D.J. Simpson run); (22-14 C)
MACKAY—Josh Hannah 3-yard run (pass failed); (22-20 C)
CAREY—Cody Baird 56-yard pass from D.J. Simpson (pass failed); (28-20 C)
MACKAY—Josh Hannah 1-yard run (Kolton Kimball pass from Krosch); (28-28 Tie)
CAREY—D.J. Simpson Rivera 1-yard run (James Carlson pass from Simpson); (36-28 C)
TEAM STATS MACKAY CAREY
1st downs, total 17 12
Rushes, yards 49-256 29-161
Completions, passes 7-13 9-19
Passing yards 86 139
Total offense 342 300
Rushing—Connor Rivera 12-63 (5.31 per carry); Blake Whitby 8-61 (7.6) 1 TD; Cody Baird 2-27 (13.5); D.J. Simpson 7-10 (1.4), 1 TD.
Passing—D.J. Simpson 8-17, 121 yards, 3 TD; Cody Baird 1-2, 18 yards.
Receiving—James Carlson 3-40; Brad Hunt 3-30; Connor Rivera 2-13; Cody Baird 1-56 1 TD.
Fumble recoveries (1)—D.J. Simpson.
Kickoff returns—Cody Baird 1-46, James Carlson 1-41, Blake Whitby 2-18.
Punt returns—Brad Hunt 1-20.
Tackles—Allen Peck 18 tackles/16 assists; Cody Baird 13/16; Blake Whitby 11/4; Wulf Lebrecht 10/10; Jesus Ocampo D.J. Simpson 9/6; 9/9; James Carlson 5/2; Heith Adamson 3/3; Brad Hunt 3/2; Scott Ellsworth 2/1; Connor Rivera 1/0; Gonzalo Zarate 1/0; Kade Peterson 1/0; Tyler Chavez 1/1.