Seventh-year Carey School football coach Lane Kirkland (48-15) looks at the successful Panther football program as an extension of the classroom—where the athletes learn lesson by lesson and game by game.
It's not surprising that Kirkland asked his current seniors to write essays on mental toughness a couple of years ago. Before Friday's Homecoming football game against Dietrich, Kirkland asked those athletes to re-read the essays.
The coach of Carey's defending State 1A Division 2 champions expected Dietrich to provide perhaps the toughest league challenge that the Panthers will face prior to November's state-qualifying playoffs.
So Kirkland figured that revisiting the mental toughness issue was quite appropriate.
It seemed to help when the going got tough Friday night.
Coming to Derrick Parke Memorial Field with a size advantage, a three-game win streak and an unbeaten Sawtooth Conference mark, Dietrich put the defensive screws to Carey in the first period—forcing turnovers on the first two Panther possessions.
Keep in mind that Carey has outscored opponents 128-16 in the first periods including mercy-rule victories in its first three Sawtooth league games.
But Carey stayed positive encountering its first speed bump in Sawtooth action.
The Panthers scored the first of their seven touchdowns on a D.J. Simpson fumble recovery deep in Blue Devils territory and added three of the next four TDs to build a 28-12 lead at halftime. Carey blanked Dietrich after the half and walked away with a 50-12 win.
Carey (5-1, 4-0 league) won its fourth consecutive game—scoring 50 points or more in each win—while Dietrich (3-2, 3-1 league) fell for the first time in Sawtooth Conference play.
Three seniors, Simpson, Blake Whitby and Scott Ellsworth, each scored two touchdowns. Carey out-rushed Dietrich 287-81 including 204-24 in the decisive second half. And the Blue Devils made eight turnovers against the gang-tackling Panther defense.
Kirkland said, "I was real pleased with our senior leadership. Reading the essays they wrote as sophomores helped them realize that they are the leaders now. They don't have Cody (Baird) or Brad (Hunt) to rely on anymore. I think we've grown up a lot after tonight."
"It was good to be tested early, and it was a tough football game," Kirkland added. "We learned a lot from the team we were playing and from the game itself. We ran the ball well and executed."
Carey has nine seniors and one, last year's leading scorer Connor Rivera (102 points), was finally back in action from a shoulder injury. Kirkland was glad to have him because junior Heith Adamson was sidelined early in the Dietrich game with an ankle ding.
Rivera (72 of his 82 rushing yards after half) was a big running factor as Carey relied on its ball control offense after half. Meantime, Whitby rushed 15 times for 84 yards. He scored Carey's first touchdown of the second half on a 52-yard counter early in the fourth quarter and also added 13 tackles.
Scott Ellsworth (6 catches for 99 yards, 2 TD plus 8 tackles) also had a terrific game. And senior quarterback D.J. Simpson was an all-around threat. He rushed for 59 yards, completed 10 of 18 passes for 129 yards, intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble.
Sparked by the intensity of freshman Brad Peck (12 tackles) and sophomore Trevor Peck (11), the Carey defense limited Dietrich's star player Anthony Pitman to 37 rushing yards and just one touchdown.
Pitman slipped through the alert Carey defense only once—on a 60-yard TD screen pass at the very end of the first half. Kirkland gave the Blue Devil senior the respect he deserved. He said, "You've got to expect great players to make great plays and that's what it was."
Carey's fifth straight grid victory over Dietrich set the stage for the next Panther showdown, this one coming Friday, Oct. 12 at Mackay.
Mackay (4-2, 4-0 league) has won four straight games since its season-opening losses to Raft River (3-3) by a 44-22 score and at Hansen (2-4) by a 6-0 count. Those four wins, however, came over Murtaugh, North Gem, Richfield and Camas County, teams with a combined 4-20 record this fall.
Kirkland nevertheless expects a tough test against a Mackay team that fell to Carey twice last season, 34-28 in Carey and 36-28 in the state semi-finals in Pocatello. Carey has played only once in Mackay, falling 50-14 two years ago.
If Carey wins at Mackay, the Panthers will be trying to get Kirkland his 50th coaching victory when Murtaugh visits for the final regular-season Carey home game Oct. 19, against the winless Murtaugh Red Devils.
See complete statistics from the Carey-Dietrich game on this week's Express Web site.