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Panthers get another shot at 3A title with semifinal win

Pine View's Jesse Ence runs past Grantsville's Logan Gumucio. The Panthers defeated the Cowboys in Friday's 3A semifinal game.
Pine View's Jesse Ence runs past Grantsville's Logan Gumucio. The Panthers defeated the Cowboys in Friday's 3A semifinal game.
Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

When Pine View edged rival Dixie 35-26 to advance into the Class 3A title game last season, the Panthers were thrilled at the opportunity of playing in a championship contest.

That wasn't the case Friday morning.

Pine View was handily beaten by Bear River in the 2004 title game, and 3A MVP candidate James Lark and his Panthers have been aching for another chance ever since.

As it turns out, they'll be getting that opportunity.

Lark threw two touchdowns passes and running back Jesse Ence rushed for four scores as Pine View overwhelmed Grantsville 58-14 in the 3A semifinals at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

"Last year, we were excited (after the semifinal)," said Lark, who has committed to BYU. "This year, we've got one more game to go."

The Panthers from St. George will trek back to Salt Lake City and Rice-Eccles Stadium next Friday to play Logan in the state title game. That contest will pit Lark against Riley Nelson in a matchup featuring the classification's two top quarterbacks.

Pine View piled up a 34-7 advantage at halftime and led 55-7 before pulling Lark late in the third quarter.

Lark did turn in a solid performance, but Pine View's star of the show on Friday was Ence. In addition to scoring four touchdowns, he rushed for 126 yards on 20 carries.

"Jesse did amazing today," said Lark. "(His running) opens so much stuff."

Ence pushed his season rushing total over the 1,000-yard mark to 1,118 yards. He removed all doubt about the game's final outcome early in the third quarter as the senior capped two long Pine View drives with 1-yard scores.

Meanwhile on defense, Ence, a starting linebacker, and the Panthers stuffed the Cowboys' offensive attack. They held Grantsville to 151 rushing yards on 29 carries and forced QB Ryan Willis to throw the ball.

"People want to control the clock against us," said coach Ray Hosner. "We game-planned for that. We've got to go after the run."

The opening two drives of the game were perfect indications of what to expect. After Riley Stephenson's opening kickoff sailed into the end zone, Pine View's defense held Grantsville to three-and-out.

The Cowboys punted, and Pine View scored four players later when Lark hooked up with Carter Mees for a 51-yard TD strike.

That play was a simple pass over the middle, but Mees broke several Grantsville tackles en route to the end zone.

The Cowboys looked nervous during the opening exchanges of the game, and coach Tony Cloward said nerves definitely got to his team.

"I think we were scared to death," said Cloward. "We ran into a very, very good Pine View team and our magic ran out."


E-mail: drasmussen@desnews.com