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In case of emergency, Pine View summons Unit Black

Dixie and Pine View square off during a UHSAA 3AA state semifinal football game at Southern Utah University in Cedar City on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. Zach Spendlove (58) in pursuit.
Dixie and Pine View square off during a UHSAA 3AA state semifinal football game at Southern Utah University in Cedar City on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. Zach Spendlove (58) in pursuit.
Nick Wagner, Nick Wagner

ST. GEORGE – Let's face it, we love our superheroes.

And while these guys may not be able to fly or see through walls, Pine View's linebacking corps, "Unit Black," has had some pretty heroic games this season.

The group, led by senior Zach Spendlove, has helped the Panthers win four straight games and rush through the playoffs and into Friday's 3AA state championship game.

"Unit Black, it's a brotherhood," Spendlove said. "We just fly around making hits and having a good time. We all love each other. We have a heckuva time in practice and in games."

It's an interesting group, much like a band of heroes. There's Spendlove, the wise senior veteran, who mentors the younger linebackers and is the only one who also plays offense.

"Zach struggled a little bit when he first moved over from Hurricane a few years ago," said Pine View defensive coordinator Brett Gifford. "But he has developed into a leader now. His leadership is one of the things that makes this unit so tough."

Then there's martial arts specialist and tackling machine Christian Reis. The junior leads the team with 98 tackles and seems to be in on every play. Reis is a master of jujitsu and teaches at his father's martial arts school.

"He's a fun kid to be around," Spendlove said. "He likes to yell and scream as he's flying around and hitting people, making plays."

Gifford said Reis is almost ubiquitous on defense.

"He's everywhere," Gifford said. "He's really got a good grasp of what we're trying to do and he seems to be in on every play. And he's a jujitsu fighter. How cool is that?"

Then there's the esoteric and clean-cut Austin Peterson. The third member of the Peterson clan to go through Pine View, Austin said he learned a lot from his brothers about football and about life.

"We moved here when I was in third grade and my brother, Braxton, was a quarterback here," he said. "My other brother, JP, is out on a (LDS Church mission) right now. He almost didn't play football his senior year. He didn't play much his junior year and thought about not playing. But he decided to and had a great year. He told me not to have any regrets, to go for it."

Both JP and Austin are high-caliber wrestlers. JP was second in state two years ago.

And then there's Brennan Bithell. He's easy to spot during Pine View games, with his flowing blond hair pouring out of the back of his helmet.

"Let's see, we call him Goldilocks and Samson and sometimes Sunshine," Gifford said. "I know he idolizes Clay Matthews and you know what, he plays like Clay Matthews sometimes."

Bithell has 75 tackles on the season, plus a sack, an interception and several forced fumbles.

And finally, though he doesn't play as much as the other guys, Gifford touted Korey Barlow as a key influence on Unit Black.

"He's just a tough kid with a wrestling background," Gifford said. "All these guys are tough and they spend a ton of time in the weight room. And they've all wrestled at some point, which makes them even better at playing football."

Unit Black may not stop a bank robber or even rescue a kitten from a tree, but the Pine View group of linebackers, with more than 300 tackles this season, will be key in trying to help the Panthers win their first state championship Friday against Desert Hills.

Kickoff in the 3AA title game is 11 a.m. at Rice-Eccles Stadium on the campus of the University of Utah.

Andy Griffin is a southern Utah broadcaster and sports writer and has been involved in covering sports in Utah, including professional, college and high school sports, since 1989. Andy is the sports editor at STGNews.com.