The West Panthers are the class of Region 2.
The Panthers put an exclamation on that fact Wednesday night as Efoti Vaenuku rushed for two touchdowns and West held Granger to barely any yards the entire game en route to a 42-0 victory in the regular-season finale for both teams.
With the win, West improved to 7-2 overall and 6-0 in region. Since early September, coach Olosaa Solovi’s team has outscored its region opponents 260-34 and set itself on course to possibly pull a surprise in the upcoming 6A playoffs.
While most prep football fans focus on Region 4, which has had the two 6A finalists each of the last four years, Solovi said his team is becoming healthy at the right time. West is also hoping to add another chapter to its long football legacy, when it was once a Utah football power. The Panthers, though, haven’t added a championship trophy since 1992.
The Panthers did add a region title plaque by not letting Granger have any momentum on this night. The Panthers scored on their second possession and quickly built the margin to 21-0 by halftime. After accepting the second-half kickoff, quarterback Isaiah Suesue needed just seven running plays to reach the end zone again.
Then, after Granger couldn’t move the ball, the Panthers took advantage of a bad punt snap to gain possesson on the Lancers’ 2-yard line.
One play later, Jacob Wilson scored again and the UHSAA’s “Mercy rule” kept the clock moving swiftly.
“I’m grateful,” Solovi said. “We’re healthy and we’re playing like we’re capable. Our quarterback is making good decisions and our defense was just phenomenal.”
Solovi said West is taking advantage of a lesson learned in mid-August, when it invited the Mater Dei (Calif.) Monarchs to Utah to take on the Panthers. West was badly beaten – ironically also by 42-0 – but the perennial national power taught his team, and the coaching staff, a lesson.
“We learned what it takes to a be a team of that caliber, and we haven’t forgotten,” he said.
Since then, West has lost just once – to highly touted American Fork (20-17) the following week – and then has dismantled every Region 2 foe. The win over Granger was its third shutout, and it was earned even though the Panthers gave the Lancers a couple of opportunities.
With the game safely in hand, 35-0, West muffed a fourth-quarter punt, and then a penalty gave the Lancers the ball at the Panthers’ 6-yard line. However, West linebacker Julius Tukoisuva dropped a Granger runner for a four-yard loss on the next play, and then Tukoisuva stopped the drive for good with an end-zone interception.
Solovi appreciated Tukoisuva’s effort, but there were other defensive standouts, too.
“Our defense has been good all year,” Solovi said.
Now that West is the region champ, the Panthers can’t sneak up on any other opponents, and their level of competition will now step up closer to the ranks of American Fork and perhaps even Mater Dei. They have momentum, though, and good health. All that’s needed is good fortune to end that long title drought.