SALT LAKE CITY — When all else failed around them, the Pine View Panthers never had a doubt.
When the end zone stood what seemed like light years away, they never lost faith.
And when Kody Wilstead got the ball to Tristan Duran, the Panthers’ faith was rewarded with an improbable victory.
Wilstead threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to Duran with one second left in regulation, then delivered the tying two-point conversion toss to Jack Bangerter and the winning 14-yard toss to Colton Miller in overtime as Pine View stunned Juan Diego 48-42 in the 3AA semifinals Thursday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The elation was clear as the Panthers (9-2) celebrated their first trip to a state title game since a loss to Timpview in 2007. Wilstead threw for 402 yards on 25-of-46 passing with five touchdowns and no interceptions.
“We never lost faith in ourselves, even when there was 10 seconds left,” Wilstead said. “I knew Tristan would get us closer, but didn’t think he would score. He’s an amazing player.”
After Duran scored, hurdling over a Soaring Eagle defender on the way to the end zone, he took his time to get up as he held his shoulder in pain. But the Panthers certainly weren’t finished.
When Wilstead made the play to Bangerter for the two-point conversion, it gave the Panthers the impetus they needed to complete the comeback from a 28-14 third-quarter deficit.
Juan Diego (11-1) started with the ball in overtime, but three plays netted only nine yards. In what turned out to be a big part of the Soaring Eagle’s story, they committed false start penalties on back-to-back fourth-down plays – their 13th and 14th of the game. With 11 yards to go instead of one, a pass completion from quarterback Cole Nelson ended up well short of the first down.
On the Panthers’ overtime possession, they wouldn’t miss. Wilstead scrambled for three yards on third down, then fired a strike to Miller over two Soaring Eagle defenders that finished off the victory.
“The coaches knew (the comeback) was gonna happen,” Miller said. “We start slow, but once we get going, we’re unstoppable. It’s another step for us. We’ve still got next week to go.
“One thing to know about this team is we’re never done.”
With Juan Diego clinging to a 35-34 lead after Chase Williams scored on a 12-yard run with 3:21 left in regulation, Wilstead nearly became the goat as he fumbled on the ensuing drive and the Soaring Eagle recovered at the Panther 32. They would capitalize when Jesse Springer scored his third touchdown of the game on a 15-yard run.
The extra point made it a one-score game at 42-34. There was 1:32 still showing on the clock.
“They gave us way too much time,” Miller said. “Twenty seconds is too much for us.”
The Panthers traveled 81 yards in eight plays, converting one fourth down along the way and made up for two missed extra points with the most valuable two-point conversion of its season.
“We couldn’t stop the clock, so we needed to let them score,” PV coach Ray Hosner said. “Their kid tripped on the play before and I thought maybe they’d be smart and take a knee. When they didn’t, I knew we were gonna win.”
Three straight incompletions from Wilstead, including a ball in the end zone that glanced off Bladen Hosner’s fingertips, closed out the first half and left the Panthers with a 21-7 deficit. Wilstead started the second half leading a seven-play, 73-yard drive that he finished off with his first touchdown pass of the day, a 6-yarder to Bangerter, that closed the gap to 21-14.
The Soaring Eagle answered immediately and reclaimed the two-touchdown edge when Nelson found a wide-open Jesse Springer on a 48-yard TD pass. Wilstead led the Panthers back with three scoring drives that included a 7-yard run – his second rushing TD of the day – and two more TD passes, a 1-yarder to Hosner and a 50-yarder to Duran that gave Pine View a short-lived 34-28 lead with 5:06 left in the fourth.
Bangerter finished with eight catches for 108 yards and Duran’s only catches of the day were good for 101.
Nelson finished with 274 yards passing for the Soaring Eagle on only 10 completions with three scores of 44, 60 and 48 yards. Springer and Williams led the JD ground game with 102 yards rushing apiece.
Tom Zulewski also writes for The Spectrum.