Snake River throttles Gooding 34-20 to advance to 3A state title game

Doug Lindley/Idaho State Journal Snake River's Carson Dance makes the interception in front of Gooding's Cayden Loveland during their 3A state semifinal game Saturday at Holt Arena.

Doug Lindley/Idaho State Journal
Snake River’s Carson Dance makes the interception in front of Gooding’s Cayden Loveland during their 3A state semifinal game Saturday at Holt Arena.

By Madison Guernsey,

POCATELLO — When Snake River was 0-3, Jeb Harrison declared his team good enough to win a state championship.

It was a bold claim, reeking of unrealistic, over-motivational coach-speak.

A drastic turnaround and seven wins later, Harrison and the Panthers are one win away from cashing in on his word. Snake River dominated Gooding in a 34-20 win Saturday at Holt Arena, earning a spot in next Saturday’s 3A state title bout with Fruitland.

“The team didn’t stop fighting,” Harrison said. “We could’ve gone to the dark side, thrown in the towel. … We left those three losses behind us and then we went on a roll.”

Snake River (7-3) hounded Gooding’s no-huddle spread offense that entered the game averaging 43.6 points per game. After the Senators (9-2) raced down the field on a four-play touchdown drive on their opening possession, the Panthers held them off the scoreboard until garbage time. Linebacker Ceaton Howell barreled Gooding quarterback Shane Jennings out of the pocket, while Carson Dance shored up the back end with well-timed pass deflections on Jennings’ shots down field.

Howell and company put consistent pressure on Jennings, forcing him to make snap decisions. Jennings, Gooding’s sophomore quarterback, completed his first four pass attempts while flawlessly executing read-option plays. Once the Panthers settled in, Jennings and the Senators fell flat. Jennings misfired on his next seven pass attempts after his 4-for-4 start. Dance picked him off in the end zone, and he was sacked twice by Howell before losing a fumble to end the first half.

By that point, the Panthers held a 20-8 lead and showed no signs of ever being 0-3.

“We knew they had a good passing game,” Howell said. “We knew that’s where we had to beat them. We knew we had to get pressure and have good coverage on those guys.”

On offense, Snake River rode its running back trio of Treyton Young, Kade Mortensen and Gunnar Ramsdell. Young and Mortensen each found pay dirt before halftime, and the backfield’s consistency opened the passing game for Coby Young.

Snake River’s senior signal caller hit Clancy Thomas for a 59-yard score in the first quarter, and had completions of 30, 26, 29 and 46 yards in the game. The Panthers’ gritty rushing attack forced Gooding’s defense to focus on the backfield, which allowed Coby to take advantage whenever his number was called.

For the game, Coby completed 8 of 12 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns. His second score was a 46-yard backbreaker to Dance that put Snake ahead 34-8 with 35 seconds left in the third quarter.

“Coby Young showed up tonight,” Harrison said. “The throws that he made were on the money, and he made really good decisions. They were loading the box on us, so we had to throw it, and when we did we had big plays.”

Treyton Young rushed 22 times for 121 yards, Mortensen added eight carries for 17 yards, and Ramsdell chipped in 12 carries for 60 yards and a 42-yard end-zone burst.

Dance intercepted Jennings in the end zone a second time on the final play of the night. Jennings finished 16-of-35 passing for 218 yards — 89 of which came in the final quarter — with three TDs and three picks. Gooding’s 20 points tied its season low, and Snake River’s 34 points are the most given up by the Senators’ defense.

Next up for Snake River is defending champion Fruitland, which has appeared in 10 of the last 11 3A state title games. The Panthers beat the Grizzlies in 2014 to claim a record-tying 10th IHSAA state championship.

Snake River won that game 36-21 to cap a dominant 11-1 season. Next week’s matchup could complete the Panthers’ turnaround the team never doubted.

“We believe in our team,” Howell said “We’ve got a dang good team. We trust each other, we love each other and we’ll keep working. We’ll keep battling until the very last second.”