Note: Pine View finished with a 9-3 overall record in 2013 and a 5-1 record in Region 9. It lost to Desert Hills 27-21 in the 3AA state championship.
ST. GEORGE — The postgame chatter was all about Kody Wilstead’s struggles.
On the biggest stage last November, the Pine View junior threw four interceptions — three in Desert Hills territory — as the Panthers came up painstakingly short to rival Desert Hills in the 3AA state championship at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Pine View coach Ray Hosner made sure there was no casting blame.
“None of them blamed anybody else, and that was a big thing we talked about. Everyone took responsibility. It wasn’t Kody’s fault, it wasn’t our running back’s fault, it wasn’t our defense's fault, it’s all of our fault. We need to play better as a team and make sure we’re behind each other 100 percent,” said Hosner.
The last interception near midfield with 2:58 remaining in the game proved the most costly. Desert Hills took advantage of the shorter field and ultimately scored on a 2-yard TD run on the final play of the game for the 28-21 win.
For a program with a frustrating 0-5 history in state title games, that final TD was a dagger.
With tremendous talent returning on offense, and a potentially better defense, Hosner believes Pine View will be back again this year. This time around, the Panthers will be more prepared.
“We just need to play and execute and do the things we do. We don’t need to do anything special. That’s the first time this group had been there for a few years, and kids think they need to do something extraordinary to compete and win a state championship, when the reality is all you need to do is execute and focus on the things you’ve been taught,” said Hosner.
That was particularly the case for Wilstead, who threw three interceptions on Pine View’s first four drives. He eventually settled down and threw for 332 yards in cold and windy conditions.
The BYU commit finished the season with 4,390 passing yards, the second-most in state history behind only Jordan’s Alex Hart in 2009.
With three of his primary skill position players returning Wilstead could be in store for another banner year, but that’s not driving him this year.
“Kody, he’s grown a ton in his leadership, and just his relationships with the players. The kid is just willing to serve everybody. He walked in today carrying the water bottles,” said Hosner. “He’s at the point where he’s grown up, and understands that this is a team sport, and he loves his teammates and he wants what’s best with them.”
If that means Pano Tiatia runs for 1,500 yards this season after rushing for 729 yards in just eight games — which included seven TDs in the final four games — so be it.
“The truth is they’ve been together since third grade, and I’ve been coaching them since seventh grade,” said Hosner. “They just know each other so well. They just know what pace to row at. They all know how to read a defense, they all know without verbal communication where they should be, and that takes a lot of time with each other and a lot of practice, and they’ve been able to do that.”
No matter how good the offense is, though, defense will ultimately define whether or not this team finally gets over that championship hump. A year ago the Panthers gave up 24-plus points in seven of 12 games, including all three playoff games.