SALT LAKE CITY — West High might want to think twice before it schedules another Homecoming game against Hunter.
The Wolverines proved to be the ultimate Homecoming killjoy, as they used a punishing ground game and a smothering defensive effort to pound past the penalty-plagued Panthers, 41-3, in the two teams' Region 2 opener Friday night at Gean Plaga Stadium.
Hunter (3-2 overall) piled up a 35-3 halftime lead to put an immediate damper on the Panthers' annual festivities, with the Wolverines grinding out 165 yards rushing in the first half on their way to a total of 225.
Trevon Johnson slashed into the end zone twice, on runs of 17 and 7 yards, and wound up with a team-leading 46 yards rushing as the Wolverines spread the carries and the damage around.
Ian Togiai added 44 yards rushing and a 10-yard TD burst of his own, and he also recovered a fumble deep in West territory to set up Johnson's second score late in the first half.
"They executed good," Togiai said of the Wolverines' offensive line, which opened up gaping holes for their running backs to gobble up big chunks of yardage all night long. "That's pretty much what we do. This was one of our better games running the ball, and our defense did a good job of shutting them down."
Mitchell McKnight scored Hunter's first touchdown on a perfectly executed end-around play to cap the Wolverines' first scoring drive, when they went 60 yards in just six plays following a great return on the opening kickoff by Nathan Uhi.
Hunter's Hyrum Purcell had 39 more yards rushing, including a 3-yard touchdown, but he suffered a serious knee injury in the first half and could be lost for the season.
"That's the good thing about Hunter — we don't have a one-two punch, we've got a one-two-three-four punch," first-year Hunter High head coach Scott Henderson said of his team's bevy of outstanding running backs. "We've got a pretty good stable of running backs, so I'm excited. The kids are working hard and we're gonna just keep battling.
"Now I'm back home," said Henderson, who served as an assistant coach and defensive coordinator at the school from 1999-2004 before taking the head coaching job at Taylorsville. "I love it, I love it.""
Quarterback Shaun Scanlan scored Hunter's only second-half touchdown on a two-yard plunge after a bad snap sailed over the Panther punter's head, giving the Wolverines the ball at the West 8 early in the third quarter. And place-kicker Nick Hafen was 5-for-5 on PAT attempts for the Wolverines.
Henderson was pleased with his team's performance on both sides of the ball, particularly their ground-gobbling rushing attack and their tenacious defense that allowed West just 55 yards of total offense — and only 4 net yards in the second half.
"The kids played well," he said. "We had that bye last week and we got to fix some things that we needed to work on, so the kids are looking good.
"That's what Hunter's known for — running the ball — and we've just got to keep doing what we do. We're just playing Hunter football, that's all I can say. All the coaches from the past, that's when they started it," he said. "We've got some great kids out there playing hard on defense, and they're still learning — a lot of green kids and they're just stepping up."
The Panthers (0-6) got their only points of the game when Alex Cody boomed a 35-field goal early in the second quarter. The score was set up by an interception by Isileli Pupua, who returned the pickoff deep into Hunter territory.
A holding penalty nullified a 100-yard kickoff return by West's Tylle Jones in the second quarter, a score which could've pulled the Panthers within 21-10 and perhaps kept a little wind in their Homecoming sails.
That was one of many penalties that cost the Panthers ample yardage — more than 150 minus yards, including at least a half-dozen personal fouls which often either stalled West drives or helped move the chains in the Wolverines' favor.
And with the way Hunter's defense was repeatedly stopping the West offense, the Panthers had no chance once the Wolverines roared to their 35-3 halftime advantage.
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