By Kaleb Roedel
Back-to-back losses in their rearview. First league game. Homecoming.
The Spanish Springs football team was not short on motivation heading into Friday night’s home clash with North Valleys — and it showed.
Propelled by a three-touchdown first quarter, the Cougars sped out in front of the Panthers and never looked back in a 47-20 High Desert League victory.
“In my experience in football, if you can get out to a hot start, it kind of builds the momentum for the team,” said Spanish Springs coach Eric Borja, who challenged his offense moments before kickoff. “I said, ‘hey, we want two touchdowns in the first quarter — we got to get off to that hot start.’”
The Cougars not only called their coach’s challenge, they raised him one better.
Ignited by consecutive touchdown strikes from quarterback Korbin Marcum to wide out Austin Cadenhead — on passes of 16 and 59 yards — and punctuated by a Travis Vargas scoop-and-score fumble recovery, Spanish Springs (2-3, 1-0) scored three touchdowns in the final two minutes of the first quarter.
When the dust settled, the Cougars held a 23-0 command over the Panthers (1-4, 0-1). Gray Paholke opened Spanish Springs’ scoring with a 24-yard field goal on its opening drive.
“We just had the juice and we executed well,” Marcum said. “The team started out pretty slow, but coming out — the first league game, especially since it’s Homecoming — we were really amped up to get out there and finally do what we do.”
That blueprint included Marcum hitting Cadenhead routinely in the flat for big gains. In the last five minutes of the quarter alone, Cadenhead caught five passes from Marcum, including two touchdowns, for 98 yards.
In all, Marcum finished 15-for-22 for 248 yards, throwing two touchdowns and one interception. Cadenhead had a team-best nine catches for 152 yards.
“We just tried to keep a little bit of a running game in and attacking the perimeter,” said Borja, whose team racked up 427 yards of offense. “Obviously, Cadenhead had a lot of catches; if he gets an opening, he can take it [to the end zone], so that helps us, too.”
In the second quarter, however, the Panthers clawed back, scoring a pair of unanswered touchdowns to cut the lead to 23-13 at halftime. Matt Sneed hit Anthony Friend for an 80-yard touchdown pass and Cayden Kovich scored on a 6-yard run.
“I think we were in a position we hadn’t been in most of the year, and that’s ahead, and we were trying to do too much in the second quarter,” Borja said. “But we went in at halftime, regrouped, came back out with our game plan and did what we wanted to do.”
Reenergized, the Cougars needed just 54 seconds and three plays to find pay dirt on their first possession of the half. Vargas galloped in for a 35-yard touchdown run. He later punched in a 1-yard run with 1:11 left in the third to swell Spanish Springs’ lead to 37-13.
Vargas charted a team-high 103 rushing yards on 15 carries. TJ Fiorelli was next in line with 63 yards on 10 attempts.
Spanish Springs rounded out its tally in the fourth on a 1-yard run by Cole Drescher and a 29-yard field goal by Paholke with 4:08 remaining.
“You know what, we’re 1-0 in the league,” Borja said. “And we play in a tough league so every game is almost a Super Bowl, so they’re important. Our goal is to be in the playoffs and this was one step closer getting us to that goal.”
Added Marcum: “We went from being 1-3 to now, clean slate, 1-0.”