Long-distance touchdowns by senior Porter Mecham and junior Carson Simpson did much to demoralize opponents this fall as the Carey High School football team scored 34 of its 86 touchdowns from distances of 30 yards or more.
The Panthers continued that offensive explosiveness during Thursday’s Milk Bowl State 1A Division 2 eight-man championship game against Lighthouse Christian Academy on Caccia Field at the Holt Arena in Pocatello.
Yet it was the Panther defense along with clutch plays on offense that nailed down Carey’s 26-20 triumph over a determined Lighthouse squad. The close outcome gave Carey (12-0) back-to-back state championships for the first time.
Carey extended its winning streak to 24 games.
After scoring the game’s first touchdown, the Lions (10-2) battled back from a 20-6 halftime deficit but Carey had enough in the tank to prevail. Focused to the task, Panthers were 10-for-14 in third-down and fourth-down efficiency.
The early 6-0 deficit was the first time all season Carey was behind. It was similar to last year’s title game, when Carey trailed 6-0 to Tri-Valley and gained a 50-42 shootout win.
Five times, Carey’s defense stopped Lighthouse within the 25—twice on fourth-down passes, once on Simpson’s clutch interception at the one-yard-line, once on a Max Dilworth fumble recovery and once on a Dilworth sack followed by his fumble recovery on the play.
“Defense played a monster part, if not the biggest part in winning this championship,” said Carey coach Lane Kirkland, who secured his fifth state championship in 18 years at the helm, and guided the Panthers to the program’s seventh state grid title.
He said, “Our defense made so many big plays on so many series. The kids flew to the ball, broke up passes, slowed down the run game and caused turnovers all night when a score seemed imminent.”
Carey’s offense did its job as well—out-rushing the Lions 264-119 and out-passing Lighthouse 190-149. For the season, the Panthers (56.4 points per game) averaged more each game than any Carey edition.
And Carey did it with amazing effectiveness. Kirkland said, “We only had five turnovers this season and just six last year. One of our greatest team cheers is, ‘We got your back.’ This team lived by it.”
“We had a lot of clutch plays in this game. Some QB sneaks, some powerful runs, a gutsy fake punt call by Brigham (Parke), and some great catches that kept the ball in our hands and moving.”
Simpson (176 yards rushing) scored on 42- and 70-yard runs. And junior Brigham Parke (5 catches, 119 yards) caught the decisive aerial on a 61-yard third-quarter scoring pass from quarterback Hunter Smith.
After the game, amidst the wild Carey celebration, Parke clutched the game ball and wasn’t letting go. “I’ve never seen a kid grab a ball like that,” said Kirkland. “Brigham had the game of his life.”
Parke was the glue that held each part of Carey’s game together. He made a team-high 18 tackles from his linebacker spot. He blocked a Lions extra-point kick. After booting an early 34-yard punt, Parke got Carey a first down by inches with a surprise fourth-down run out of punt formation.
When Lighthouse’s strong defense led by Sawtooth Conference “Defensive Player of the Year” Cooper Dastrup (a team-high 14 tackles) capitalized on a two-point safety to score eight points in 56 seconds for a 20-14 deficit, Parke was there again.
On third-and-10, Parke got behind the Lions defense for a 61-yard scoring pass from Smith for Carey’s final score.
Holding a precarious 26-20 lead and needing a time-killing drive late in the fourth period, steely-calm Smith threw to Parke for vitally important 11-yard and 38-yard receptions on third and fourth downs.
“I told myself I had to catch the ball,” said Parke about his 38-yard catch-and-run that sealed the game with a minute remaining. “For our team, it wasn’t a matter of ‘if we win,’ or ‘can we win.’ It was always, ‘when we win.’ We did it with our heads and our hearts.”
Afterwards, Parke told his grandparents Dar and Dianne Parke that he dedicated the game ball and his effort to their son Derrick Parke, the uncle Brigham never knew.
Derrick Parke was the leader of Carey’s first state title team, that score 58-26 over Deary in 1994 on the Holt field. Derrick died unexpectedly the next year, at age 18. “Brigham helped me call that play,” said Kirkland about Thursday’s game-clinching catch.
Carey snapped the nine-game winning streak of Lighthouse Christian dating back to the 34-8 Lions’ loss on the Carey field Aug. 31. Last season, Lighthouse was 5-4.
For the season, Lighthouse (40.1 ppg offense, 14.1 ppg defense) had the second-best defensive season in school annals. But the Lions couldn’t contain Carey’s rushing game in each meeting.
Carey out-rushed Lighthouse 288-111 in the first clash, 264-119 in Thursday’s final.
The Lighthouse defense was poised to stop Carey top rusher Mecham, who raced for 188 yards in Carey’s 34-8 win over Lighthouse Aug. 31. But the Lions couldn’t stop Simpson’s quickness around end. Simpson rushed for 176 yards and two touchdowns.
Kirkland said about Simpson, who scored 13 of his 22 touchdowns from 30 yards and out, “Carson was on a mission this year on both sides of the ball. He had 11 interceptions and some seriously big runs.
“His second efforts and great vision allowed him to create a highlight run or two every single game. He really proved himself to be one of the very best in the state. I can’t wait for next year!”
The coach credited the composure of sophomore quarterback Smith (6-for-13, 187 yards, 2 TD with 17 TD passes and 18 conversion passes this season).
He said, “Hunter progressed at the QB spot all year. His ability to make big plays and place the ball got better every game. Love that talented kid!”
Kirkland said, “What a privilege it has been to work with such fine young men and a great staff. We never stopped believing. Our fans and community believed in us. The boys showed us their dreams and we did it together.”
Check today’s Express web site for Carey-Lighthouse game stats and a season summary. See the Nov. 28 Express Local Life for photos of the state championship game at Holt Arena.
PANTHER NOTES—Carey’s back-to-back state football championships including last year’s ultimate 50-42 win over Tri-Valley at Middleton were decided by a grand total of 14 points….The Panthers were clutch in each finale, going 9-for-17 in third and fourth down situations last year, 10-for-14 this year….
Carey senior co-captain Porter Mecham finished with 82 tough rushing yards. He made 59-yard and 12-yard third-down catches leading to Carey’s second touchdown for a 12-6 lead. His lead block freed Simpson for a 70-yard TD, and linebacker Mecham had 9 tackles. Mecham led the Panthers in scoring for a second straight season with 23 touchdowns and 11 conversions for 160 points. For his four-year career, Mecham had 51 TDs and 24 conversions for 354 points, putting him in the ranks of the top Carey scorers ever. All-time leader is Jonathan Rivera (1997-2000) with 73 TDs and 17 conversions for 472 points including a school-best 29 touchdowns as a senior in 2000…..
With its state victory, Carey tied Salmon River of Riggins with seven state titles each among the 48 Idaho High School Activities Association eight-man championships decided since 1984. Next closest, all with three wins, are Kendrick, Garden Valley, Deary, Prairie and Council….In 13 1A Div. 2 seasons since 2006, only three schools have won state titles—Salmon River six, Carey five and Lighthouse two…
This year’s Carey team set a school per-game offensive record at 56.4 points per game. Last year’s state title team actually scored more points in 12 games, 642 to this year’s 620, but Carey had a forfeit this year to reduce the number of total points scored…..Last year Carey scored 88 TDs (53 runs, 32 passes). This year Carey scored 86 TDs (65 runs, 18 passes). Points scored and surrendered in the first halves of each season were almost identical—448-88 in 2018, and 450-84 in 2017…..Remarkably, Carey scored points in 81 of 92 quarters over two seasons….
It’s difficult to win back-to-back state grid championships. Kirkland said, “Of all the titles I have been a part of, this one I was believe I felt the most ecstatic. It took Panther football three previous tries to go back-to-back. We finally did it on No. 4!” Carey also won state championships in 1994 and 1998 for Kirkland’s father, Heber Kirkland, along with 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2017 for Lane Kirkland.
Carey lost its back-to-back chances in 1995, losing 54-14 to Deary in Moscow; in 2007, falling 46-42 to Salmon River at Albertson Stadium; and in 2011, losing 34-22 to Lighthouse at Holt Arena. That loss to Lighthouse seven years ago ended an 18-game Carey winning streak. Facing a similar situation this year against upset-minded Lighthouse on the same Holt field, Kirkland said he didn’t use it to motivate the boys. “Coach (Lane) Durtschi and I were the only ones who remembered it. It’s ancient history to the boys.”