POCATELLO — The Valley High School football team needed a stop, and its back was up against the wall.
Pinned inside its own 10-yard line and clinging to a two-point lead against Wilder in the 1A Division I state semifinals on Saturday, it got just that.
Senior Jason Hardy undercut a Wilder receiver and intercepted junior Pablo Martinez with 18 seconds left on the clock to clinch a victory and set up an all-Snake River Conference state championship bout with Oakley, as Valley held on for a 42-40 win.
“It’s awesome,” Valley head coach Ryon Jarvis said, shrugging his shoulders. “There’s really nothing else to say.”
Unlike the majority of Valley’s contests this season, this one did not see the Vikings (10-1) take control and dominate. Their high-powered offense looked unstoppable on their opening drive, though. Hardy converted two first downs, one with his feet and another through the air to keep it alive.
Hardy then dropped a dime to senior Zane Mussmann, who came up with the 29-yard touchdown for the game’s opening score.
However, neither offense fully clicked the rest of the first half.
Valley wasn’t made to pay for an early Hardy interception, as the Vikings forced a fumble on the ensuing drive. However, in the midst of getting sacked on Valley’s next drive, Hardy was stripped, and Wilder senior Christian Aguilar took it about 50 yards for a score.
Wilder (9-2) paid for the turnover bug next, when Valley senior Nic Anderson picked off junior Pablo Martinez and ran it 62 yards for a touchdown with under five minutes remaining in the half.
Wilder’s offense put together a seven-play, 65-yard drive to score to level the contest at 14-14 at halftime.
After halftime, the instructions on the Valley sideline were to “cut loose and go play.”
“We didn’t take care of the football,” Jarvis said. “It was really sloppy, so we never got in a rhythm.”
It appeared the Vikings may never do so, when, on their first offensive play of the second half, a snap went over Hardy’s head and Wilder’s Garrett Sedlacek scooped the loose ball and scored on a 50-yard return.
However, Hardy dragged his team back in, with touchdown runs of 53 and 52 yards, as well as a 34-yard touchdown pass to senior Zack Gomez. Wilder hung around and answered every Valley score. Then, with just over three minutes left in the game, Martinez found Sedlacek for a 15-yard score and the Wildcats took the lead.
Once again, Hardy came up big, launching a 57-yard touchdown pass to senior Nic Anderson. Hardy punched in the two-point conversion, giving Valley a 42-40 advantage with 2 1/2 minutes to go.
“I gave him a chance,” Hardy said of Anderson. “He’s a tall guy, and he made a great play.”
As ecstatic as Valley was when it took the lead, it still needed a stop. So, when Wilder coasted down the field and had a first-and-goal from the Vikings’ 10- yard line, tensions rose. For the final time, Hardy came to the rescue.
“When you need a play made, he’s there, somewhere,” Jarvis said.
Hardy made the interception and took a knee as the clock wound down, booking Valley’s place in the state championship for the first time since 2015, when it beat Prairie for the title. The Vikings will face Oakley at 8:15 p.m. Friday back at Holt Arena.
Hardy completed 13-of-20 passes for 206 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, and he rushed for 137 yards and two scores on 15 carries. Gomez rushed 15 times for 77 yards and caught three passes for 65. Anderson had 61 yards on two receptions, and Mussmann made two catches for 45 yards.
On defense, Collin Tvrdy had 12 total tackles and a sack, and Anderson made 11 tackles to go along with his interception.
Hardy was a part of that 2015 team as a freshman, but this final opportunity for him will be far sweeter.
“It’s just everything you ever dreamed of,” Hardy said. “Going through it as a leader, and not just a freshman on that team but an important piece, it’s the best feeling.”