By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Shane Marshall and Kurt Johnson
SALT LAKE CITY – The Class 4A football semifinals featured contrasting matchups Friday at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Game 1 was a battle of unbeatens, as newcomer Corner Canyon, in just its second year in existence, faced off with Roy, long absent from any kind of run this deep into the postseason.
The second game was a rematch of a semifinal contest played just one season ago, when Timpview handled Woods Cross on its way to a second straight state championship. The result this time was similar as the Thunderbirds exploded offensively in the second stanza on their way to a 41-13 victory.
That came after Roy dominated Corner Canyon 39-0 to reach the title game for the first time since 1981. The top stories of the day, therefore, came largely from the two remaining undefeated teams in 4A, who will now face each other for a state championship.
1) Roy’s Defense
Corner Canyon lost its starting quarterback, Michael Ebeling in the first round of this year’s tournament, and that certainly contributed to the Chargers’ offensive struggles in this contest, but a more critical piece of that puzzle came from a vastly underrated Royals’ defense.
On four of its 13 possessions in the game, Corner Canyon had negative yards gained, and the Chargers gained just 137 yards in the entire game. Sixty-five of those came on the game’s final two series, after the score was already 39-0. To that point, on 11 drives, Roy held Corner Canyon to just 57 total yards.
2) Offensive Balance
Quarterback Tyler Skidmore is a talented thrower and his receiving weapons are diverse and skilled, but the most impressive feature of the Roy offense is its balance. Skidmore threw it 20 times for 308 yards, but the Royals ran it 30 times for 121 yards, and picked up five touchdowns with the ground game.
Baby Tee Eteuati (66 yards) and Matty Matautia (63 yards) were the primary ball carriers as Roy uses its halfback and fullback to round out its potent run attack. It’s a tough combination to contain.
3) Huge Crowds
One of the major stories in the 11 a.m. battle between Roy and Corner Canyon was the size of the crowd on both sides of the field at the University of Utah. The chance to get out of school to attend a football game may have been a big part of the draw, but this was not all about students. Both teams had significant community support and that created a great playoff atmosphere.
4) Striking Early
Roy’s success in this one was eased by the way the Royals came out strong early. While the Chargers punted on 10 of their first 11 possessions (the other ended with a fumble), Roy scored touchdowns on three of its first four opportunities in the first half, and on the third play of the third quarter, it struck big to put an exclamation point on the day.
5) Jordan Espinoza X 4
Timpview receiver Jordan Espinoza has not been playing football long, but he certainly is making the most of his opportunity with the Thunderbirds. The speedy 6-foot-1, 175-pound senior caught a 54-yard touchdown pass less than three minutes into Timpview’s semifinal win over Woods Cross and that was just the beginning.
By the time the game was over, Espinoza had set a state record for receiving yards in a state semifinal game with 240, breaking a 30-year old mark set by Hillcrest’s Ron Anderson at 221. He also gathered in four touchdown passes on plays that covered 54, 19, 35 and 83 yards.
6) Second Quarter
For a while, the Wildcats seemed to be in position to make this a close game, but that did not last much past the 12-minute mark. Timpview dominated the second period, beginning with the Britain Covey running game and ending with the Cover to Espinoza show.
On their first series of the second quarter, the Thunderbirds took the lead after Covey eluded the defense with a nifty run to set himself up for a 5-yard scoring run. The dominating Timpview defense set up the next score as Isaiah Holloway picked off a pass, and then after Cover converted a third-and-14 with his legs, he connected with Espinoza for the score.
A third-down sack by defensive end Gabe Reid got the ball back once again, and the T-Birds scored on a TD toss to Hunter Stookey. That score came just 2:05 before halftime, but Timpview wasn’t done.
Will Watanabe intercepted a pass on the fourth play of the next Woods Cross sequence and the Thunderbirds moved the ball 64 yards on four plays to get the score to 34-6 on the third Espinoza scoring reception at the 53 second mark of the second quarter.
Timpview almost scored again in that final 53 seconds after recovering a fumble, but a Covey pass on the final play of the half was intercepted. Even with that, it was a 28-0 quarter.
7) Covey Being Covey
At times during the game, Woods Cross got to Covey, and each time led to a sack celebration as they Wildcats seemed to find joy in doing anything to get a hit on him, even while facing a major deficit. The fact is, those moments were short-lived.
There was a particular play in that scoring drive that opened the second stanza that sums up what Woods Cross was facing all night long. It is pretty much what every Timpview opponent knows or quickly finds out – this guy is hard to get on the ground.
On that play, the Thunderbird quarterback switched directions four or five times as he wound his way to a large gain. Each time a defender had him in his sights, Covey was already gone and heading in another direction. That’s just who he is.