By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Dave Argyle (DBA Photography)
Picking the top anything of the year is never an easy proposition, and as we complete our third list of top Utah high school sports stories of the year for Preps Utah, we found that this list is no exception.
For the 2013-2014 school year, we released our Top 20 stories of the year, but this year, we have expanded our list to 25 stories, some of which combine multiple events that share common themes. Since the goal is not to be exactly right, as anything of this nature is entirely subjective, but to recognize as many of the great accomplishments of the student athletes across the state as we can, we hope you will understand.
Beginning July 13 and continuing for the next three weeks, we will release one or two items on our list per day, beginning with No. 25 and working our way up to story No. 1. Today, we announce No. 14.
#14 – Lancers find answers
As soon as Viewmont stunned four-time defending state 5A boys basketball champion Lone Peak in the state tournament quarterfinal, the road to the 5A title flew wide open. Brighton and Davis were the popular picks to ascend to the top spot, but it was Layton that found a way and the Lancers were holding the trophy at the end.
Layton’s first state championship in boys basketball since 1988 was proof positive that it’s not always about the attractiveness of the style of play, but instead it’s all about results. This is a team that lost its first four games of the 2014-2015 season.
Considering that those four opponents were Lone Peak, Copper Hills, Mountain Crest and 4A state champion Bountiful, the 0-4 start doesn’t look nearly as bad. However, by the time the Lancers fell to Sky View 72-62 in the second round of the preseason Elite 8 tournament in December, it was still hard to envision this 1-5 team holding the banner in March.
There were signs all along though, as those first four losses were by a total of 13 points to very good teams and the one win came against the team Layton eventually played in the state tournament finale, Brighton. After falling to 1-5, Layton knocked off highly-ranked Bingham 53-50 and then won its next dozen games before losing again, a run that included a win over eventual Region 1 champion Davis.
The 12-game winning streak was followed by back-to-back defeats to close out league play, at the hands of the Darts and Viewmont, that dropped the Lancers to 10-2 in Region 1, one game behind Davis. With seven losses on its ledger entering the state tournament, Layton was flying under the radar, behind Lone Peak, Davis and Bingham in particular.
Jarriesse Blackmon was the lone Lancer with a double-digit scoring average, with his nearly 17 points and more than 11 rebounds per contest. The senior provided Layton with some star power, but beyond him, it looked like a team of role players who played hard and found a way to win, most of the time. As it turned out, that was the kind of team best suited to this state tourney.
The prospects, however, didn’t seem to look much brighter after the Lancers’ opening-round matchup, as Layton had to come from behind to survive Hillcrest 61-54. In that contest, after chasing the Huskies much of the night, an 11-0 run by Layton down the stretch saved the team from falling victim to a major upset.
Julian Blackmon was the headliner against Hillcrest, with 19 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals. Jarriesse Blackmon finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds and six steals.
Finally, in the state quarterfinal against Bingham, Layton delivered on an opportunity for a statement win and eliminated one of the tournament favorites in the process. The Blackmon brothers combined to come up big against the Miners as well, as Jarriesse delivered 24 and 10, and Julian passed out seven assists to go with his 14 points.
The semifinal round of the state tournament was significant as it was the coming out party for six-point-per-game scorer Matt Cragun, a senior guard. His play in the semifinals and again in the championship game eventually delivered the trophy to Layton.
The 48-41 semifinal win over Viewmont was anything but a pretty game, but for the Lancers, it was about advancing, and that is exactly what they did. Cragun hit six big free throws down the stretch to seal the win, and his 11 points was a team-high total.
Jakoby Kemp scored 10 against the Vikings, while Jarriesse Blackmon finished with nine points, seven rebounds. The win moved Layton to a state finale matchup with Brighton as two teams playing their best basketball at the right time went head to head.
The Bengals took a big lead and when the lead hit 13 in the second half against a team that does not score in big numbers, it looked all but over, but then…Cragun time. The 6-foot-4 senior was scoreless at intermission, but scored 13 points after the break. Jarriesse Blackmon scored 14 to lead Layton in scoring in that title game.
Most importantly, with 2.3 seconds left and the game tied at 46-46, Cragun slipped to the backboard, grabbed an offensive rebound and put the ball into the bucket for the game-winning basket and a long-awaited state championship for the Lancers. It was a highlight moment for Layton and our No. 14 story in the Preps Utah Top 25 stories of the 2014-2015 school sports year.
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