Story and photos by Kurt Johnson
SPRINGVILLE – It was the only game on this week’s docket that pitted a pair of undefeated teams against each other and it certainly lived up to expectations, at least after halftime. Actually, if you like good defense, the first half had its moments as well, but the excitement really kicked in after intermission as Springville held off Southern Utah County rival Maple Mountain 14-13.
The game was scoreless at the break, and after halftime, the Red Devils scored first and then they scored again to take a 14-0 advantage before a pair of Golden Eagle fourth-quarter touchdowns created a must-see finish. There were big moments that went both ways, but the game turned on a few big moments. Here are five things that stood out about Friday night’s game in Springville.
1) Blocked PAT
Ultimately, the game was in doubt until Springville recovered a Golden Eagle onside kick with 30 seconds left. The onside kick was made necessary because Sai Atiifale turned in a decisive play just prior to the kick-off.
It appeared Maple Mountain was on the verge of yet another late fourth-quarter fantastic finish, or at least it was just about to force overtime, before Atiifale stepped up and made a play. The Golden Eagles scored at the 30-second mark to pull within one point and senior Tanner Dayton lined up to kick the game-tying extra point.
The kick never made it past the line of scrimmage, however, as Atiifale and Adam Rodriguez collapsed the pocked right up the gut and the defensive lineman got his hand on the ball to block the kick and preserve the Red Devil advantage.
2) Stopping the Run
Maple Mountain entered the game with one of the state’s more prolific offenses, and its quarterback, Jaren Hall, has been a true dual threat. Hall had his moments (see No. 4 below), but the senior signal caller did not have them in the running game. He was sacked five times and finished the game with -1 yard net rushing.
Its ability to make Hall one-dimensional included taking away most of the Golden Eagle ground attack overall. It’s the primary reason high-scoring Maple Mountain was stuck on zero until the 8:29 point of the fourth period.
All told, the Golden Eagles ran the ball for 27 yards on 21 carries. Noah McCray, Bryce Nelson, Vili Kolomalu, Devyn Tate and Adam Rodriguez led a stout defensive unit for Springville, which also sacked Hall five times.
3) Two-Way Trouble
With its No. 1 running back Scott Averett still out with an injury, Springville did not shy away from the ground game. The Red Devils even mixed in a little wildcat, delivering direct snaps to its runners to get them into the attack more quickly.
Nelson was the primary runner, picking up 114 yards on 22 carries on a day when Springville combined for 224 yards rushing. Rodriguez, a tight end and defensive end, scored both Red Devil touchdowns on direct snaps as they used the powerful straight-ahead running style of a defensive lineman to find the end zone once they got close.
Rodriguez hit pay dirt from two yards out on Springville’s first second-half possession for the game’s first points. He rumbled 20 yards for the second score just over one minute into the fourth quarter. Rodriguez also scored on a two-point conversion after that second score (as the Red Devils had missed the initial extra point) to make the score 14-0.
Nelson and Rodriguez were also among the defensive leaders for Springville. Nelson had nine tackles for the Red Devils, while Rodriguez seemed to live in the Golden Eagle backfield, harassing Hall all night long. He finished with six tackles, but also had two of those five sacks and three quarterback hurries.
4) Comeback Kid
It doesn’t seem to matter how the rest of the game goes for Hall, this senior always seem to have the magic when the game is on the line down the stretch. The Maple Mountain quarterback finished the game 18-for-33 for 183 yards and a pair of scores, both of which came late in the fourth quarter.
It was the first time this season that Hall and the Golden Eagles came up short in a late-game come-from-behind situation, but it doesn’t change the level of excitement he generates late in games, including this one. The 6-foot-1 200-pound senior can run, but the most impressive part of his game might be his ability to keep his eyes downfield while sliding in the pocket, using his mobility to keep plays alive with the ultimate goal of delivering a pass rather than running for yardage.
Following the Springville touchdown that made the score 14-0 with 10:54 left in the contest, Hall went to work. Thanks to series of kick-offs that went out of bounds, the Golden Eagles got the ball at their own 45-yard-line.
Hall hit Harrison Casper for nine yards on the first play, and a personal foul moved Maple Mountain to the Springville 31. A dropped pass, and a running play followed by a Shay Church sack left the Golden Eagles with a fourth-and-seven at the 28, but Hall connected with Dawson Beutler for seven yards to extend the drive.
The quarterback then scrambled around to buy enough time so that he could find Jordan Larson at the Red Devil 4-yard-line for a first-and-goal. On the next play, Hall moved off his primary end zone target and hooked up with Austin Edwards with a 4-yard scoring toss.
The teams exchanged punts and then the Maple Mountain defense got a huge stop, using all of its timeouts in the process. It gave the ball back to Hall and the offense at their own 33, with 1:19 to go. That is a situation that apparently suits the Golden Eagle passer just fine.
A run here, a couple of incompletions there, and then a 9-yard Hall to Beutler connection on fourth-and-3 put the ball at the Springville 36 with 37 seconds left. Then, Beutler got behind the coverage on the next play and Hall hit him in stride in the end zone and it looked like overtime was imminent. That was, until Atiifale made the play that allowed the Red Devils to survive.
5) Penalties and turnovers kill
This was relatively clean game, decided largely by the guys making positive plays rather than negative plays. There was, however, one huge turnover and it cost the Golden Eagles big time. Maple Mountain also committed a number of untimely penalties that hurt its ability to keep drives going.
Those self-inflicted wounds began on a Golden Eagle drive around the end of the first quarter. Twice on that possession, on a chop block penalty that wiped out a Hall to Beutler big pass play, and on a holding penalty that took away one of Hall’s best runs of the night, Maple Mountain took away first-down plays on a drive that ended in a punt.
There were other penalties that wiped out a pair of third-down conversions, but the turnover was a major turning point. On the first play after the Golden Eagles took over possession on their own 42 late in the third, Hall and Casper collided on a hand-off attempt and Atiifale recovered the loose ball.
The fumble recovery set up Springville with a short field for their second scoring march.
The win gives the Red Devils (1-0 in Region 8, 4-0 overall) the early leg up in the league standings with a win over one of the other region favorites. Springville is at Spanish Fork (1-0, 3-1) Friday night in another key league battle.
Maple Mountain (0-1, 3-1) gets a week to work things out before returning to Region 8 play Sept. 25 when it hosts Spanish Fork. This week, the Golden Eagles have the region bye and will play a non-region game against Tooele (3-1).