Story and photos by Kurt Johnson
PLEASANT GROVE – When the Lehi High football team travelled to Pleasant Grove Friday night, a lot of questions were bound to be answered. By the time the game was over, it seems the Vikings may be on their way to finding some of those answers, but a few new questions might have come up for the Pioneers.
At the start of the season, Pleasant Grove was a popular pick as a team expected to go from missing the playoffs last season to a strong postseason run. Through four games, granted against a highly competitive schedule, the Vikings did not seem to be tracking that way.
Lehi, on the other hand was out to a 3-1 start of going winless a year ago. This was the kind of test that would allow the Pioneers to find out if they could string together a pair of impressive win against Region 4 opponents, coming after last week’ impressive victory over Riverton.
So what are the top stories coming out of Friday night’s battle in Pleasant Grove?
1) Pleasant Grove lines dominate
The Vikings were outstanding at the line of scrimmage, dominating Lehi in that aspect of the game particularly during the first half. The Pioneers struggled to get any time for sophomore quarterback Cammon Cooper to throw the football against the Pleasant Grove defensive front, and on the offensive side, the Vikings created a lot of open space for their running backs to operate.
It was its play along the line that allowed Pleasant Grove to open up a 21-0 advantage by intermission, and it could have been much worse for Lehi. The Pioneers spent almost the entire half playing in their defensive half of the field, as they picked up just two first-half first downs.
In the meantime, the Vikings moved the ball methodically downfield, relying on that offensive line all along the way.
Lehi finished the game with -39 yards rushing as the Pioneer offensive line was completely unable to get any kind of push.
2) Defensive pressure
Even during the second half, when Lehi’s adjustments allowed the Pioneers to more effectively more the ball and even score a couple of touchdowns, the signature moments were delivered by the pressure offered up by Pleasant Grove. Officially, the Vikings only sacked Cooper four times, but that pass rush set the tone for the night early on, when Cooper barely had time to set his feet before needing to get the ball out of there.
Linebackers Tate Briggs, Aaron Sperry and John Raass spent a lot of time in the Pioneer offensive backfield, and sophomore defensive back Will Overstreet was excellent in coming up for run support and getting backs down behind the line of scrimmage. Even when Lehi put together its first touchdown drive to pull within 28-7 late in the third period, the drive was aided by a pair of roughing the passer penalties as the pass rush was just a step too late in getting to Cooper.
3) Koy Wilkinson
Pleasant Grove got its passing game going, and that was a big part of the story (see No. 4 below), but the bigger story was the running of Koy Wilkinson. The Viking running back was running downhill all night long, to the tune of 20 carries for 170 yards. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound senior ran in space, and when there was no space, he ran through defenders.
While Wilkinson did the bulk of the damage, he was not the only one pounding away on the ground for Pleasant Grove. Freshman Dane Christiansen ran for 31 yards on his three attempts and when he came in for mop-up duty late, sophomore Tai Kauwe looked just like Wilkinson, running hard through contact for 71 yards on 16 carries.
4) Short passing game
The biggest problem with the Pleasant Grove passing game before Friday was the turnovers. Junior quarterback Isaac Hamilton had 12 interceptions against just five touchdown passes through the first four games. That was not the passing offense we expected to see from the Vikings.
Against Lehi, Pleasant Grove seemed to find some answers in the throw game, and it came from putting the ball more quickly into the hands of its playmakers. A large percentage of Hamilton’s 30 pass attempts were throws either behind or within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
He was getting the ball out quickly, letting his playmakers do what they do, and then when he did throw it downfield, the passer was much more accurate. The result was 264 yards passing, with four touchdowns and just one pick.
Hamilton’s first scoring connection came on a bubble-screen that Malik Overstreet took nine yards to the end zone. The next time Pleasant Grove got the ball, he went over the top to Malik Overstreet for a 56-yard scoring hook-up.
He also connected on a 20-yard score to running back Coleman Edwards and a 33-yarder to Wilkinson. The Vikings have cut back on a lot of the riskier down field throws and in this game, schemed their way to a much more successful passing attack.
5) A lot of fight in these Pioneers
That first half was not a lot of fun for Lehi. Nothing it did seemed to work. While the result of the game was still a 21-point deficit, the Pioneers found some answers offensively during the second half.
Lehi was not able to get the ground attack untracked, but Cooper went to a shorter, quicker passing game and the Pioneers were much smoother on offense after the break. After their first drive ended horribly with a bad snap over the punter’s head that put Pleasant Grove in position to increase the advantage to 28-0, the second drive was solid.
It was a 13-play, 77-yard march down the field that included a number of Viking penalties and a whole bunch of short passing. It was a fourth-and-goal from the 9-yard-line on which Cooper threw a fade on which Kade Moore made an outstanding grab that delivered Lehi its first points of the night.
Later, with just over four minutes remaining in the game, Cooper hit Wyatt Parkinson for a 21-yard score that set the final score at 35-14. Despite the rough start, Cooper finished the night 21-of-36 for 200 yards and those two scores.
The win levels the Vikings (1-1 in Region 4, 2-3 overall) record in league play as they take a break from region play to take on Bountiful (1-1 in Region 5, 3-2 overall) next week.
Lehi (1-1, 3-2) has another major test next Friday night when the Pioneers host American Fork (1-0, 3-2).