By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Kevin McInnis & Kurt Johnson
It’s only been four weeks since Lone Peak and Herriman met on the Mustangs’ home field to decide the champion of Region 4. That one was an extremely one-sided affair as the Knights rolled to a 30-0 win to remain unbeaten for the season.
In that contest, Lone Peak quarterback Talmage Gunther passed for more than 300 yards against a defense that has shut down its share of outstanding offenses. The Knight quarterback did not throw an interception against a Herriman team that prides itself on turning teams over.
The results of that game combined with his huge day against Bingham in last week’s 5A state semifinal lead one to believe that Gunther is at his absolute best in the biggest games. That is not good news for the Mustangs.
Herriman, on the other hand, put the clamps on the explosive offense of an undefeated Sky View team a week ago and that seems to point to a resurgence in the kind of defensive pressure that has the Mustangs on the verge of their first state title.
It’s been four years since the last time a Lone Peak team ran the table for a perfect season and a 5A state championship. Now, the Knights are looking to repeat that result, but a Region 4 rival stands in the way. This figures to be a closer game than the meeting four weeks ago.
How They Got Here
Herriman (10-3) beat Sky View (12-1) 23-7
The Herriman offense put up so numbers in the win over Sky View, particularly in the ground game, where Jake Jutkins ran for 175 yards, but this game turned on three plays that involved defensive back Noah Vaea.
With the Bobcats on top 7-3 after a hard-fought first half, the Mustangs were in desperate need of a momentum shift, and Vaea was there to provide it. After the team swapped three-and-outs to begin the third period, the junior broke on a Garrison Beach third-down pass, picked it off and took it 21 yards to the house to give Herriman a 9-7 lead.
As Sky View was returning the ensuing kickoff, a fumble found its way into the hands of Vaea at the Bobcat 25, and three plays later, on third-and-9, Hayden Reynolds connected with Leki Fotu for a 24-yard touchdown pass to increase the lead to 16-7.
That lead held into the third quarter, and with the Mustangs maintaining a drive that spanned the end of the third and the start of the fourth quarters, they reached a critical third-and-16 after a personal foul penalty. Coach Dustin Pearce went with the hot hand and put the ball in the hands of Vaea, who threw a halfback pass to Tomasi Tonga that went for 25 yards and a first down.
Jutkins scored two plays later to put the game on ice.
Lone Peak (13-0) beat Bingham (11-2) 26-9
It was the postseason matchup everyone had marked on their bracket – the two-time defending champion against the team that had run pretty much every opponent it faced off the field. The Miners were the team with a 36-game winning streak against in-state opponents, but the Knights are undefeated this season. What more could you ask for in a state semifinal?
This game was dominated by the Lone Peak defense, which held what may be the state’s best between-the-tackles running attack to 2.7 yards per carry, but it turned on a few crucial sequences. Bingham’s back-up quarterback is BYU commit Keaton Torre, so you would think the Miners would be fine in the event of a quarterback injury once again.
Bingham’s starting quarterback, Kyle Gearig, went down to a concussion on the last play of the first half in the 2013 title game and was lost to a dislocated elbow in last year’s state semifinal. Those two teams rallied around the backup, but Lone Peak did not allow that to happen this time when Miner starting quarterback Matt Degn suffered a concussion that took him out of the game early in the first quarter. His injury seemed to shake Bingham a little.
After the Miners, who led 3-0 at the time, missed a field goal in the second quarter, the game took a 180-degree turn. Talmage Gunther found Jackson McChesney racing down the middle of the field and hit him in stride for a 73-yard score that put the Knights on top 7-3.
Bingham responded with a drive into Lone Peak territory, but Nate Bennett intercepted a Torre pass to put the ball back in Gunther’s hands. The senior signal caller took advantage on the first play, and almost identical replay of the first Knight touchdown, as he hooked up with McChesney once again, this time for a 62-yard TD.
Gunther then dominated the next Lone Peak possession with his legs as the Knights scored one more touchdown to take a 20-3 halftime lead.
Lone Peak opened the door for the Miners early in the third, but this Knight defense was unwilling to yield. After earning a three-and-out to open the second half, the Knights muffed the punt return, giving the ball back to Bingham at the Lone Peak 23-yard-line.
The Miners moved to the Knight three, but two incomplete passes followed, the last one when Daxton Rothwell chased Torre from the pocket, and the goal line stand preserved the lead. Lone Peak continued to make the plays defensively to keep Bingham from making a run and earned a trip to the state finale.
When Herriman has the ball – The Mustangs are very similar to Bingham stylistically, and that might be an issue. They want to pound the ball on the ground, eat up clock and keep the Lone Peak offense standing on the sideline. It has worked most of the season.
The Knights will be looking to rise up behind that defensive front seven to keep Jutkins and Kaden Strasters from getting anything going just as they did when these teams met the first time. You get the feeling that Hayden Reynolds will have to make some throws against Bennett, Tyson Doman, Lennon Fotu and the Lone Peak secondary if Herriman is going to free up some space to run the ball. The Mustangs also showed a willingness to throw in a few trick plays in the Sky View game, so fake punts and halfback passes or even something more creative are not off the table.
When Lone Peak has the ball – The Knights mix it up quite a bit on offense, but it mostly revolves around Gunther. Lone Peak is better when it gets the inside running game established with Tyler Kap, but it has shown the ability to make big plays over the top to Jonny Christensen and in that win over Bingham, McChesney.
Once they have a defense on the run, Gunther is adept at making something out of nothing with his legs and that’s when they get you. While Herriman was unable to turn over the Lone Peak offense during that first meeting, the Mustangs will look to get pressure on the quarterback from Fotu, Peniamina Mobley and Matt Everton to set up Vaea and company for a couple of takeaways to shorten the field.
Some Players to Watch:
#26 Jake Jutkins, 5-5, 167 senior RB – 1,114 yards rushing, 7 TDs
#37 Kaden Strasters, 5-11, 227 senior RB – 890 yards rushing, 13 TDs
#99 Leki Fotu, 6-6, 255 senior DE – 71 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 18 TFLs
#22 Peniamina Mobley, 6-3, 210 senior LB – 73 tackles, 11 TFLs
#3 Noah Vaea, 6-foot, 195 junior DB – 79 tackles, 12 interceptions
#10 Matt Everton, 6-1, 215 senior LB – 69 tackles, 10.5 TFLs
#3 Talmage Gunther, 6-foot, 195 senior QB – 2,174 yards passing, 32 TDs, 5 INTs, 822 yards rushing, 9 TDs
#21 Jackson McChesney, 6-foot, 185 junior RB – 971 all-purpose yards, 13 TDs
#44 Tyler Kap, 6-foot, 190 senior RB – 727 rushing yards, 9 TDs
#11 Jonny Christensen, 6-2, 200 senior WR – 721 receiving yards, 12 TDs
Defensive front seven (#99 Terrence Levy, 6-foot, 230 senior DL; #90 Parker Magee, 6-3, 225 senior DL; #8 Preston Lewis, 6-2, 225 junior DL; #27 Daxton Rothwell, 6-2, 210 senior DL; Terrell Levy, 5-11, 225 senior DL; #33 Tyler Everett, 6-1, 225 senior LB; #32 Britton Bettridge 6-foot, 210 senior LB; #9 Michael Cannon, 6-foot, 205 senior LB; #40 AJ Arrington, 6-1, 195 junior linebacker)