By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Kevin McInnis & Kurt Johnson
SALT LAKE CITY – After it lost its first two games of the season to traditional 5A powers Brighton and Bingham, few people viewed Herriman as the football team that would hoist the state championship trophy at the end of the year.
When the Mustangs lost the regular season finale 30-0 on their home field as they battled Lone Peak for the Region 4 title, even fewer people looked at Herriman and projected it as the likely last team standing in Class 5A.
Perhaps the rest of us should have seen the light when the Mustangs not only avenged the season-opening Brighton loss in their playoff opener, but did so in dominating fashion, 49-17. In the end, it didn’t make one bit of difference what everyone else was thinking because the guys in the Herriman locker room had all the answers during the postseason.
The gutty, late score that delivered the 2015 Class 5A state title to first-time winner Herriman by a 17-14 score over previously unbeaten Lone Peak came on the heels of its semifinal victory over another team that had not lost all season long, Sky View. Defense and timely offense were the keys all postseason long for the Mustangs, and those two ingredients stood up once again Friday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Here is my take on the key moments of Herriman’s 17-14 win over Lone Peak:
1) The Winning Drive
With three timeouts in its pocket and 2:37 remaining in the fourth quarter, Herriman coach Dustin Pearce had a decision to make. The Lone Peak offense was hot, having scored on its two previous possessions (its only two scores of the game) and it was fourth-and-17.
When you have the defensive unit the Mustangs put out on the field, the decision probably wasn’t nearly as difficult as it might have seemed to an outsider. Herriman punted the ball back to the Knights and put it on that defense to give it one more chance to capture a state championship.
Lone Peak had struggled all afternoon in the punting game, so the Mustangs knew, if they could get a quick stop, good field position was a real possibility. It broke just how they needed it, a three-and-out, with those three time outs stopping the clock after each play, that got the ball back into Herriman’s hands at its own 43-yard-line with 2:11 to go.
Three plays netted five yards and then disaster struck…almost. Flushed from the pocket and running for his life on fourth-and-5, sophomore quarterback Hayden Reynolds appeared to be ready to pick up the first down when he suddenly tossed the ball forward to tight end David Fotu. Reynolds was yards beyond the line of scrimmage, bringing the penalty flags flying in for an illegal forward pass.
It was over…the penalty would cost the Mustangs not only five yards but comes with loss of down. The ball would go over the Lone Peak, which could take a knee a couple of times to lock up the state title. But, there was a conference among the officials and when it ended, it turns out there were two fouls on the play – the illegal forward pass and a defensive holding call against the Knights.
New life had arrived for Herriman and Reynolds made it pay off. To this point in the game (1:20 remaining in the fourth quarter), the quarterback had completed three passes for a total of eight yards, so this was not exactly a situation, with no timeouts left, in which the Mustangs were comfortable. So, of course, they found a way.
On the repeat fourth down play, Reynolds was on the run again, but this time he found Noah Vaea, who was wide open as he dragged clear across the field about five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. His quarterback put the ball in his hands and the junior did his thing, cutting back and forth until he was finally dragged down at the Lone peak 11 after a gain of 41 yards.
Herriman called Jake Jutkins’ number on the next play, but Parker Magee and Preston Lewis broke through the line to drop the running back for a two-yard loss. An incomplete pass followed and the Mustangs were faced with a third-and-12 from the 13-yard-line with 35 seconds left.
Reynolds found David Fotu down the hash on the next play and the tight end picked up the first down at the 1-yard-line. Then, Herriman turned it over the big back, Kaden Strasters, who finished off that final yard.
With the 22 seconds it had remaining, Lone Peak advanced the ball out near midfield, but there just wasn’t enough time and the Mustangs were celebrating a state championship.
2) So Much Defense/Short-Field Scores
The Herriman offense made the plays down the stretch that won this game, but make no mistake about it, this game was a battle between two fantastic defenses.
Lone Peak has one of the most dynamic and diverse offenses in the state and had beaten this same Mustang team 30-0 just four weeks before. The Knights had the ball five times before intermission and five times, they were forced to punt. Lone Peak ran 25 first-half plays for a total of 87 yards.
It wasn’t much easier for Herriman against a stout Lone Peak defense, but because of those punting problems, the Mustangs were often working with a much shorter field. The first Herriman drive of the game started at the Lone Peak 36 and ended with a 26-yard field goal by Denver Osborne.
Midway through the second period, the Mustangs scored again. This time, a short punt gave them possession at the Knights’ 41 and it took Jutkins just one play to score from there. Those 10 points were all of Herriman’s scoring until the game’s final possession.
The Mustangs gained 43 yards on the game-winning drive. Lone Peak had allowed just 43 yards in the entire second half leading up to that possession. The Knights had 10 tackles-for-loss in the game and even in the loss, Lone Peak outgained Herriman in total offense 308 yards to 217.
Every one of those yards, in both directions, was hard-earned as these two teams proved why they reached this game in the first place – because they are stingy on defense.
3) Lone Peak Second-Half Offense
That first half was difficult for the Lone Peak offense, a unit that is not used to those kind of struggles in moving the football. When it did manage to get something going, penalties or other mistakes combined with a dominating performance by the Herriman defense to shut it down.
The Knights figured something out at halftime, but ended up just a little bit short as there just weren’t enough possessions. Their first chance after the break was an 11-play march that ended when they failed to convert on a fourth-and-2 at the Herriman 26.
The next two drives went for scores, as Talmage Gunther connected with Jonny Christensen for a 32-yard TD with 26 seconds left in the third quarter. Lone Peak got the ball back, down 10-6, with 9:20 left in the game, and drove it 75 yards in 12 plays for the go-ahead score, a fade into the corner of the end zone from Gunther to Tyson Doman. That same connection worked for the two-point conversion to make it 14-10.
The team’s final full possession of the contest was that three-and-out that preceded Herriman’s game-winning score.
Leki Fotu – 10 tackles
Matt Everton – 9 tackles
Peniamina Mobley – 8 tackles, 2 sacks
Jake Jutkins – 20 carries, 65 yards, TD
Kaden Strasters – 11 carries, 65 yards, TD
Tyler Everett – 10 tackles, 1 TFL
AJ Arrington – 10 tackles, 1.5 TFL
Britton Bettridge – 9 tackles, 1.5 TFL
Michael Cannon – 9 tackles, sack
Talmage Gunther – 16-of-28, 167 yards, 2 TDs & 22 carries, 100 yards
Jonny Christensen – 6 receptions, 71 yards, TD