By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Kevin McInnis
Editor’s Note – The TOSH Top 30 is our countdown of the top 30 stories from the 2015-16 school sports year, beginning with No. 30 and counting down, one story a day, to No. 1. The 2015-2016 high school sports year was filled with big performances, both team and individual. The act of narrowing down our initial list of top stories for our TOSH Top 30 stories of the year to just 30 was a difficult task. We asked people all over the state for input into our final list and beginning June 22, we are counting them down in reverse, from story No. 30 to story No. 1. Hopefully your favorite story of the past school year made our list.
Story No. 7 in our TOSH Top 30 stories of the year goes to the East High football team. After losing to Timpview four consecutive years in games that ended their season, the Leopards finally got the best of the Thunderbirds and won the 2015 4A state title in the process.
#7 – East football back on top
The rivalry between the football teams at Timpview and East continues building as the years go by, but 2015 was the year the Leopards finally powered their way past Timpview. The best part about it for East was that it came in convincing fashion in the state championship game.
Each of the previous four Leopard seasons had ended with a loss to the Thunderbirds in a postseason game, a run that included one prior title game matchup, in 2013. Timpview entered the 2015 4A state finale as a three-time defending state champ, but this was East’s year and for the first time since 1996, the Leopards collected the big trophy.
For East, it was the 17th state championship in school history.
Beginning with a 57-yard scoring run by senior quarterback Johnnie Lang late in the second quarter that gave the Leopards a 21-14 halftime advantage, this year’s state title contest featured 35 unanswered points by the Leopards as they ran away, literally, from Timpview, for an emphatic 49-14 victory. East ran the ball for 504 yards in the championship game, a continuation of the style of play that worked so well for Brandon Matich and company all year long. It was the second highest rushing yardage total in state championship game history.
The Leopards pounded the ball between the tackles with junior running back Jaylen Warren, and that opened up the outside for the speed and power of Lang, a new arrival on campus for this season. Warren went for 231 yards and two scores in the title tilt, while Lang reached the end zone three times and ran it for 199.
While the East offense was pounding away at the vaunted Timpview defense, the Leopard defense came out in the second half and took the game over. East intercepted three passes and held the Thunderbirds to just 273 yards of offense. That, compared to its own 562 yard night, the fourth best offensive output in title game history, tells the story of what happened after intermission.
It was the kind of season Matich envisioned after a disappointing result in 2014, when the Leopards finished the regular season 5-5 and lost an opening-round tournament game on the road at Timpview. That game, however, featured a lot of the character that turned into the heart of champions a year later.
Despite its fourth-place finish in region play, East traveled to Provo and ate up clock with a power run game, while forcing Timpview’s talented quarterback of that year, Britain Covey, into turnovers and very uncomfortable situations. A kick return ultimately helped the T-Birds survive and they went on to win their third straight title, but East’s physical play left an impression that played out in a big way in 2015.
The only losses along the way, during the Leopards’ 13-2 state championship season, were to out-of-state teams – on the road at Centennial (California) and at home against star quarterback Dylan McCaffrey and Valor Christian (Colorado), the alma mater of Dylan’s brother and current Stanford University star Christian, and a team that has won six of the last seven Colorado state titles.
East used the pass as an occasional change of pace, to keep opponents a little off balance, but it mostly just ran the ball down the throat of its opponents, with that dynamic duo that shined not just in the championship game, but all year long. Warren averaged nearly 10 yards per carry on his way to 1,974 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns for the season, while Lang ran it for nearly 13 yards each time he carried it and scored 23 times while delivering 1,788 rushing yards.
Soni Fonua, Moa Heimuli, Loa Kaufusi, Kina Maile, Fusi Teisina, Helaman Suesue, Sati Tuuhetaufa and the names just keep on coming. While the offense delivered big play after big play in the ground game, this group dominated on the defensive side.
It was a dominating season for East football and adds another level to the rivalry with Timpview that should continue to produce great postseason games on into the future.
TOSH Top 30 stories of the year: