Winning the Region 2 championship would have been much easier for Hunter High's football team had the Wolverines kept their paws off the self-destruct button Friday.
But despite turning the ball over on each of its final three possessions, Hunter held off Granger for a gutsy 14-7 victory on the road.The fifth-ranked Wolverines were lucky to have escaped with this victory, though.
With two minutes left in regulation, Hunter failed to get a first down and was forced to punt on its own 31-yard line. That's when things nearly turned disastrous for the Wolverines.
The snap cleared the head of Hunter's punter by several feet, and as soon as he recovered the ball Granger's Ryan Chas and Aaron Dejong tackled him at the 11. The game appeared to be headed for overtime as the Lancers had plenty of time to punch the ball into the end zone.
"You just don't expect those kinds of things to happen," said Hunter coach John Lambourne. "But 17-year-old kids make mistakes."
Granger moved the ball three yards on first down. The game was then delayed as Chas remained on the ground after his neck had been hurt in a collision. An ambulance was brought onto the field, but fortunately, Chas walked away with help several minutes later.
As it had done for most of the game, Hunter's defense then came up big with its back to the wall.
With 1:50 left, the Wolverines forced a fumble on an errant pitch by Granger, and defensive end Tupou Mataele pounced on the ball. Hunter was then able to run out the clock for the victory.
"Our defensive coaches did a phenomal job," said Lambourne.
The Lancers weren't as fortunate in getting away with their mistakes. Hunter's first score - a 58-yard touchdown pass from Brad Austin to Peter Morgan - came on its first play after a Granger fumble early in the third quarter.
"We wanted to try to get on them when they were down and not let them recover," said Austin.
Hunter perfectly played an attempted fake punt by Granger on its next possession. Austin helped set up the Wolverines' next TD with a 10-yard scamper and a 20-yard pass to Jayson Chase. Junior running back David Fiefia finished the drive with a 1-yard TD rush.
The Wolverines' win clinched them the league's No. 1 seed in the state playoffs and at least a share of the region crown as they improved to 7-1, 5-0.
"I don't know how to describe it," Austin said of the win. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime game. You lay it all on the line."
Granger, which dropped to 5-3, 4-1, faces Bingham next week for the No. 2 seed.
How they fared
1. Brighton (7-0) def. Timpanogos, 47-3.
2. Skyline (7-1) def. Cottonwood, 52-14.
3. Alta (7-1) def. Hillcrest. 44-16.
4. Orem (5-2) did not play.
5. Hunter (7-1) def. Granger, 14-7.
1. Highland (8-0) def. Bountiful, 55-13
2. Timpview (5-2) def. Payson, 27-6
3. Olympus (7-1) def. Murray, 21-15
4. Weber (7-1) def. Box Elder, 28-17.
5. B-Ville (5-2) hosts Sky View.
1. Lehi (8-0) def. Wasatch, 48-14.
2. Uintah (7-0) def. Union, 34-28
3. Morgan (8-0) def. Ben Lomond, 29-0.
4. Cedar (7-1) def. Pine View, 44-33.
5. S. Canyon (5-2) def. Hurricane, 21-0.
1. Juab (8-0) def. Manti, 49-40.
2. Millard (8-0) def. Milford, 55-7.
3. San Juan (7-1) def. Grand, 44-21.
4. Manti (7-1) lost to Juab, 49-40.
5. G-Ville (6-2) def. S. Summit, 28-0.