The East Leopards have struggled all season to live up to the standard set by last year's 4A champion squad.
So what happened to the Leopards? The most common answer was graduation. The real answer may have been injuries.A nearly healthy East squad proved they were back in the state's elite category with a 40-0 win over the Bountiful Braves Wednesday night.
The key returnee was running back Sione Havili, who has been nagged the past three weeks with an ankle injury. Havili didn't waste much time getting started as he rumbled for 53 yards on the game's opening kickoff, but East was unable to convert on their opening drive.
"That's (Havili's return) the big thing. He's back to 95 percent," said East head coach Keeko Georgelas. "When Sione's healthy, we're a much better team."
Havili scored his first touchdown since the injury in the second half on a 58-yard rushing play that gave East a 40-0 edge. The elder Havili might have ended the scoring for Leopards, but it was the younger Havili that got things started. Etuate Havili scooped up a Zack Jacobs fumble on the Braves' opening drive and returned it 25 yards for the score. Euate would later catch a 23-yard Sam Waltman pass for a touchdown, giving East a 23-0 halftime advantage.
On the defensive end, East took advantage of a hobbled Bountiful offensive unit, with the Braves on their fourth tailback starter of the year. Blake Russon broke his leg in the second week of the season. Back-ups Drew Eastman and Cameron Jensen went out with broken collarbones this week.
The Leopards' defensive domination was so complete that in the second half Bountiful was forced to punt on all six possessions and only picked up a single first down.
"I can count on one hand the number of times in my career that we've been out-hit, and tonight was one of them," said Bountiful head coach Larry Wall.
East will get the advantage of one more starter returning to action next week in quarterback Troy Latham, who went out three weeks ago with a concussion against Olympus. However, in his third start, back-up Sam Waltman threw for a touchdown and ran for another against the Braves. Georgelas has yet to determine which quarterback will receive the starting nod.
"Troy can finally practice this week and compete for the job."