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Kearns ends state's longest skid

Judging the eruption from the sidelines and stands after their game against Copper Hills Wednesday night, one might have thought the Kearns High football team had just won the state championship.

Even better, perhaps.K-Town - as the Cougar faithful call Kearns - is no longer home of the state's longest losing streak.

After suffering through an excruciating two years of losses - 18 in a row before Wednesday - the Cougs finally put a notch on the win column with a nailbiting 21-20 victory over the rival Grizzlies.

"It's probably the biggest win of my life," said Kearns tight end Albert Jones, who made several clutch catches in the game. "I can't explain how great it feels."

Making the win even sweeter for the Cougars was that it came in their last home game of the season and it was against neighboring Copper Hills - which beat Kearns last year when the Cougars fumbled on the 1-yard line with 27 seconds left.

Ironically, Kearns' last victory came against Copper Hills two years ago.

"These seniors, they deserve that. They played their hearts out," said first-year Kearns coach Marvin Magalei. "It's a big relief for our kids and for our program to win a game."

And it was way overdue, said Kearns linebacker Clint Ackerman, who got the Cougars off to a good start with a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter.

"It's about time. It's been too long," said Ackerman, a senior who last won as a sophomore. "Our hard work finally paid off. We finally played as a team."

Nobody will argue that point, considering Kearns scored touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams.

Quarterback Cliff Kelley notched the Cougars' sole offensive touchdown - a 1-yard sneak to give Kearns its halftime lead of 14-7. But it proved to be the special teams and defense - led by Ackerman, Talai Leo, Sau Toia and Siua Tauaalo - that clinched the game.

The most crucial play came when Cougar sophomore Tyson Jones picked up a fumble - on a Copper Hills' botched fake punt - and rumbled 45 yards to paydirt. It gave Kearns a 21-7 advantage early in the third quarter.

"He just fumbled the ball and it went right into my hands," said Jones, admitting that he was "scared, very scared" on the play because he heard footsteps behind him before he reached the end zone.

The Cougars ended up needing the cushion as Copper Hills scored on two big plays late in the third and early in the fourth quarters. Jake Evans rushed for a 21-yard TD and a Nick Mamales hit Robbie Bills with a screen pass that turned into a 73-yard TD reception. Copper Hills missed its point-after kick on the final touchdown after Kearns defensive line made a big surge.

Even though this was just the second win for Kearns since it made the state semifinals in 1993, the Cougars (1-6, 1-4) are now within one victory of returning to the state playoffs. Kearns needs to beat West Jordan (2-5, 0-4) in two weeks to gain Region 2's fifth and final playoff spot. Copper Hills (1-6, 0-4) hosts the Jaguars next week.