Emery 27, Bear River 14WEST JORDAN -- It had been quite some time since Emery High had qualified for the state football championship game before Saturday afternoon.
Just how long?
We're talking Shawn Bradley long here.
Until now. With a 27-14 win over No. 1-ranked Bear River at Copper Hills High, the Spartans qualified for the football finals for the first time in the '90s.
"I know this is only high school, but I can't put into words how much this means to our coaching staff and to our players," said Emery coach Jimmy Jones. "It feels fantastic. We've been working on this for over a year."
And waiting much longer than that. Emery hadn't made it this far since winning it all in 1987, about the same time Bradley started making national headlines from Castle Dale as an underclassman.
By beating the previously unbeaten Bears, the 11-1 Spartans earned a rematch with red-hot Snow Canyon at a site and day TBA. The Warriors beat the Spartans earlier this year, but Emery is much improved and has since racked up nine wins in a row.
"We belong to be there (in the championship)," said Emery's Zac Sharp. "We've worked hard for it. We deserve it."
"We've been looking forward to this since we were little kids," added Emery receiver Mike Justice.
Justice accounted for Emery's first two scores Saturday, as he turned a couple of short Brad Stilson passes into a pair of 25-yard touchdown plays.
"I just threw 'em behind him, and he made all the moves and jukes," said Stilson, who did a nice job running Emery's option attack with two TD passes, one scoring run and a two-point conversion rush.
Sharp gave the Spartans a big boost from his running back spot, rushing for 108 yards with one highlight-reel touchdown that couldn't have come at a better time.
Emery led by a touchdown late in the game and faced a fourth-down situation when a chess-match broke out. First, the Spartans tried to get the Bears to jump offsides. That didn't work and Emery was called for a delay of game penalty. But Bear River jumped offsides on the next play, so the Spartans again faced 4th-down-and-1.
After the two teams traded timeouts, Sharp was handed the ball and his eyes popped open because the Bears cheated to the strong side. So Sharp went the other way and didn't stop streaking until he had notched a game-clinching 36-yard touchdown with three minutes left.
For the most part, the Bears struggled against the fiesty Spartan defense. But Bear quarterback Trevor Fronk had his hands in both touchdowns, finding the end zone on an 18-yard keeper and passing for a 7-yard TD to Cam Toone.