The secret about the gem up in Hyrum is officially out. It's Mountain Crest's defense.
Prep football enthusiasts knew all about the No. 1 Mustangs' high-scoring offense featuring the Brady Bunch of Zimmerman and Wootton, but for some reason their equally adept defense garnered little recognition this year.
That all changed Thursday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Despite surrendering 399 yards of total offense, Mountain Crest came up with the big plays when it needed them — including four interceptions — to advance to next week's 4A state championship with a 35-22 victory over second-ranked Cottonwood.
Mountain Crest faces Highland in the title game next Friday at 10 a.m.
"Our focus this week was all 11 kids had to get to the ball," said Mustang coach Mark Wootton, particularly when it came to the running of Cottonwood's Stanley Havili. "He can break tackles and break another, and if your kids don't swarm to the ball and give a maximum effort, he's going to break one."
Havili broke several medium-range runs en route to 206 rushing yards, but his longest play from scrimmage was 31 yards. That forced 4A's highest-scoring offense to try to put long drives together, and quite often those drives ended in turnovers.
After falling behind 28-0 with 8:27 remaining in the third quarter, the Colts had little choice but to attack, which led to three second-half interceptions thrown by Alex Cate.
His final interception came with 3:14 remaining in the game as Mountain Crest's Brad Bybee stepped in front of a receiver near the 40-yard line, and the celebration in Hyrum, Cache County, was on.
"A ton of heart, that's all you can say," said Wootton about his defense. "I don't know if we have a kid on our defense who is going to play in college. They're just tough kids."
While Mountain Crest's defense came up with big play after big play, the Mustangs' offense churned another typical outing. Brady Zimmerman completed 15 of 25 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns. Brady Wootton racked up 85 yards rushing and 78 yards receiving, and Cameron Webb hauled in eight receptions for 107 yards.
Despite all those stats, it was the Mustangs' special teams that got things going.
Two minutes into the game, Mountain Crest's Nick Salvesen blocked a Cottonwood punt near the 30-yard line, and teammate Jerel Nielsen recovered it in the end zone to put the Mustangs ahead 7-0.
"You work hard and try and make plays, and sometimes that doesn't happen," said coach Wootton, who's in his second year at Mountain Crest. "That (blocked punt) gave our kids confidence."
On the Colts' next play, Webb intercepted Cate, which eventually led to another score after a six-play drive highlighted by a 58-yard screen pass to Wootton, and then a 1-yard TD by Wootton.
Just before halftime, it looked like the Colts had found the end zone. Unfortunately for Cottonwood, an illegal-use-of-hands penalty negated a 25-yard touchdown pass to Tony Trujillo. So instead of trailing 14-7 the Colts were facing third and 30 and eventually punted.
Mountain Crest didn't squander the momentum. It marched 73 yards in less than two minutes to go ahead 21-0 just before the half on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Zimmerman to Salvesen.
That lead ballooned to 28-0 as the Mustangs opened the half with an impressive scoring drive as Wootton hauled in a 7-yard touchdown reception on the 10th play of the drive.
The Colts eventually whittled the lead to 28-7 on a 33-yard TD reception by Havili, and then after a successful onsides kick, Havili scored again on the final play of the third quarter to make it 28-14.
Interceptions prevented Cottonwood from mounting much of a comeback the rest of the game.
"We knew we would be decent this year, but one thing we've emphasized is we need to get better every week," coach Wootton said.
That's exactly what the Mustangs have done ever since a week-two loss to Fremont, and now they're one win away from the 4A state title.