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Earning stripes — Bengals nip Alta in 5A semis

Brighton's Mike Hague should be required to wear a warning label that reads, "Kick to me at your own risk."

If so, Alta might have avoided a momentum-changing mistake during Friday's semifinal showdown at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The Hawks didn't heed common sense, however, and Hague made them pay with a 99-yard kickoff return early in the fourth quarter as Brighton hung on for the 31-28 victory over rival Alta.

Brighton's reward for advancing to its first state title game since 1996 is a showdown with Skyline next Friday at 1:30 p.m.

"I feel like a million bucks right now," said Brighton linebacker Jesse Taylor. "We knew coming into this game it was going to be a hard-fought battle."

When these teams squared off in the regular season, Alta's 21-16 victory wasn't iced until a Blake Tillotson interception in the final minute. So it's not surprising that Friday's game wasn't decided until Brighton recovered an onside kick with 46 seconds remaining.

That recovery put the wraps on an entertaining but often ugly playoff game that featured six turnovers and two missed field goals.

It also featured an amazing defensive effort by Alta.

The Hawks held Brighton to a paltry 121 yards from the line of scrimmage and limited Hague to 37 rushing yards on 18 carries.

It's a good thing Brighton was finding scores elsewhere, particularly its 14 points in the fourth quarter.

The first TD came on Hague's kickoff return with 8:17 remaining that increased the Bengals' lead to 24-14. The second was a 7-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by Jeff Sorensen with 1:08 remaining that extended the lead once again to 31-21.

"They had a little scheme going with their inside guys," said Brighton coach Tom Cushing about his team's inability to move the football.

Early in the game, it didn't necessarily matter how well Alta's defense was playing because its offense was horrific.

Thanks to a Hague 66-yard kickoff return to start the game and four Alta turnovers, Brighton's average starting field position on its first five possessions was Alta's 28 yard line.

The Bengals went ahead 7-0 on that first drive on a Hague 1-yard run. On its second drive set up by a Brent Grunander interception, Brighton came away empty after a missed field goal.

Kicker Coleman Petersen redeemed himself with a 49-yard field goal on Brighton's third possession, a drive that was set up by a Colby Barber fumble recovery.

Amazingly, it got worse for an Alta team that overcame three turnovers last week in a quarterfinal win over Fremont.

Alta committed two more turnovers before halftime, one of which Brighton punched into the end zone on an 8-yard run by Matt Marietta. The other ended in another Brighton missed field goal, and then the Bengals only led 17-0 at the half.

"We were playing on the short field in the first half and we probably should've come up 21 or 24 points in the first half and maybe we could've had a little breathing room," said Cushing. "It didn't happen, but we'll take it the way it did happen."

The Hawks put all of their misfortunes behind them to start the second half, and took it right at Brighton's defense. The drive stalled though in the red zone, and instead of kicking a chip-shot field goal, Alta went for it on fourth down and five and had an incomplete pass.

Those three points could've come in handy in Alta's rally attempt.

The Hawks cut the deficit to 17-7 on a Boston Walbeck 21-yard TD run with 4:42 remaining in the third quarter, and then made it 17-14 with 8:31 left in the game on a Austyn Whittenburg 7-yard scamper.

That merely set the table for Hague's kickoff return.

Alta did manage to answer right back with another impressive drive that Whittenburg capped with a 14-yard run with 4:58 left on the clock. But by the time the Hawks got the ball back, there was only 75 seconds remaining and they were 85 yards from the end zone.

Following Sorensen's fumble recovery, Alta's Dallin Cutler scored on a fancy hook-and-ladder pass from Steve Bowen to Brian Cameron, who then pitched it to Cutler for the 43-yard touchdown reception.

The Hawks' rally attempt, however, ran out of time. Alta lost despite 391 yards of total offense.

Prep football playoffs

Class 5A

Brighton 31, Alta 28

Skyline 33, West Jordan 3

Class 3A

Pine View 58, Grantsville 14