SOUTH JORDAN — Friday's quarterfinal between Bingham and Brighton was hyped by some high school football followers as the 5A championship game — an enticing showdown between the state's top-two-ranked teams that unfortunately happened two weeks early.
As for the top-ranked Miners and their fans, well, they consider it the football season that unfortunately ended two weeks too early as well.
The No. 2 Bengals threw a Mike Hague wrench into the Miners' system, bringing Bingham's undefeated season, No. 1 ranking and state title hopes all to a grinding halt in the final minutes of an impressive 31-24 road victory.
Brighton advances to the 5A semifinals Friday at 5 p.m. at Rice-Eccles Stadium for a rematch with the only team that defeated it this season, rival Alta. As for Bingham, the Miners will play the what-if game for who knows how long after seeing a perfect season spoiled during an afternoon in which they gave up 18 fourth-quarter points and turned the ball over three times in the second half.
"I said whoever won the turnover battle would win the game," said Bingham coach Dave Peck. "It's gonna be hard to deal with, especially on our field. We hadn't lost a game here in two years. That was tough." Especially tough for the 10-1 Miners was losing despite how running back Jonathan Cuff outshined Hague for most of the game. Cuff had 138 yards on 26 rushes with a touchdown, but Bingham's defense did a stellar job containing the Bengals' prep superstar for about 3 1/2 quarters. Hague, who's second in Utah in rushing yards, was held to less than 40 yards on the ground well into the fourth quarter.
With five minutes left, however, this back-and-forth game turned into all Hague, all the time — on offense and defense. The BYU-bound athlete with injured ribs more than doubled his rushing output in the next three carries alone. After Bingham tied the game at 24, Hague had consecutive rushes of 30, 7 and 43 yards — the last one a breakaway burst with 4:10 remaining that ended up being the game-winner.
Bingham was marching up the field attempting to force overtime when Hague reminded everybody why Cougar coaches in Provo want him to play defense. The much-ballyhooed offensive standout picked off a pass from Bingham quarterback Stetson Peck at the 11-yard line with just over two minutes remaining.
"Hague," coach Peck said, "was a stud."
The Miners prevented Hague, who ended with 134 yards rushing, from getting a first down on the next three plays and appeared to have one last shot, but they were called for running-into-the-punter with a minute left. That clinched it for 10-1 Brighton.
"Their defense played awesome. I've never had a defense hit so fast," Hague said. "It took a while to get going, but we got it going in the end."
He and quarterback Matt Marietta each pointed to the Bengals' big hogs up front — linemen Jimmy Cushing, Nick Rucker, Junior Salt, Dallas Boyette and Jake Owsley — for dominating down the stretch.
"They did awesome," Hague said. "They opened huge holes."
"Those guys," Marietta added, "are our bread and butter."
Marietta passed more than usual (10-for-24 for 178 yards) and ended up with touchdown tosses to Matt Hamilton and Mike Hicken. Brent Grunander had several big catches for 67 yards. Kicker Coleman Peterson also was clutch, booting three field goals, including a 45-yarder. Cuff's 9-yard touchdown run put Bingham up 17-13 with 4:23 left in the third quarter after the teams battled to a 10-10 first-half tie. The tight game see-sawed the rest of the way. Brighton scored the next 10 points — a 7-yard TD pass from Marietta to Hicken and a field goal — to take a touchdown lead only to have it tied again on a 27-yard run by David Fiefia with 5:14 left. And that's when Hague took over.
The game was a dead heat statistically. Brighton racked up 318 yards, while Bingham's offense gained 316 yards.