COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — At 5-foot-8, Brighton senior Jesse Taylor is far from the biggest player on the football field.
But in the Bengals' first game of the season, he had the biggest game.
The three-year starter on defense and special teams blocked an extra-point attempt by Cottonwood with just 45 seconds left in the second quarter. Then he caught a squib kick and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown to give the Bengals a 21-6 lead going into half-time. In the second half, he caused a fumble and had the game's final interception as the Bengals earned a 38-20 win over the Colts.
Those who know him best aren't surprised he was the man making things happen in a game that was sometimes sloppy, sometimes frustrating and a bit of revenge for the Bengals, who lost in the playoffs last year to eventual runner-up Cottonwood.
"It's pretty standard for him," said defensive lineman Brent Grunander of Taylor.
When asked about Taylor's effort, Brighton coach Tom Cushing smiled, "He's a captain, and a team leader on the defensive side of the ball."
The game did not go as the Bengals expected, although the win was what they'd worked for.
"We came into the game expecting to pass, but our running game was clicking so we stayed with it," Cushing said. "Maybe we stayed with it a little too long."
It clicked on the Bengals first play of their first possession less than five minutes into the game when running back Mike Hague took his first handoff all the way into the end zone for a 63-yard touchdown. Cottonwood fumbled right after earning a first down, setting up Hague's second touchdown. Then he scored on the sixth play of the team's second possession with 3:57 left in the first quarter on a one-yard run. Hague finished with four touchdowns and 141 rushing yards.
Then, in the second and third quarters, the Cottonwood defense quieted the Bengal offense. In fact, Cushing wasn't sure just what happened to the team's offense in those two quarters.
"I don't know if the playcalling was bad, or if they were (defending) us," he said, shaking his head. "I'll have to look at the tape."
Both teams were hindered by mistakes, including multiple fumbles, as well as penalties.
"I was very frustrated," Cushing said. "We started the game and it looked lights out, and then I don't know what happened ... Our special teams made some big plays for us."
The Bengal defense also slowed Cottonwood quarterback Alex Cate and running back Stanley Havili. The senior running back finished with 124 yards rushing, and even more impressive were his special team stats. He returned three kickoffs for 107 yards. Cate had a tougher night, being sacked twice and throwing two interceptions.
For Brighton's quarterback Matt Marietta, who earned his first win as a starter, it was a relief.
"After those first (touchdowns), we kind of got into a comfort zone, which is what we've been talking about not doing," Marietta said. "Luckily our defense ... kept us in it."