DRAPER — "What a game!" exclaimed an Alta student as he left with a group of friends who watched the Hawks come back to win a thriller against 3A's second-ranked team, the Logan Grizzlies, Friday night.
His sentiment was echoed by coaches and players alike after the Hawks defeated Logan 17-14 in front of nearly 4,000 fans. It wasn't always the prettiest game, but it never lacked for excitement as one of the state's best quarterbacks met with an Alta defense that made some huge plays at just the right times.
"The kids played with a ton of heart," said Alta coach Les Hamilton. "But our execution was limited. Logan stopped us from doing what we really wanted to do and that was run the ball."
Well, not exactly. The Grizzlies did slow the Hawks, but the 5A school managed to run for 246 yards against Logan, thanks in part to some big plays by Boston Walbeck. The Grizzlies rushed for 144 yards, but beat the Hawks in the passing game with 162 yards to Alta's 74 through the air.
Alta didn't manage to earn a first down until after Logan had scored in the second quarter.
"We came out walking on egg shells," Hamilton said. "We'd built the game up so much because Logan is a good football team, that I think we were a little tentative."
While the Hawks were cautious in the first half, Logan was bold. It attempted two fourth-down conversions in the first half, the second of which was successful and led to the team's first touchdown — a three-yard run by quarterback Riley Nelson.
Nelson played an outstanding game, showing why he's so dangerous in the air and on the ground. He kept the ball for the first six plays of Logan's first possession and moved the ball all the way to the three-yard line.
Alta's defense prevented the touchdown and took over on downs in the first quarter. The Hawks didn't gain a first down that series, but they scored the next time they had the ball as Walbeck ran 29 yards for the initial first down for the Hawks. Then, quarterback Steve Bowen hooked up with Brian Cameron on a 27-yard pass play. Bowen kept the next ball and ran it to the four-yard line, and two plays later he ran it into the end zone for the team's first touchdown at 3:20 in the second quarter.
Logan scored again with 52 seconds left in the half, after Alta faked a punt unsuccessfully.
"That was my call," Hamilton said. "The wind was just howling, and I thought at best, we'd get 15 yards on the punt. With 1:24 left in the game, and my punter can fly, I tried to get the first down. And It cost us ... If I had to do it again, I'd probably kick it and let the kids play defense."
Defense is what Hamilton believes made the difference against a quarterback who was so quick and strong it was difficult to decide whether to rush or cover the deep pass.
"Ron Halbert, our defensive coordinator, I think came up with the perfect defensive plan, a bend, but don't break coverage to contain (Nelson)," he said.
The defense kept the Hawks in the game, but it was a play by Walbeck when the team was on its own two-yard line that set up the winning field goal in the fourth quarter with just 2:16 remaining.
He broke through the defensive line of Logan and ran 72 yards to set up Matt Frogley's 27 yard field goal three plays later.
"We were just trying to get out of bad field position," Hamilton said with a smile. Walbeck would have scored if not for the amazing quickness of Logan's Jeff Alley who chased Walbeck down from behind and tackled him at the nine-yard line.
The Grizzlies drove from their own 25-yard line to the Hawks' 31 with Nelson & Co. moving downfield with relative ease. Then three dropped passes in a row ended Logan's hope of winning the game.
Logan coach Mike Favero called his team's play "sloppy," but was grateful for the chance to play the 5A school.
"We just dropped too many balls," he said. "We came down to challenge ourselves. The pre-eason is about getting better."