AMERICAN FORK — East launched a furious second-half rally Friday only to come up one point short, falling 28-27 to American Fork.
The visiting Leopards trailed 28-7 at intermission but closed the gap by converting three consecutive Cavemen turnovers into touchdowns.
On East's final score, however, kicker Robby Watson pushed the ball wide right on the PAT that would've tied it, leaving the Leopards behind by one.
Penalties prevented East from obtaining one final possession. American Fork punted the ball to the Leopards with three minutes to go, but because East had too many players on the field the play was nullified and the Cavemen got a first down.
Then, with American Fork facing fourth-and-6 with 1:18 to go, the Leopards jumped offside and the Cavemen converted the resulting fourth-and-1.
The game began well enough for East. On the second play from scrimmage, Leopards fullback Travis Cornell dashed 70 yards up the middle for a touchdown.
The Cavemen, though, fought back. Midway through the first quarter, American Fork embarked on a drive comprised mainly of short screen passes and runs to the outside. Senior Blake Cordon ran a dive off left tackle four yards and into the end zone to tie it at 7-7 late in the first quarter.
Both squads were relatively quiet on offense for most of the second quarter.
Playing the football equivalent of center field, Cavemen safety Jordan Smith intercepted Leopards quarterback Mitch Curtis on a long pass over the middle with five minutes left in the half.
Three plays later, American Fork quarterback Paul Olsen took a three-step drop and hit a streaking J.J. Melton in stride down the left sideline for a 52-yard touchdown to make it 14-7. East embarked on a bruising drive, running repeatedly behind the right side of its offensive line. At the Cavemen 20-yard line, however, the Leopards fumbled and American Fork recovered.
Olsen hit David Olsen on a 30-yard bomb, then connected with Jason Condos for a 34-yard touchdown with 53 seconds left in the half for a 21-7 lead.
East unwisely attempted to advance the ball after receiving the ensuing kickoff. Curtis threw deep over the middle and was again intercepted by an American Fork safety, this time David Olsen. Accompanied by a convoy of blockers, Olsen returned the interception over 40 yards to the Leopard 29-yard line.
On the next play, Paul Olsen threw across the field left-to-right to Cordon for the Cavemen's second touchdown in a 30-second span and a 28-7 lead.
In the second half, East's rally began innocently enough when Tanner Bowman intercepted an Olsen pass at the goal line. The Leopards drove the length of the field, and Cornell scored from six yards out to cut the lead to 28-14 with 3:10 remaining in the third.
On the second-to-last play of the drive, Curtis suffered a concussion and left the game. Kurt Bagley took his place behind center for East.
American Fork proceeded to melt down. The Cavemen fumbled on the first two plays of their next possession; Bagley recovered the second for the Leopards.
Playing with a short field, East quickly punched it in; Jake Cook ran in from four yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter, making it 28-21.
On American Fork's first play from scrimmage on its next possession, Olsen threw another interception to Bowman. A few plays later, Chad Baucon ran 59 yards down the right sideline for the Leopards into the end zone, making it 28-27 and setting up the last-minute drama that saw East barely come up on the losing end.