KEARNS — For about 23 minutes, a football program used to losing was poised for more disappointment. Then one drive became a rallying point, and perhaps a watershed moment for Kearns.
West Jordan had just marched 70 yards on six plays, punctuated by a two-yard scoring plunge by Leroy Love. With 1:08 to play, Kearns could have cut its losses and gone into intermission trailing 23-6. Instead, the Cougars did the Jaguars one better: 60 yards on four plays, including a 30-yard pass from R.J. Tialavea to Fatu Moala that put Kearns on the board with 22 ticks left in the half.
The momentum stuck igniting the Cougars, who scored 34 unanswered points and shut out the Jaguars for much of the second half in a 40-29 victory that earned Kearns (2-3 region, 5-5 overall) a playoff berth and ended West Jordan's (1-4, 5-5) season.
"It's a major step," said Kearns coach Bill Cosper. "It's a tribute to these kids. They worked their tails off."
But early on, Kearns struggled to match the efficiency of a West Jordan team unfazed by the prospect of trying to prolong its season.
The Jags' 14-play drive included three third-down and a pair of fourth-down conversions before Love (30 carries for 124 yards and two touchdowns) found paydirt from a yard out. West Jordan stayed efficient, scoring 17 points on its first three drives and going ahead 23-6 with about a minute remaining in the second period. Kearns, meanwhile, had three consecutive drives end with a punt or turnover before Moala's last-minute score.
Tialavea admitted his team lacked confidence after falling in an early hole.
"We were down on ourselves," said Tialavea, who threw for 242 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 13-of-21 passing, and added a touchdown and 61 yards rushing on 13 attempts. "The more we got down on ourselves, the more bad things happen. We just needed some good things to happen."
The second half was chock-full of those. Moala picked up where he left off, hauling in a 69-yard touchdown pass less than a minute into the third, and Alamoti Vaenuku erupted, piling up most of his 229 rushing yards and all three of his touchdowns after intermission. Vaenuku's first score, a 53-yard dash, was indicative of Kearn's newfound attitude: Vaenuku ran through several would-be tacklers en route to the end zone, which was a recurring theme in the second half.
"He's a horse," Cosper said of his running back. "He's got a great stiff-arm."
West Jordan made things interesting late in the fourth period, as quarterback Cache Morgan scored on a 75-yard kickoff return with about 2 1/2 minutes to play. The Jaguars recovered the onside kick, but Morgan was intercepted by Mike Tweet for the second time to effectively end the game.
Jordan Weirick, Morgan's target on the game-sealing pick, finished with 126 yards on five catches, including a 50-yard touchdown grab in the opening half.
Kearns' opponent for the first round of the state playoffs won't be determined until tonight. Cosper expects to face Alta, Jordan or Skyline.