SPRINGVILLE — After spending four quarters finding every way it could to give its game against Springville away, Payson finally decided to get serious and win it.
Behind workhorse running back Leroy Unga, the Lions went to overtime and won the Region 7 play-in game 13-7. The win puts them into the 4A state tournament where they will face Mountain Crest on Friday.
There was nothing pretty about the game. In fact, it was downright ugly for the most part. Payson had opportunities to take control long before the extra period but ended up coming from behind to force overtime before finally winning.
"We made some mistakes in the first half," said Payson coach Jared Woolstenhulme. "When we needed it, we stepped up."
The Lions won the game when Unga scored on a 15-yard run in overtime. On Springville's overtime possession, a penalty forced a long field goal attempt that fell well short.
On the sidelines, Unga had been getting some advice from his cousin, BYU star Harvey Unga. On the winning run, he followed his cousin's directions all the way to the end zone.
"As I ran to the outside, I remembered what my cousin said: 'Cut to the inside when all the guys are rolling to your side,' " said Unga. "I cut in and there was one more guy to beat."
The teams were scoreless at halftime even though Payson had two possessions inside the red zone — one inside the five. It ran out of downs both times and came away empty handed.
That came back to sting when a fumble early in the third quarter set up Springville in good field position, and Colton Ramon scored on a 29-yard sweep.
It looked like the Red Devils might hold onto the lead, especially after they made another stand deep in their own territory. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Lions drove the ball down to the four but got sacked on fourth down.
"Normally when we need one or two yards, we're able to get that just with the big backs we have," said Woolstenhulme. "We weren't able to capitalize."
Two possessions later, Payson got another chance off of a turnover. A fumbled snap recovered by Armand Na'oupu set up a six-play 41-yard drive that ended with Unga galloping in from 17 yards out.
"I just kept my head up and fought," said Unga. "I was really tired but I really wanted to win this game because it's my senior year."