LAYTON — Region 1 champion Layton's defense played well enough that its offense would only need to score once to come away victorious against Hunter.
But for the first 23:35 of Friday's game, that offense committed costly penalties, dropped several passes and struggled against a tough Hunter defense.
Then LaVaughn Jackson busted loose. With 25 seconds left in the first half, the Lancers' senior running back burst through the line for 6 yards and the game's first touchdown to give Layton a lead it would not relinquish. The Lancers went on to defeat the Wolverines 24-7 in the first round of the 5A football state playoffs.
Jackson had his best game since he broke his foot early in the season. He finished with 18 carries for 108 yards and showed no signs of a nagging injury.
"(The foot) feels great. I'm about ... close to 100 percent," Jackson said.
"We were hoping (Jackson) could get back to what we knew he could do," said Layton coach Jim Batchelor. "We didn't play a very good game in that first half offensively. Fortunately defense and special teams stepped up for us."
The defense was the key. The Lancers sacked Wolverine quarterback Brett Lunceford seven times, with three of those racked up by Thomas Bryson. Bryson's sack on second-and-4 in the second quarter knocked Hunter 9 yards back. Defensive back Josh Johnson stopped Hunter's Rustin Tautioli cold after Tautioli caught a pass on the next play, forcing a punt and giving Layton the ball back to start its late first-half TD drive.
"I trust our defense. We know we have to step up," Bryson said.
The unit's stellar play led to all three second-half scores for Layton.
Lancer linebacker Nick Ciancone tipped and picked off Lunceford's first pass of the second half to give Layton the ball at the Hunter 34. Shortly thereafter, Lancer quarterback Camren Applegate, who struggled to find his receivers in the first half, ran a play-action pass and lofted the ball to the 6-foot-5 Bryson in the back of the end zone for a 5-yard score and a 14-0 lead.
Hunter's next possession ended on a fourth-and-4 play when Layton's Jaron Gold forced and recovered a fumble at the Wolverine 45. That led to a Grant Walker field goal. Hunter had blocked a first-half attempt by Walker.
Hunter used a clever trick play to set up its only touchdown. Lunceford hit Rico Montoya with a lateral pass, and Montoya found a wide-open Robert Atiga for a 72-yard gain down to the Layton 9-yard line. Equasi Tavo's 3-yard touchdown plunge got Hunter on the board.
But fittingly, Layton's defense iced the game, as Shea Kopecky capped off a great effort by recovering a Montoya fumble and taking it 31 yards to the end zone.
Layton will host Skyline next week.