KEARNS – Hunter head coach Dustin Pearce took running back Ekuasi Tavo aside during the off season and told him he was going to be carrying much of the weight of the 2010 Wolverines season on his shoulders.
It appeared Tavo took his coach's words to heart as he racked up 124 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries Friday as he led Hunter to a 24-7 win over Kearns to open the 2010 campaign.
"I told him all winter that he was the man," Pearce said. "It was going to be up to him. It was going to be his job."
Pearce said he was pleased with his team's performance and acknowledged that the game's outcome easily could have been different but for a few bounces of the ball.
"Kearns is a good football team," Pearce said. "(Cougars head coach) Bill (Cosper) does a great job."
The game was uneventful until just over three minutes remained in the first quarter. Hunter punted the ball away to Saul Cavillo, but the coverage team got to him quickly and forced him to muff the punt away.
The hit proved an early turning point of sorts as it knocked Cavillo's helmet off and took him out of the game. It also gave Hunter the football and a much-needed spark. The Wolverines needed only four plays to march 21 yards for a 7-0 lead on Peter Fuimaono's five-yard pass to Sosaia Kupo with 1:03 to play in the first quarter.
Tavo's first score came an entire quarter later as he scored from 13-yards out with 1:01 remaining in the half to cap a 71-yard scoring drive. The Wolverines needed only five plays to score as Fuimaono hit Royal Tabile twice for 11 and 38 yards on the drive.
After punting the ball away, Kearns rebounded and quickly cut the deficit in half as Fuimaono looked to his right and was intercepted by Andre Juarez at the Hunter 43. Juarez took it the distance and pulled it to within 14-7 with just 13 seconds left in the half.
A 21-yard Tavo touchdown gave Hunter a 21-7 lead with 10:03 left in the third. His score capitalized on Ziggy Lutui's fumble recovery at the Kearns 31.
Jake Jex nailed a 27-yard field goal with 3:36 to play in the game to put the game on ice and the visitors walked away with a season-opening victory.
"We made two costly turnovers and they cost us a couple of touchdowns," Cosper said, adding that his team needs to be able to recover from mistakes. "I think we moved the ball well, but defensively (Hunter) played tougher than us."
Pearce said he was proud of his team's effort, but the Wolverines need to practice hard in all areas. He added he was glad to see his team recover from giving up a touchdown on a turnover.
"It's football. Those things are going to happen," he said. "Just stay positive because you're going to have some good plays and some bad plays."