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High school football: American Fork forces 7 turnovers, rolls in 5A semifinal

SHARE High school football: American Fork forces 7 turnovers, rolls in 5A semifinal
We gave that game to them before. We took it this time. – American Fork linebacker Nate Honey

American Fork sure made the most of its mulligan against Brighton.

On the opening night of the season back in August, the Cavemen played great for three quarters but collapsed down the stretch in a frustrating setback.

Fast-forward three months to the 5A semifinal rematch at Rice-Eccles Stadium, and American Fork absolutely annihilated the turnover-happy Bengals.

American Fork forced seven turnovers and scored touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams to blow past Brighton 58-28 and advance to its first state championship since 1962.

“We gave that game to them before. We took it this time,” said linebacker Nate Honey.

With the game tied 14-14 in the first quarter after the teams swapped pick sixes, American Fork proceeded to score 38 straight points to open up a 52-14 lead with 2:37 remaining in the third quarter.

Four of Brighton’s six possessions during the decisive stretch ended in turnovers, including a fumble recovery in the end zone by Brennan Cox for the 52-14 lead.

After squandering the lead in the previous meeting, American Fork never eased up.

“We knew we left a lot of plays on the field, we knew we should’ve beat Brighton,” said running back Zach Katoa, who rushed for 184 yards and two TDs. “We didn’t play all four quarters, so the big thing was just to finish and play a complete game.”

American Fork’s coaches drilled that message into their players at halftime, cautioning them that Brighton was the 5A runner-up a year ago for a reason — “they’ll fight to the end,” said American Fork coach Aaron Behm.

It took Coleson Worley one play to crush Brighton’s spirits as he returned the second-half kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown.

“That was definitely the way we wanted to start the second half,” said Behm, who praised his team’s improvement over the past three months.

“A football team can get a lot better in three months, or you can stay stale. These kids just worked their butt off every practice.”

With the victory, American Fork advances to next Friday’s 5A championship where it will take on No. 1 Bingham. With the way it performed in all three phases of the game against Brighton, it’s certainly got a chance of pulling off the upset.

American Fork only outgained Brighton in total offense 321 to 310, but the only stat that mattered was the 7-1 turnover disparity.

Brighton’s troubles started early, with Honey intercepting a Robbie Hutchins’ pass on the second play of the game. Katoa plowed his way into the end zone two plays later for the 7-0 lead.

The Bengals, who led 5A in scoring this season with 40.8 ppg, of course had an answer as Hutchins hit Simi Fehoko on a 55-yard TD pass less than three minutes into the game to tie the score 7-7.

After American Fork’s Ben Cummings and Brighton’s Cody Barton followed those quick offensive scores with defensive touchdowns, the Cavemen started to take things over.

On the ensuing drive after Brighton tied it 14-14, Tanner Smith engineered a nine-play, 62-yard scoring drive that Honey capped with a 5-yard touchdown run on the last play of the quarter.

Behm knew his team would be just fine after regaining the 20-14 lead.

“That’s the sign of maturity when you can overcome. We talked about all week we need to be above every circumstance that presents itself and that was a tough one we had to overcome but we did,” said Behm.

Brighton’s response was two straight turnovers in the second quarter, which American Fork quickly turned into points. Katoa pushed the lead to 28-14 on a 3-yard score, and then Worley hauled in a 30-yard TD pass from Smith with 31 seconds left for the 35-14 lead.

James Edward is the Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer.