SALT LAKE CITY — East had been doing it all year and did it one last time on Friday, overwhelming Springville en route to a 48-20 win, and taking away its second straight 4A state championship. The celebration after was understandably raucous and deeply emotional, with players and coaches overwhelmed with the opportunity they seized to put an indelible mark on the in-state prep football landscape.
“It’s enormous,” said East coach Brandon Matich when asked of what it meant to repeat as state champions. “The culture that we’re building here at East — we want to keep going down this path, obviously….we want to keep doing this and everything they do in the offseason — we’ll be working for another one of these.”
Considering the dominance East showed throughout the season and on Friday, it will surprise no one if the program isn't in the same spot a year from now.
From the outset of the season the Leopards used their dominant lines to overwhelm opponents like a tsunami. The result was no in-state opponent coming to within more than 13 points of beating them, building up to an expected and impressive end of the season.
“Magical. It was a magical season,” Matich said. “It was an amazing year and it’s a credit to my kids. They’re just tough, intelligent, unbelievable kids.”
As for Friday, the Leopards did what they do best — jumping out to an early 14-0 lead and then taking every opportunity to overwhelm the Red Devils.
Yet again it was running back Jaylen Warren who provided the first score, galloping into the end zone at the 9:09 mark to give East an early 7-0 lead. After a stop on defense, Charlie Vincent broke free for a 49-yard touchdown run, pushing the lead to 14-0 with 5:21 remaining in the first quarter.
“It was very important because this team we were playing doesn’t like to play from behind and isn’t used to playing from behind,” Matich said of getting off to an early 14-0 lead. “It was important for us to get off to a fast start to make them dig themselves out of a deep hole.”
Springville wasn't without its moments, however, and immediately answered with a 15-yard pass from Jantsen Thorpe to Bennett Hullinger at the start of the second quarter. East then responded with two more touchdowns, off runs from Sione Molisi and Nicolas Harris, before Springville closed the half with a 14-yard touchdown toss from Thorpe to Seth Mortenson to cut East's lead to 27-13 at the break.
The Red Devils had ample opportunity to get to within one touchdown, given the first possession of the second half, but a three-and-out by the defense preceded a blocked punt by East's Lachlan Zuchetto to set the Leopards up with first-and-goal from the 5. One play later, Warren crossed the goaline, pushing the lead to 34-13.
The defensive and subsequent special team efforts at the start of the second half, underscored a roundly impressive effort throughout the game. Overall the Leopards held Springville to just 49 yards rushing, after the Red Devils ran all over Alta in the semifinal round.
"We told our guys that we were going to win this game on defense," Matich said. "(Told) our front six — our four defensive linemen and our two linebackers — were going to win this football game because (Springville) is a run-first team."
On offense, East had 494 yards rushing, led by Warren's 296. Harris added 63 while filling in admirably for the injured Ben Ford.
“Nick came in and did a great job and I don’t think we’re saying enough about that,” Matich said. “People all week were in trouble because Ben went down, and that was obviously a big blow to us — to lose your starting quarterback. But we knew the guys we had in our program and we weren’t worried about it.”
Springville cut the score to 34-20 after a 1-yard run by Thorpe early in the fourth quarter, but that's as close as it would get, with the Leopards scoring twice more to win in convincing fashion.
“All the effort we put in, it all paid off and it feels amazing,” said East lineman Teisina Fusimalohi. “Repeating was expected of us. We’ve built a foundation here that we feel no one can ever crush. So it’s expected now, and we did it.”