SPANISH FORK — Orem fought to a 59-26 win over Spanish Fork on Wednesday to secure the Region 10 championship in a game that was marred considerably by cheap shots and penalties throughout.
The final count penalty-wise was 38 between the two teams, with two players on Orem's side being ejected. The majority of penalties were due to personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct, which unfortunately was the story of a battle pitting two previously undefeated teams in region play during the final game of the regular season.
Without being prompted to comment on it, Orem coach Jeremy Hill began his postgame interview stating, "I'll be honest. You got two good teams here (that are) undefeated for a region championship and you end up with 40 penalties. It's a little bit difficult and I don't think any of the fans came to watch the refs throw flags."
A lot of the chippy play occurred early, with the Dons unwilling to back down and perhaps getting extracurricular with some late hits, and the Tigers responding in kind, which Hill fully owned.
"We're not perfect. We're not clean," Hill said. "But that was a little extensive."
Hill recognizes how physically dominant his team is compared with most 4A competition, even Spanish Fork, and believes that type of dominance may bring out extra physical play from opponents, with his own players responding negatively, at times.
"We know we got a target on our back. We tell our boys that each week," Hill said. But we try and focus on ourselves to get better each week...We've got to figure out why we got two players ejected, and what happened there, and with everything else."
In between the deluge of yellow flags was some notable football, with the Dons taking charge early on a 17-yard pass from quarterback Parker Swenson. The Tigers seemed a bit out-of-sorts, until taking charge early and often in the second quarter.
The Tigers opened the second quarter with Puka Nacua scoring on a 34-yard pass from Cooper Legas with 11:29 left before the half. Defensive stands and turnovers then aided Orem in scoring three more touchdowns within the next five minutes to take a commanding 28-6 lead.
"We just told (the players) that we had to stop worrying about the refs, we had to stop worrying about the penalties and everything," Hill said. "We just had to go get it...We had to take it out of the ref's hands and into our own hands, and I think that's what the boys did."
A safety gave Orem a 30-6 lead early in the second half before Swenson scored on a 4-yard run to cut the lead to 30-13. But then Orem provided another run, this one of three straight touchdowns, to put any hopes of a Spanish Fork comeback on ice.
Cooper Legas threw four touchdown passes on the night, while Noah Sewell scored on a 4-yard run and 11-yard interception return.
With the win, Orem secures the outright Region 10 championship, a spot that was expected by most, along with repeating as 4A state champions. A perfect springboard to the playoffs came with Spanish Fork giving Orem its toughest test out of Region 10 play, something Hill envisioned.
"I knew they'd give us a real good physical test. They're well-coached and they're good athletes," Hill said. "So that was the plan — to have that game going into the playoffs."