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American Fork channels inner East to clinch second straight trip to 6A state championship game

The Cavemen defeated the Leopard 37-27 in the semifinals of the 6A state tournament

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American Fork vs. East in the 6A semifinal game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Box score

SALT LAKE CITY — The American Fork Cavemen are known for their dynamic passing attack.

Whether it be Boone Abbott a season ago or Maddux Madsen this year, American Fork has boasted one of the state’s more dynamic throw games in recent years.

“We really kept the ball in our possession and chewed up the clock in the third and fourth quarters to keep their offense off the field. That was enormous.” — American Fork coach Aaron Behm

The expectation is that under head coach Aaron Behm, the Cavemen will always boast one of the state’s more devastating passing games, no matter the signal caller.

As such, Friday afternoon’s 6A semifinal between American Fork and East promised to be a clash of offensive ideologies, as American Fork is to ludicrous passing numbers as East is to the triple option ground-and-pound offense.

The Leopards indeed utilized the ground game again and again in Rice-Eccles Stadium Friday, but so did the Cavemen, and powered by running back Jaxon Gregory, American Fork defeated East 37-27 to secure a berth in the 6A state championship game.

The win secured the Cavemen their second consecutive state title game berth, a testament to lasting change made within the American Fork program.

“This program, I am just fortunate I got this job,” Behm said. “There are great kids here. This is a great community and a great school. We wanted to be a part of it. To get here (the state title game) two years in a row, it is very special.”

Special could be term used to describe Gregory, whose play enabled the Cavemen effectively run down the clock throughout the second half. 

“We really kept the ball in our possession and chewed up the clock in the third and fourth quarters to keep their offense off the field. That was enormous,” Behm said. “He (Gregory) brings relentless effort. He is the strongest guy we’ve had. No. 2 was Lopini Katoa” — a sophomore running back at BYU — “(Gregory) beat him in an offseason (strength) competition. It is fun to see him out there. Last year he got banged up at the end of the year, but this year he is still healthy and it makes a big difference.”

  • Watch replay: American Fork 37, East 27

Gregory’s clock-milking rushing wouldn’t have been useful had American Fork not held a lead, but a late first-half touchdown, followed by an early third-quarter score, gave the Cavemen the lead necessary to run away with the game.

Madsen and senior receiver Tanner Holden were responsible for both of the aforementioned scores, one a 55-yard strike and the other an 88-yard score.

“That was awesome,” said Holden. “We knew these guys would be fighting to the end and to come out and score like that was a huge momentum changer for us.”

“It really goes back to that touchdown before the half,” Behm added. “We were really hoping to get a score going into half and then we could come out and stretch the lead to two scores. That happened and we were able to keep that margin a little bit.”

Madsen finished with 331 yards passing and four touchdowns, an impressive showing for the sophomore.

“For a sophomore to come out and do that…” Behm said before trailing off. “Fortunately he has two really veteran receivers (Holden and Devin Downing) he can rely on and the O-line protected him really well. He didn’t look like a sophomore.”

The game came down to Gregory, though, as his relentless effort powered the Cavemen into another state title game.

“It was awesome to see,” Holden said. “He (Jaxon) is such a big dude and is so hard to tackle.”

American Fork will need everything that Gregory, Holden, Madsen and Downing, not to mention an opportunistic defense that forced three East turnovers, can give them when they face off against Corner Canyon in the 6A state title game.

“They are really, really good,” said Behm. “We have to have a great week of practice and I hope we are a lot better than we were when we faced them Week 10. They got after us, but we are excited to get to work.”