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High school football: Orem opens Region 7 play with a narrow road win at Alta

Box score

SANDY — The Orem Tigers are used to winning, but they needed big plays and relied on one well-documented playmaker to hold off the Alta Hawks Friday night.

Coach Jeremy Hill moved Jakob Robinson to offense and he caught two long touchdown passes from quarterback Kanekulani Kahala-Giron as the two-time defending 4A champion Tigers won 23-16 at Alta in both team’s Region 7 opener.

“I thought we had it wrapped up several times,” said Hill, whose team never trailed and held a seemingly commanding 16-0 advantage going into the fourth quarter.

“We are battle tested, but the key is turnovers,” he said. “We just can’t make that many turnovers and expect to keep winning.”

After starting the season with two tough opponents, the Tigers improved to 2-2, despite three fumbles and two pass interceptions. The biggest was a throw by Kahala-Giron that Alta’s Lucky Finau returned for a score with 6:41 left that made the final minutes exciting.

Kahala-Giron got Orem off to a good start, however, when he connected with Robinson on a 78-yard touchdown throw on the game’s second play. In the second quarter, Kahala-Giron found Robinson behind the secondary again on a 68-yard scoring pass.

After three quarters of mostly ineffective play, Wilson Murray finally got Alta on the scoreboard with a 2-yard touchdown catch and Jaden Kinnersley caught the 2-point conversion to make it 16-8.

But before Alta’s fans finished celebrating, Orem’s Buju Tuisuvura took the kickoff, made a couple of nifty moves and raced 95 yards on the return.

Watch replay: Orem 23, Alta 16

Hill admitted that play helped him relax a bit, but it was too soon. Finau’s 40-yard interception return, at a time when Orem should have been running the ball to try to kill the clock, forced the Tigers to earn their first 5A region victory.

“It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win and the story here is we’re 1-0 in region,” he said.

Finau, Murray and Kinnersley were Alta’s heroes, but the Hawks offense was ineffective most of the night. Cinco Lucero threw for 180 yards, but was pressured several times. In return, the Hawks’ defense had its proud moments and stopped Orem three times in the final minutes, giving their offense opportunities to tie the score.

On the last drive, Alta took advantage of two pass-interference penalties and drove to Orem’s 14-yard line. Alta’s last completion came when Lucero connected with Daniel Thomason, but Robinson made the tackle and kept Thomason inbounds to keep the clock going.

On fourth down, Robinson deflected a pass to Murray, finally securing the win.