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High school football: East defends its way to upset 6A quarterfinal win over American Fork

East defender Mapa Vaenuku, left, hits American Fork tight end Garrison Grimes, who can’t make the catch during a 6A quarterfinal football game at American Fork High School on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020.
East defender Mapa Vaenuku, left, hits American Fork tight end Garrison Grimes, who can’t make the catch during a 6A quarterfinal football game at American Fork High School on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Box score

AMERICAN FORK — East’s football team knew it was viewed by most as the underdog heading into its 6A playoff battle with American Fork Friday night. The Leopards had lost to the Cavemen three times in a row, including earlier this year, after all.

But East embraced the underdog role and put together a defensive game plan that held the Cavemen offense below 30 points for just the second time this season. The final result was a 35-18 nod to East.

“In the three prior games we played them and lost, we scored a lot of points,” said East coach Brandon Matich. “We knew we could score and we knew we could run the ball, but we just weren’t defending them very well. We worked our tails off in changing different coverages, making sure we were mixing things up, and we didn’t want to move too much with their motions. We gave up a lot with moving before. Our defensive staff did a remarkable job tonight.”

The first half was all East, as the Leopards saw four different players score while their defense wreaked havoc on the Cavemen and their standout quarterback Maddux Madsen.

“He’s one of the best passers in the state, and we knew that,” said East’s Voi Tunuufi. “We knew we had to shut him and the wide receivers down.”

After East went up 7-0 on a 1-yard run by quarterback Izaak Zimmerman, the defense set the tone early by forcing a Cavemen fumble on their opening drive. The Leopard offense made good on the turnover when Amini Amone scored from 3 yards out to double up East’s score at 14-0 with the second quarter just underway.

East scored again off a run, this time by Siona Vailahi, to go up 21-0. American Fork found its offense on the ensuing drive when Madsen tossed a 7-yarder to Garrison Grimes for a 21-6 score after a missed PAT.

The Leopards’ powerful running attack, which tallied over 400 yards in the game, put up another score via Mape Vaenuku with 41 seconds left in the half to go up 28-6.

  • Watch replay: East 35, American Fork 18

The third quarter saw East’s first punt of the game on its opening drive before American Fork used both Madsen’s legs and arm to cut the margin to 28-12 with 8:21 left in the quarter.

The connection came on a beautiful 43-yard bomb from Madsen to Trey Roberts. The Cavemen added another touchdown in the fourth quarter when Madsen found Fisher Ingersoll from 3 yards out to cut the lead to 28-18 with 10:48 left in the game.

With American Fork’s momentum building, emotions started to run high.

“We told them before the game, ‘Hold onto the ball and no stupid penalties,’” said Matich. “Then we didn’t hold onto the ball and made some penalties. But Tuunufi said, ‘Coach we got you, let us finish this,’ and they did and I am so proud of them.”

The biggest turnover of the night came when an East pitchout was never really secured and resulted in a Cavemen recovery with 9:16 left in the game, but the East defense responded with an interception off Madsen on the ensuing drive.

East’s offense then took the ball and burned the clock down to 1:37 before it strayed from the run as Zimmerman launched a beautiful 15-yard pass that Orion Maile-Kaufusi reeled in with one hand in the end zone to put East up 35-18.

“That was the game plan — slow things down, and then something might open up down field,” said Zimmerman. “I missed one earlier and redeemed myself there.”

Looking forward, East plays the state’s best offense in Corner Canyon next week in the 6A semifinals.