If it’s playoff time, that must mean it’s Orem time.
Four-time defending state champion Orem shrugged off of its regular season struggles with an emphatic statement in the opening round of the 5A state tournament on Friday night, as it rolled past Brighton 42-22 in a game that wasn’t even that close.
Orem scored the first four times it touched the ball, rolling to a 28-0 halftime lead before putting the game on cruise control in the second half as it stretched the lead to 42-7 at one point.
“It doesn’t really matter what we’ve done before. What matters is from here on out is being able to fight our way out of every situation we’re put into,” said Orem coach Gabe Sewell.
Heading into the playoffs, many considered Orem a contender afterthought after it limped to a 4-5 regular season record, including three straight losses to Alta, Timpview and Lehi to end the regular season.
The Orem team that went 1-5 over its final six games of the regular season didn’t look anything like the team that dominated Brighton from the outset on Friday, and Sewell credits a refocus in the mental aspect of the game as a big reason why.
It also helped that the Tigers had the perfect start.
Aided by a big opening kickoff return, Orem needed just four plays to start the scoring as Cole Johnson scored on a 2-yard plunge at the 10:01 mark of the first quarter for the 7-0 lead. Orem’s O-line got tremendous push on all four plays as it scored with ease.
“Anytime you get the ball first and you can put six on the board … it’s somewhat demoralizing so to speak to the other team,” said Sewell.
Orem’s defense responded with some demoralizing plays of its own, sacking Brighton quarterback Jack Johnson on his first two pass attempts, leading to a quick three and out.
Orem’s offense went right back to work, marching 59 yards in 10 plays as Johnson punched it in again from the 3-yard line for the 14-0 lead at the 3:46 mark of the first quarter.
Johnson finished the game with four rushing touchdowns, all from goal line situations as his stat line read four carries, nine yards, four touchdowns.
The quick two-TD hole was a great wake up call for Brighton. It responded with a methodical 14-play drive that included a fourth-and-nine conversion, moving the ball all the way down to first and goal at the 2 yard line. It never scored though as Orem stuffed two runs and forced two incompletions to take over on downs.
“That was big, and I think this week’s message of mental toughness helped. ‘OK they got there, great, it doesn’t matter now, let’s make this stop. How they got there doesn’t matter, let’s just stop them here on out,’” said Sewell.
Brighton’s hope of getting the ball back quickly in good field position didn’t pan out either as Orem marched 95 yards in 15 plays with Johnson capping it again on a 2-yard plunge for the 21-0 lead with 3:29 left in the half.
The punctuation mark on the first half though for Orem came two minutes later as Lance Reynolds hauled in a 74-yard TD pass from Chase Tuatagaloa.
It was Tuatagalo’s first start in nearly a month because of concussion protocol, and Sewell said his veteran presence made a big difference for the whole team.
Brighton briefly cut the led to 28-7 early in the third quarter on a Kace Gurr 49-yard run, but it could never get a quick defensive stop at the other end for a big momentum shift.