Syracuse had swooned to two losses in the final three games to close the regular season, but the Titans have resurged as a physical playoff force.
Quarterback Jake Hopkins tossed three touchdowns and an aggressive Titans defense returned two interceptions for scores to lead Syracuse to a second round road playoff win in Herriman over Mountain Ridge 35-23.
“We’re right there and we’ve just tried to maintain that mindset with the kids,” Syracuse coach Mike Knight said. “We knew what we had. We just needed to finish and we did that today.”
Hopkins opened the scoring with a 35-yard play-action toss to Tyson Stapley — who boxed out a Mountain Ridge defender with every bit of his 6-foot-2 frame with 5:58 in the first quarter.
After Mountain Ridge kicker Brody Laga knocked in a 25-yard field goal, Hopkins doubled up with Staley. The receiver outmuscled single coverage again for a 19-yard scoring catch with 2:18 left before halftime to make it 14-3.
“It’s instinct,” Hopkins said. “If I see him winning off the ball, I’m throwing it to him.”
Mountain Ridge responded with urgency, riding a potent combination of running and passing from quarterback Ayden Helm to set up a 13-yard scoring strike to Collin Sublette on a crossing route just before halftime to reduce the deficit 14-10.
The Sentinels had snatched momentum, but Syracuse grabbed it right back with 9:29 left in the third quarter. Safety Brevin Hamblin read Helm’s eyes on a throw to the sideline flat, nabbed the ball and rumbled for a 25-yard scoring interception.
“I knew from watching film that they like to throw flats to the tight end,” Hamblin said. “So I saw it coming before it even happened and just jumped it.”
Mountain Ridge running back Cade Uluave was rewarded for a night of tough sledding with a 1-yard touchdown dive early in the fourth quarter to get the Sentinels within a single score, 21-16.
Knight credited his defense for stifling a regularly potent Mountain Ridge rushing attack of Uluave and Semisi Kinikini.
“I thought we were physical coming into the game and we did a good job maintaining that physicality,” Knight said.
Syracuse found another timely defensive play in response, this time from Daxton Faddis, who jumped a similar Helm sideline throw for a 20-yard pick six and a 28-16 lead with 8:40 left in the game.
“Two of those is pretty helpful, obviously,” Knight said.
Hopkins hit a final big play with a 42-yard scoring strike to Braxton Stark to put the game out of reach before Uluave added a second rushing touchdown for the 35-23 final.
Next up is Weber, a team that handed Syracuse a heartbreaking regular season loss on a 50-yard field goal as time expired — a result that Hopkins hasn’t forgotten as an extra bit of incentive while Syracuse marches on in the playoffs.
“Oh yeah,” Hopkins said. “Lots of motivation.”