There were a lot things that Lehi coach Ed Larson didn’t like about his team’s performance in Thursday’s 5A semifinal victory, so much so that it dominated his postgame comments. Despite all that frustration, there’s no denying how clutch his players were late.
Lehi stopped Stansbury on fourth and 3 inside the 10-yard line twice in the fourth quarter, and then offensively proceeded to run the final 8:09 off the clock with a methodical rushing attack as Lehi held on for the 28-14 victory over Stansbury at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“We had so many mistakes offensively that stopped drives. Defensively we didn’t know what the crap we were doing at times. We just didn’t get it done like we needed to at this level. At this level you should be cleaning that stuff up, I felt like that was a Week 1, Week 2 go for us, and that’s not good enough,” said Larson.
He acknowledged that it was still good enough to put Lehi on the championship’s doorstep as the Pioneers advanced to next Friday’s 5A state championship against top seed Springville. He had a message for his players though after the game, “If we show up next week like we did today we’ll watch Springville walk off with the trophy.”
The reason Lehi has a shot at its first state championship since 2017 was ultimately because of its red zone defense late in the game.
After Lehi went ahead 28-14 with 3:26 remaining in the third quarter on Jackson Brousseau’s third touchdown pass of the game, this one a 9-yard pass to Jackson Christensen, Stansbury’s fast-paced offense responded with even more urgency than normal. It moved quickly down the field, but it failed to convert a fourth-and-3 at the 9-yard line after Lehi’s pass rush forced a slight overthrow to an open receiver.
A few minutes later after a Lehi punt, Stansbury’s offense was again back inside the red zone. Lehi’s defense, however, stuffed Stansbury on three straight runs inside the 3-yard line to maintain the two-score cushion.
“If Stansbury puts that in, you’re talking to Stansbury today,” said Larson afterward.
Stansbury didn’t punch it in though, as Lehi held a Stansbury team that came into the game averaging 39.3 ppg to just two touchdowns.
Statistically the game was a virtual stalemate with Lehi outgaining Stansbury 359 yards to 350 yards, with a 19-18 edge in first downs.
Heading into the game, Stansbury knew it needed a fast starter against a Lehi team that many believed was the favorite, and it got just that with a 16-play, 82-yard scoring drive that Dylan Hamilton capped with a 5-yard TD pass from Ezra Harris.
Stansbury’s offense stalled after that. Following that productive opening drive, its next four drives went fumble, punt, interception and punt with just 38 yards of total offense.
Lehi, meanwhile, scored the first three times it touched the ball building a 21-7 lead eight seconds into the second quarter as Carson Gonzalez ran 40 yards straight through the heart of Stansbury’s defense on a fourth-and-1.
Lehi had a fourth-down conversion on each of its first three scoring drives.
The first was a fourth-and-1 run that eventually led to a Jaxon Christensen 21-yard TD pass from Jackson Brousseau that tied the game at 7-7. On Lehi’s next possession, despite facing a third-and-24 and then a fourth-and-13, it still converted the first down and then one play later took a 14-7 lead as Boston Bingham scored on a 13-yard TD pass from Brousseau at the 2:09 mark of the first quarter.
As well as Lehi’s offense played in the first quarter, the second quarter was a completely different story as it racked up just three first downs.
Despite Stansbury’s offensive rut, one big play by Hamilton helped his team climb right back into the game late in the first half. Facing a third-and-14, Hamilton caught a deep ball from Harris and raced 65 yards for a touchdown whittling the deficit to 21-14.
The Stallions had a chance to cut into the lead further after Lehi fumbled the ensuing kickoff, but they went backward on three straight offensive plays and had to punt, with Lehi holding onto the 21-14 lead into halftime.
For the Stallions, it was one of several missed opportunities as they missed out on a chance to advance to a state championship game for the first time in school history.