To no surprise of anyone who’s watched them play this season, the Ridgeline Riverhawks will appear in their first ever 4A state championship football game.
With a 49-34 final scoreline, Ridgeline and its high-powered offense dismantled the Crimson Cliffs Mustangs in the 4A semifinals on Friday to keep its bid for an undefeated championship season alive.
Facing one of the tougher defenses it’s seen this year, the Ridgeline offense (averaging 44 points per game), led by senior quarterback Kaden Cox, put seven touchdowns on the board in what was a showcase of offensive talent at every position.
The offense needed to perform at a high level throughout the game, but especially in the first half where Crimson Cliffs scored a touchdown on every one of its possessions except one.
“The key to the game was our offense keeping us in the game and scoring,” Ridgeline head coach Travis Cox said. “They helped us stay ahead in the game. If we got behind while Crimson Cliffs was rolling, then it would have been much harder. The offense controlled the whole game.”
The teams combined to score 41 points in the fourth quarter, including a 21-second stretch in which 21 total points were scored thanks to two long kickoff returns from Crimson Cliffs’ Kona Crowell and Ridgeline’s Jackson Olsen.
Mustangs running back Easton Droubay was rolling most of the night, but especially in the first half, and he finished the game with three rushing touchdowns.
Though Crimson Cliffs had relatively no issue putting points on board in the opening half, it never had a lead in the game as it was just trying to keep pace with the Riverhawks’ offense.
“In the first half our offense was just amazing,” Cox said. “We had some guys just step up and play really well.”
Since so much of the spotlight for Ridgeline’s prolific offense had understandably been shined on Kaden Cox (50 touchdown passes and two interceptions) and his receivers coming into the game, it had been easy to neglect the talent it has in the backfield with senior running back Noah White.
The Mustangs struggled to contain White the entire night, however, as he displayed the perfect combination of elusiveness and strength. White finished the game with three total touchdowns — two on the ground and one through the air — in what was his final home game as Riverhawk football player.
“I’ve been around Noah since he was a little kid and he’s arguably been the best running back I’ve ever seen,” Cox said. “He doesn’t surprise us because we get to see it all the time, but what he does out on the football field is simply amazing.
“He took over the game tonight in that second half with some incredible runs. A lot of that credit goes to the offensive line, but he was in a zone tonight.”
Despite struggling through the first half, the Riverhawks defense began to settle in in the second, holding Crimson Cliffs to just one touchdown over the final 24 minutes of play with two turnovers on downs. The defensive improvement allowed the Riverhawks to pull away and win comfortably in the end.
The win in the semifinals comes nearly a year after Ridgeline suffered a 28-0 blowout loss in last season’s 4A semifinals to eventual champion Sky View, but Cox said that the loss wasn’t used as motivation at all by his team.
“We didn’t think about last year at all, we were all about this year and this game,” he said. “Our focus was all about getting to that last game. We tried to just take it one game at a time, and that’s what we were doing.”
Cox said that he and his team will still keep that same attitude heading into their championship matchup with Dixie — a game they won’t approach any differently from their other games.
“The message is to just treat it like every other game,” Cox said. “Our approach and our preparation is the same every game. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing...we’re very excited to be playing in that game.”
The game will be played next Friday at 11 a.m. at Rice-Eccles Stadium.