SALT LAKE CITY - East High’s return to the 5A ranks didn’t go as well as it expected Friday night.
The Leopards invited Orem, the four-time defending 5A champion, to their home turf to celebrate the start of what every team hopes will be a “normal” season and, for the most part, even the game officials said it felt like what high school sports used to be.
The two talented teams combined for their fair share of discipline-related penalties, but Chase Tuatagaloa had a near-perfect night, throwing for 215 yards and two touchdowns, and Orem claimed a 27-14 nonregion victory.
The Tigers blew out the Leopards in the first half. Tuatagaloa completed 10 of his first 11 passes, mostly short tosses that his teammates such as Roger Saleapaga turned into big plays.
Orem led 20-0 midway through the second quarter, then withstood East’s rally to remain the top candidate to be 5A’s top team.
“We talked to them (our players) about not giving up the big play and giving them the momentum,” said Orem coach Gabe Sewell. “We didn’t want to make mistakes. We handled them last time (in 2020).”
A backup last year, Tuatagaloa did not throw an interception and, in fact, Orem did not commit a turnover Friday.
The only obvious blunder came in the fourth quarter. While nursing a 27-14 lead, a punt snap went wide and Mosese Kivalu, a converted defensive lineman, rambled toward his goal line, picked up the ball, avoided an East tackler and somehow kicked it.
With all of East’s players running toward him, the line-drive punt sailed over their heads and got rolling. It ended up being a net of just 27 yards, but it could have been far worse.
“Sometimes you just get lucky,” Sewell said. “We’ll take it.”
Tuatagaloa might get most of the attention, but Sewell admitted the team would likely be taking about Kivalu’s miracle punt most of the bus ride home.
They also had to talk about how they stopped East’s running attack. The Leopards, led by all-state pick Amini Amone, never ran the ball consistently. Amone finished the night with 120 yards, but his 75-yard scamper in the second quarter and 28-yarder in the fourth accounted for most of it.
Orem retaliated immediately after Amone’s longest run. With 2:10 left before halftime, Tutagaloa connected with Isaac Lokota on a 49-yard throw, and Mack Hixson finished the drive with two big runs.
“Chase is the real deal,” Sewell said. “He had to wait his turn to take control of our team and he did it his way. We had some nice drives, moved the sticks and got six when we needed them.”