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High school football: Brighton rallies late to beat East

Brighton’s Dante McMaster catches a pass and scores in the first half against East’s Chase Barker at Brighton High School in Cottonwood Heights on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2021.
Brighton’s Dante McMaster catches a pass and scores in the first half against East’s Chase Barker at Brighton High School in Cottonwood Heights on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2021.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Box score

The Brighton Bengals and East Leopards made enough important plays in the second half alone Thursday night to turn their football seasons in an upward direction.

The difference was Brighton’s big plays came last.

Jack Johnson shook off a tough start to throw three scoring passes and Mitchell Dolato and Bingham Zollinger each rushed for a touchdown in the fourth quarter as the Bengals rallied — scoring a touchdown with seconds remaining — to edge the Leopards 35-28 and boost themselves closer toward a Region 7 championship.

“We knew what we had to do to win,” said Brighton coach Justin Hemm. “We had to go out and make plays.”

One of Johnson’s first passes was returned for an interception and he had another pick just before halftime, but Brighton led 20-14. East, however, controlled the entire third quarter, riding running back Amini Amone’s talents to put together two touchdown drives to take the lead.

In between, Brighton had the ball for one play — and fumbled. It was the only time the offense was on the field in the third.

East had all of the momentum with 11 minutes left, but the Bengals never quit and Johnson finally found a rhythm, connecting on several 8-10 yard passes that led to Dolato’s 9-yard run with 2:33 left.

Needing a two-point conversion to tie — and knowing East could easily chew up plenty of the clock when it got the ball again — Brighton connected on a pass. After a timeout to discuss a play that might be a turning point in both team’s seasons, Johnson dropped back to pass and quickly picked out Quincy Covington in the front edge of the end zone to tie the score.

“What a roller coaster,” said Hemm.

Even though East moved the ball at will just a few minutes earlier, the Leopards couldn’t this time and had to punt.

Brighton took over at its own 37 and, not surprisingly, Johnson used the same tactics — occasional runs mixed with short passes that sometimes turned into big plays — and the Bengals eventually had 3rd and-goal at the 6-yard line and needed another hero.

This time, it was Zollinger, who took a handoff to the left, reversed course and ran toward the middle of the field and then found a hole and sped into the end zone with 14 seconds left.

“I was worried that he would get stopped short and we would have to kick a field goal from the 1-yard line on the left hash(mark),” said Hemm.

Johnson, however, wasn’t as worried.

“We had to find (the end zone) and finish our drives,” he said. “It looked like a broken play and then he got through.”

With the win, Brighton improved to 4-2 overall and 3-1 in region with an important matchup at Park City next week.

East fell to 1-5 overall and 1-1 in region.