Bryton Brady was a sixth grader the last time Corner Canyon returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Now a sophomore, he picked the absolute perfect time to halt his team’s 1,469-day special teams drought in the 6A semifinals on Thursday.
On the ensuing kickoff after big underdog Farmington took a surprisingly lead on Corner Canyon late in the third quarter, Brady returned the kick 87 yards for the go-ahead score as the Chargers regained momentum and never looked back on their way to the 45-28 at the University of Utah.
The kick return was Corner Canyon’s first since the first round of the 2018 playoffs.
Corner Canyon’s Isaac Wilson had thrown four interceptions up until that point in the game, and he was about to take the field feeling immense pressure with his team now trailing 28-24.
Corner Canyon’s special teams made sure he never felt that pressure.
After Brady’s kick return, a few plays later teammate Owen Borg blocked a punt and returned it 10 yards for a score putting the Chargers in front 38-28.
“I definitely felt the momentum change, and then after that we got the block for a touchdown that was nice. A complete game changer there,” said Brady.
The wild sequence flipped the script on a game that, for at least 14 seconds in the second half, had major upset written all over it.
Instead, Corner Canyon tacked on another touchdown to win comfortably and advance to its fifth straight state championship game.
“At this point in the year I don’t care how you win, you’ve just got to win,” said Corner Canyon coach Eric Kjar.
His team certainly didn’t play its “A” game turning the ball over four times, but those specials teams scores helped neutralize the minus-3 turnover differential and a dreadful second half offensively. The Chargers racked up 334 yards of offense in the first half and 43 in the second.
“Anytime you turn it over four times it gets really hard. If you do that that’s tough to win football games, late in the year,” said Kjar. “I think we definitely could’ve played a little better, and we need to play with a little more poise in pressure situations.”
With the win, Corner Canyon advances to next Friday’s 6A state championship. It will face the winner of the Bingham-Skyridge semifinal.
After losing in last year’s title game, Kjar said getting back to the final has been a big goal all season for this team.
“It’s huge, just consistency in our program, and I think it speaks volumes to how hard our kids work, our kids work their butts off and they have it as a goal as something they want to accomplish all the time and they work hard at it,” said Kjar.
Corner Canyon had to show rare resiliency to make it happen.
Wilson threw an interception on two of Corner Canyon’s first three drives, but on the fourth drive he hit Jackson Ames on a 94-yard TD passes for the 7-0 lead with nine seconds left in the first quarter.
Later in the second quarter he connected with Tate Kjar on a 21-yard score and it appeared the rout was just around the corner. Farmington, however, responded with an impressive 81-yard scoring drive highlighted by two 30-yard receptions by Ben Stucki to trim the lead to 14-7 with 4:39 left in the half.
The teams finished the half with a flurry of points with Corner Canyon scoring on a 15-yard TD run by Drew Patterson and 32-yard field goal by Preston Rasmussen, and Farmington on a Stucki 29-yard TD pass from Easton Wight.
Trailing 24-14 at the half, Farmington came out with a dream start to the third quarter. It scored on a nine-play drive to open the quarter on a Stucki TD reception and then took the 28-24 lead at the 3:21 mark on a wild third-down TD reception by Dante Coats after another Corner Canyon turnover.
The junior Coats was not the intended receiver, with Easton Wright lofting his third down pass into the end zone for receiver Mitch Nielsen. He tried to make a contested catch, with the ball then deflecting up and into the waiting hands of Coats.
“Sometimes things can definitely go the wrong way or the ball doesn’t always bounce your way,” said Kjar about a few of the unfavorable bounces.
After falling behind 28-24 for a rare second-half deficit, the Chargers responded emphatically in the most unusual of ways with some special teams magic.
The punt block that effectively put the game out of reach came after Corner Canyon’s defensive coordinator sensed a potential fake punt by Farmington and instructed his defense to stay on the field. Borg timed his rushed on the delayed punt perfectly, blocking the ball and then scooping it up for his first defensive score of the year.
It was a tough sequence of events for a Farmington team that played much better in the second half to give itself a chance.
For Corner Canyon, despite all of its short comings with turnovers and giving up big plays defensively, it found a way with its own big plays and Kjar has no doubt his quarterback will be more sharp in next week’s championship.
“He’ll bounce back for sure, he’s pretty unflappable and some of those we have to be better in spots around him too,” said Kjar.
He finished the game with a respectable stat line of 10 of 20 for 224 yards and two scores, but it was the four interception eye sore that made Friday’s game much more interesting than anyone though.