In a tightly contested season opening game, the Orem Tigers got the best of the East Leopards Friday night, scoring on a Cole Johnson touchdown reception late and successfully converting a two-point conversion to grab the victory by the slimmest of margins, 22-21.
With just over two minutes left in the game and Orem down by seven, quarterback Lance Reynolds found an open Johnson on a short 5-yard touchdown reception that got the Tigers to within one of the Leopards.
Orem head coach Gabriel Sewell was then faced with the tough decision of whether to kick the extra point to tie the game up and head to overtime or go for two and grab the late victory.
To Sewell, the decision was a no-brainer.
“Going for two was more of me believing in my team,” he said afterward. “I said that we were going to lay it out on the line. We got it done, they believed in themselves, and I believed in them and we’re walking out of here with a win.”
The offenses for both teams were sluggish to start, which might be expected with it being the first game of the season.
It wasn’t until the start of the second quarter that the first points of the game were scored, courtesy of a short 1-yard run by Orem running back Max Hixson.
East blocked the extra point attempt, making it a six-point game.
The Leopards then answered midway through the quarter on a big 62-yard touchdown pass and from quarterback Tucker McCormick, who found receiver Spencer Black open and racing down the sideline for the score.
East gained the lead on a good extra point.
Another short touchdown run from Hixson just over a minute later — this time from 6 yards out — and a successful two-point conversion gave Orem a 14-7 lead with four minutes left in the second quarter, and that was the score heading into halftime.
Hixson suffered a minor injury and came out of halftime on crutches in what Sewell described as just a precaution, and the Tigers missed him as their offense struggled in the second half.
The defenses for both teams came out ready to play in the second half, however, and a scoreless third quarter allowed Orem to keep the lead going into the fourth.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, East cut the deficit to one at 14-13 when Sione Vailahi rushed into the end zone from a yard out.
The Leopards then grabbed the lead on another Vailahi touchdown run with four minutes left, which set up the Tigers’ final drive, and the clutch touchdown from Johnson and game-winning conversion from Asher Young sent the Orem fans home happy.
“Hats off to our defense,” Sewell said. “Our defense held them off there in the end and kind of made East into an offense that they really don’t want to play in.”