A lightning delay halted play two minutes into the second half of Thursday’s 6A state championship game between Skyridge and Syracuse.
After a 30-minute break in shelter, the game — which maintained a 0-0 scoreline —restarted.
But for Syracuse that restart felt more like a jump-start.
The Titans scored twice in less than three minutes immediately following the resumption of play to take a 2-0 lead they would maintain throughout the remainder of the game. Syracuse, the No. 12 seed in 6A, capped-off a five-game playoff run to secure its first title in school history.
“It was a perfect restart,” Syracuse head coach Taylor Allen said.
“I told the boys (during the break), ‘Do you want to go out swinging or do you want to just play a game?’ and they said, ‘Coach, we’re going to swing.’ And that’s what we did.”
When asked how they managed to come out of the break so hot, Syracuse senior Ryker Smith said that Allen simply worked his motivational magic with them.
“Something that the audience doesn’t see in games is what goes on in the locker room,” Smith said. “The locker room is where Allen builds us up, gets the team going and motivates us. He’s one of the best motivators I know and that’s how we came out and punched two (goals) in.”
Besides the “going out swinging message,” Allen admitted he really didn’t do that much to motivate the guys during the restart. In fact, they didn’t even talk about soccer during the weather delay.
“We got in that locker room and we relaxed, played games and hung out,” Allen said. “We did everything except talk soccer.”
The method clearly worked, as the Titans came out flying after the ball.
In the 44th minute, the Titans won a free kick just near the right corner flag. The kick, which was taken by Ryken Hamblin, found the head of sophomore Easton Cragun, who directed it into the back of the net for the game’s opening goal.
Thirty-nine seconds later, a ball was played towards Syracuse’s Jack Cook, who was standing just near the top of the 18-yard box. Cook headed the ball on behind him and it found the foot of Smith, who chipped the ball into the back of the Skyridge net.
In a matter of seconds, the game had been turned on its head and the Falcons didn’t know what hit them.
From that point on, the priority for the Titans became preserving the lead they’d so quickly generated.
Skyridge managed a few half-chances over the second half, but the best chance came with less than 30 seconds left in the game. The ball was heading toward goal after a battle for the ball ensued near the Syracuse 6-yard box, but Syracuse’s Cooper Eddy cleared the ball off the goal line with his head to maintain the clean sheet.
The final whistle blew and the entirety of the Titans roster threw off their shirts in celebration.
A year after 18th-seeded Herriman lifted the trophy, the 12th-seeded Titans made it consecutive years of double-digit seeds winning the 6A state title.
Syracuse, which entered the tournament 8-7 after finishing fourth in Region 1, strung together a run that included impressive wins over fourth-seeded Farmington (which it lost to twice in the regular season) and top-seeded Lone Peak, which was undefeated coming into the game.
“We came in as the lower seed, wearing white every game, but in the end we came out on top,” Smith said of the playoff run. “We put in the most work and effort. … Syracuse baby, they didn’t think we’d do it.”
Though they entered the tournament as a double-digit seed, Allen said the Titans never really felt like true underdogs in any of their five playoff victories.
“We knew we could hang with and beat any team in the state,” Allen said. “Playing in Region 1 against teams like Davis, Fremont and Farmington really prepared us for a run like this.”
Allen, who will be departing Syracuse for an administration job at Mountain High School, was understandably emotional after coaching what would be his last game for the Titans. After taking over a program that went 3-13-2 in his first year at the helm, Allen capped off his tenure with a state championship.
Allen gave all the credit to his players, especially the seniors, for playing together as a team during the playoff run.
“We took over a program that was just in the dumps and then this group (of seniors) came in as freshmen and they said they weren’t here to lose, and I was like, ‘Good because I hate losing,” Allen said.
“I couldn’t ask for a better way to go out, I mean, how many coaches get to end their career as a state champ? ... Obviously I’m emotional and thrilled, and I’m going to eat a hamburger tonight.”