OREM — After more than a month away from the field in a prolonged pause, the Orem Tigers have roared back.
Orem survived a late push from Lehi in a 31-28 thriller powered by quarterback Micah Fe’a’s three touchdowns.
“There was a lot of rust that accumulated over that whole month and I think they did a pretty good job overcoming some of the mistakes early and getting the job done at the end,” Orem interim coach Gabriel Sewell Sr. said.
Orem marched down the field methodically in its first possession, capping off the 16-play drive with a quarterback keeper score from Fe’a.
Lehi answered back immediately with a pair of chunk throws from quarterback Creyton Cooper and a 2-yard scoring dive from running back Takeshi Faupula to knot it up at 7-7 with 1:21 left in the first quarter.
Orem’s defense took over for the remainder of the first half — limiting Lehi to two straight punts before a forced Faupula fumble gave the Tigers a short field. Three plays later, Fe’a was in the end zone again with a jarring juke and 8-yard scrambling score.
The Tigers capitalized again when defensive end Zion Saleapaga sniffed out a Cooper screen pass for an interception and rumbled the other way to set up a 29-yard field goal for kicker Josh Daley to give Orem a 17-7 lead at halftime.
Lehi opened the second half with a march down the field, capped with a 9-yard Cooper keeper score to get within three of Orem, and had a 29-yard field goal attempt after an Orem punt, but a high snap forced a turnover on downs.
Fe’a seized the moment with the biggest play of the night — splitting two Lehi defenders to find Kolton Brown with a 67-yard touchdown strike to make it 24-14 with 4:35 left in the third quarter.
“I just had to put the trust in my player and he made the play,” Fe’a said. “That’s all him right there.”
Fe’a’s lone mistake of the night was costly after the quarterback threw up an interception returned for a pick-six by Lehi’s Kadiyon Sweat. Lehi was again within three but missed another field goal on its ensuing possession, leaving Orem clinging to a 24-21 lead in the fourth quarter.
From there, Fe’a and Orem running back Joe Smith went to work on a 13-play drive that ate up six minutes of clock and ended with a 5-yard plunge from Smith to give the Tigers some breathing room at 31-21 with just over two minutes left in the game.
Cooper wasn’t quite finished — leading a fast strike drive finished off with a 31-yard jump ball touchdown pass to Jaxon Christensen — but Lehi couldn’t convert an onside kick and Orem iced the win from there.
Fe’a said his team’s hard work off the field paid off in what the quarterback referred to as a “four-week bye.”
Sewell recounted the challenges of keeping his players focused and hungry with no outlet of game action in the month-long stretch — but said the win over Lehi is finally a move in the right direction as the playoffs begin.
“Tonight, I think their appetite was pretty good,” Sewell said.
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, Orem’s head coach was identified as Jeremy Hill. The interim coach is Gabriel Sewell Sr.