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High school football: Spanish Fork ekes past Highland in back-and-forth fight

Action in the 5A first round football playoffs between Spanish Fork at Highland at Highland High School in Salt Lake City on Friday, Oct. 23, 2020.
Action in the 5A first round football playoffs between Spanish Fork at Highland at Highland High School in Salt Lake City on Friday, Oct. 23, 2020.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Box score

SALT LAKE CITY — Friday’s opening-round playoff game between Spanish Fork and Highland featured two teams really just looking for things to go their way. Both had lost a number of tough games on the season, and both were ready to add another win.

The result of the 48-minute roller coaster was Spanish Fork advancing with a 33-28 victory as Zac Dart punched in a touchdown from a yard out with less than two minutes to play to grab the win.

The Dons had things rolling in the first half, dominating both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, Highland fumbled it away three times and could only muster 7 points compared to Spanish Fork’s 27.

The biggest contributors to the 27-7 halftime lead were Spanish Fork’s playbook and the number of players who could complete the plays. The Dons used the reverse on a couple of kickoffs to pin Highland’s return team to one side and open up the opposite side for long runs to earn great field position. Spanish Fork also had four different players score in the first half.

Jacob Tutagavou started things off for Spanish Fork with a 1-yard run, and Austin Stevenson added the PAT and a 32-yard field goal a short time later to put Spanish Fork up 10-0. The Rams cut the lead when Aisea Mahina had his own 1-yard score and Julian Watrin kicked the PAT, but from there, the Dons reeled off 17 straight points.

Morley Bennett, who finished the game with 188 receiving yards, had his best play come when he tossed a 10-yard touchdown to Jona Turagovou. Jace Gunter then added another touchdown and Stevenson knocked in another field goal, this time from 26 yards.

“We are a first-year coaching staff so it’s taken some time to get our offense clicking,” said Spanish Fork coach Dustin Smith. “We try to show a lot of different looks on offense and had some trick plays we were able to use early on.”

But Highland didn’t quit and managed to reel off 21-straight points in the second half to grab its first lead of the game at 28-27 with 4:45 left to play. The third quarter was all Highland as it controlled the ball for nearly nine minutes. Mahina rushed for his second touchdown and Patrick Brennan scrambled for a 27-yard score to cut the lead to 27-21 after both PATs were good.

Highland jumped on top 28-27 when Mahina rushed in from 2 yards and Watrin added the PAT, but the lead was short-lived as the Dons used their passing game and moved the ball down to the 1-yard line after a gorgeous pass over the top by Dart to Turagavou. Dart finished off the drive and the game with a keeper to go up 33-28.

Watch replay: Spanish Fork 33, Highland 28

“It’s been a weakness of ours to not finish games, and Highland doesn’t quit,” said Smith. “That was a great rally by them in the second half and I’m proud of our team for withstanding and finishing things off.”

Highland coach Brody Benson was heartbroken for his team after the roaring comeback didn’t hold.

“I’m proud my boys fought because they could have come out of the locker room and been done,” he said. “We just didn’t put ourselves in a good position early.”