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High school football: East holds off Riverton after fast start, earns share of Region 3 title

East’s Siona Vailahi dives into the end zone for a score against Riverton last year.
East’s Siona Vailahi dives into the end zone for a score with Riverton’s Colin Hauge chasing from behind as East and Riverton play a high school football game in Riverton on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. East won 36-20.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Box score

RIVERTON — When Riverton beat Bingham last week for the first time in 17 years, it wasn’t just the Silverwolves who celebrated.

The Bingham loss opened the door for East to still earn a piece of the Region 3 championship, and it made the most of it on Friday.

East raced out to a three touchdown lead in the first half and then held off Riverton’s second half rally en route to the 36-20 victory. Even though East still has to beat winless Jordan next week to officially earn a share of the region title, that’s realistically a foregone conclusion, and the players celebrated accordingly after the win.

“We had this thing hyped up as a region championship football game. Our kids bought into it hook, line and sinker and away we go,” said East coach Brandon Matich.

Bingham, East and Riverton now all have one loss in the region standings heading into Week 10, but none of the three play each other.

After falling behind 22-0, Riverton showed great resiliency clawing back in the game. It cut the deficit to 22-7 by halftime and then made it a 22-14 game when Colby Barton connected with Brayden Hunkin on a 22-yard fourth down touchdown pass with 4:35 left in the third quarter.

The same two had connected on a 5-yard touchdown pass late in the first half.

With all the momentum on Riverton’s side, East’s Amini Amone seized it all back in one play.

On East’s ensuing drive, he took the first play 54 yards up the sideline, giving his team great field position, and two plays later, Mapa Vaenuku scored on a 4-yard burst to stretch the lead back to 29-14.

“We knew we just had to put the ball in the hands of our beast so to speak. That’s what we call him, our Power Five running back, and let him go,” said Matich.

Later in the fourth quarter after forcing Riverton into a couple punts, East put the game away for good on a Sau Tafisi 11-yard touchdown run, pushing the lead to 36-14 with four minutes remaining.

Riverton came into the game hoping to win a rare region title of its own, but found itself in a quick hole.

East marched 80 yards in 15 plays on the opening drive of the game taking an 8-0 lead on an Iuliano Sula 3-yard TD run.

Riverton responded with its own impressive drive, but a huge defensive play by East killed the drive. Vaenuku came off the edge on a blitz and sacked the quarterback, forcing a fumble that Voi Tunuufi scooped up and raced 70 yards into the end zone for the 15-0 lead.

“We’re expecting our athletes, our studs like Mapa Vaenuku, to make plays like that. Hopefully they’ll continue to do,” said Matich.

East’s defense forced Riverton into another quick punt and scored quickly again as Siona Vailahi hauled in a 57-yard touchdown pass from Izaak Zimmerman put the Leopards comfortably ahead 22-0.