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High school football: Corner Canyon buries East early in convincing 6A semifinal victory

QB Jaxson Dart passed for five TDs to lead the Chargers past East, which had to play without its top rusher

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Corner Canyon’s Noah Kjar (8) scores against East‘s Kyle Valdez in the 6A football state semifinal game in Eagle Mountain on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

EAGLE MOUNTAIN — Top-ranked Corner Canyon has a way of burying teams early, and that’s exactly what it did again in Thursday’s 6A semifinals.

Despite punting on its opening possession, Corner Canyon proceeded to score on its next five possessions of the half to build a 31-point lead on its way to the comfortable 45-30 victory over East as it moved to within one victory of a state title three-peat.

“Just execute our stuff, don’t try to do anything out of our ability, just stay within ourselves, and he always puts us in the best situation to succeed and gives us the best chance.” — Corner Canyon quarterback Jaxson Dart.

“They’ve had a taste of it and they want to try and finish the right way,” said Corner Canyon coach Eric Kjar, whose team has now won 39 straight games.

Like always, Corner Canyon quarterback Jaxson Dart led the way as he passed for 296 yards and five touchdowns while also rushing for another score.

With the victory at Cedar Valley High School, Corner Canyon advances to next Friday’s state championship game against the winner of the other 6A semifinal between Lone Peak and Skyridge.

After Corner Canyon raced to the 31-0 lead, East gave itself a glimmer of hope by scoring just before halftime and then taking the opening drive of the second half 80 yards in 8:31 to cut the deficit to 31-15.

There was plenty of time to claw back into the game if East’s defense could get a stop, but getting stops is always the problem against the Chargers.

  • Watch replay: Corner Canyon 45, East 30

Dart responded to East’s drive by engineering a 10-play, 80-yard drive of his own that he capped with a 15-yard TD pass to Talmage Handley on a double-move, stretching the lead to 38-15.

Dart said the message from coach Kjar before the drive was a simple one.

“Just execute our stuff, don’t try to do anything out of our ability, just stay within ourselves, and he always puts us in the best situation to succeed and gives us the best chance,” said Dart.

He added another touchdown pass to Cody Hagen on a 33-yard rope less than three minutes later to push the cushion back to four scores, 45-15.

East added on a couple of later scores as the offense found a bit of rhythm, which Kjar always expected the Leopards would do after his team’s hot start.

“That’s a testament to how East is as a football team, that’s a proud program and they’ve been one of the more dominant programs in the state for a long time, and that’s how their coach teaches them, those kids aren’t just going to go down without a fight,” said Kjar.

IJ Sula added one of those late scores as he rushed for 94 yards in place of East standout running back Amini Amone, who missed the game because of COVID-19.

Isaak Zimmerman wrapped up the scoring with a 77-yard touchdown pass to Mapa Vaenuku, one of two TD strikes on the day for the senior QB. Corner Canyon secured the onside kick and and the spot in next week’s title game.

Coming into the game, East knew it needed to try and slow Corner Canyon early to have a chance, and no doubt felt good after getting the stop on that opening drive.

Dart took over from there with TD passes to Noah Kjar, Handley and Dylan Carlson in the opening half, while also rushing for another score in building the 31-0 lead.

East didn’t help itself with turnovers either as it coughed it over twice to the Chargers, who quickly turned them into points.

“Those first three or four drives it seemed like they didn’t even move, so that was huge and we got the ball back,” said Kjar about those great early starts.

Carlson’s 26-yard TD reception on a fourth-and-9 screen pass gave Corner Canyon the 31-0 lead at the 1:21 mark of the half and realistically should’ve buried the Leopards.

Instead, Zimmerman marched his team down field in 80 seconds connecting with Orion Maile-Kaufusi on a 37-yard TD pass with five seconds left in the half.

Zimmerman again marched the Leopards downfield on another drive to start the third quarter, a clock-churner that took nearly nine minutes off the clock.