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High school football: Joe Smith, stifling defense lead Orem to convincing 5A semifinal win over Maple Mountain

Orem players celebrate after defeating Maple Mountain 35-7 during a high school 5A state semifinal football game at Cedar Valley High School in Eagle Mountain on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020.
Orem players celebrate after defeating Maple Mountain 35-7 during a high school 5A state semifinal football game at Cedar Valley High School in Eagle Mountain on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020.
Yukai Peng, Deseret News

Box score

After overcoming a pandemic pause that halted Orem’s season for over four weeks and when just one more victory meant a chance at a fourth straight state title, the Tigers locked in and never looked back.

With Joe Smith’s two long touchdowns and Orem’s suffocating defense, the Tigers gained a 35-7 victory over Maple Mountain in the 5A semifinals Friday night to set up a title game matchup against Timpview.

“At that time, it was devastating. It was really hard on our spirit,” Smith said of Orem’s absence from the field in the middle of the season. “But hey, no one stops Orem Tiger football.”

Orem jumped out to a quick lead after a sharp eight-play drive, highlighted with a pair of long passes from quarterback Micah Fe’a and finished off with a 1-yard scoring dive from Paxton Skipps.

After a Maple Mountain three-and-out, Smith took a handoff and outran everyone down the sideline for a 79-yard rushing touchdown. Smith finished with 194 yards on the ground and had one catch for 77 yards to go along with his two scores.

“I mean, in many ways you could say he is the offense,” Orem interim coach Gabe Sewell said. “Everything kind of runs through him a lot.”

Maple Mountain’s offense screeched to a halt without injured quarterback Tyler Nelson as two backup passers failed to register a completion until midway through the second quarter and combined for only 11 completions on the night. Orem defensive end Joshua Singh terrorized the Maple Mountain backfield all evening on the way to four sacks.

“It’s just trusting my brothers on the side of me,” Singh said. “They’ve got me and I’ve got them.”

Orem carried a 21-point advantage into halftime as the third rusher of the night found the end zone — Kolton Brown-Dye churning for a 4-yard score.

  • Watch replay: Orem 35, Maple Mountain 7

Maple Mountain’s lone highlight of the first half came via a Bryson Bliss interception, but the Golden Eagles gave it right back on the following play with a Gene Ho-Ching pick to Orem’s Jaxon Beckstrom.

Orem sputtered in the second half after a rash of penalties cost the Tigers a total of 172 yards, a trend that will need correction before lining up against Timpview.

“The other teams don’t need help,” Sewell said. “We’ve got to stop helping them and help ourselves.”

Fe’a led the Tigers on an efficient drive to close out the third quarter, capped with a 6-yard scoring toss to Isaac Yokota to extend the lead to 28-0 before Maple Mountain ended the shutout with a 9-yard strike from Hunter Bezzant to Aedan Seiuli to bring the score to 28-7 with 5:43 left in the game.

Smith stepped up again to shut the door, turning on the afterburners after a short Fe’a pass in the flat and zagging across the open field for a 77-yard score.

“He’s a guy you won’t find often, and when you do, you hold onto him and make sure you feed that guy the ball,” Sewell said.

Timpview and Orem are as familiar as it gets in 5A, and in the quest for the fourth straight title, Sewell is expecting a show.

“Our kids and their kids circle it on their calendar from way back even at the end of last season. We didn’t get to play them this year but it was out of all of our hands,” Sewell said. “We’re now in Week 10 and I think it’s made for some prime-time television.”