SALT LAKE CITY — The 2020 high school football season got fully underway Friday night across the state of Utah and there were no shortage of thrilling games involving teams in the 4A classification.
Cedar City went to double-overtime against Spanish Fork, while defending state champion Sky View held off Stansbury in what could end up an early season preview of a late postseason contest. Ridgeline triumphed over Pine View in a barnburner that saw 80 total points scored, while Crimson Cliffs christened its new stadium with a tight win over Manti.
“It’s great to see our team enjoy being with each other in this stressful time in our nation, forgetting about what’s going on in the world and having fun with their brothers. And we pray we get to do it again in a week.” — Ogden coach Erik Thompson
While exciting, those triumphs took a back seat to something else, however.
The true highlight of Friday night belonged to everyone involved. In the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, high school football found a way.
“I am just so thankful that the boys got to play,” Bear River head coach Chris Wise said. “We saw a lot of joy on both sidelines.”
That was the best part of the night according to Green Canyon head coach Craig Anhder, even as his team soundly defeated Tooele.
“It was awesome,” he said, “watching the boys play.”
And the hope remains that moving forward, it can be done again and again.
“Like most coaches this offseason we felt a little unprepared to play a football game tonight, but that’s all we wanted to do,” Ogden coach Erik Thompson said. “We’re very grateful. I thanked God that we were given the opportunity. It’s great to see our team enjoy being with each other in this stressful time in our nation, forgetting about what’s going on in the world and having fun with their brothers. And we pray we get to do it again in a week.”
For however long high school football is played this season, Cedar City will always have its opener to look back on with delight.
The Reds battled into double-overtime against the Dons, before quarterback Jaron Garrett found Jack Cook in the end zone for the 9-yard game-winning touchdown, giving Cedar City a 28-21 victory (box score). It was Garrett’s third touchdown pass of the night — second in extra time — but his heroics wouldn’t have been possible if not for the Cedar City defense, which held Spanish Fork without a point in the third and fourth quarters, as well as the final overtime period.
“Our defense was able to get off the field, and created three turnovers, which made a big difference in the game,” Reds’ head coach Josh Bennett said.
Leadership too was vital, per Bennett, as the Reds overcame a slow start to the game.
“We didn’t play well in the first half,” he said. “We made some great halftime adjustments and executed better in the second half. We have some good leadership and experience that showed. They stepped up when we needed it. Proud of our kids and look forward to getting better next week.”
The same could be said of the Bobcats, who escaped with a 35-27 victory (box score) over the Stallions. Sky View started the game on fire, there is really no other way to describe it. Quarterback Kasen Carlsen threw three touchdown passes in the first quarter — the only quarter Sky View scored in — while Utah State commit Isaac Larsen returned an interception for a touchdown.
The Bobcats’ defense, meanwhile, held the Stallions scoreless through the period, with Sky View appearing primed for an easy win.
Stansbury had other plans, however, and reeled off 27 unanswered points, while simultaneously shutting down the Bobcats’ attack. The Stallions’ rally ultimately fell short, but not before putting a scare into the defending state champs.
“Our fast first quarter allowed us to hang on against a very good Stansbury team,” Sky View head coach Chris Howell said.
Ridgeline managed to hang on against Pine View in by far the most offense-heavy game of the weekend. The RiverHawks and Panthers combined for 80 points in the RiverHawks’ 42-38 victory (box score), with neither team scoring less than a touchdown in any quarter. Explosive plays were almost the norm, whether it be the 74-yard touchdown reception by BYU commit Jovesa Damuni that kicked off the game, putting Ridgeline on top, or the 80-yard touchdown scored by Pine View’s Dominique Mckenzie to put a cap on the game early in the fourth quarter.
Ridgeline was led in the win by quarterback Kaden Cox, he threw for three touchdowns and rushed for another, but it was the team’s balance — five different RiverHawks found the end zone — that proved the difference.
“It was great to get a win versus a very good team,” Ridgeline head coach Travis Cox said. “I was happy to see us spread the ball around and get contributions from a lot of different kids.”
By way of comparison, the Crimson Cliffs Mustangs also pulled out a hard fought victory in a competitive game, theirs against the Manti Templars — Crimson Cliffs won 20-15 (box score).
The Mustangs relied heavily on quarterback Tyler Brown and receiver Chase Hansen, who combined for two touchdowns, one a 65-yard strike, another a 2-yarder. Brown also threw a touchdown pass to Packer Butler, that 76-yard touchdown proving the game-winner.
“We played a hard fought game that could have gone either way,” Crimson Cliffs head coach Jaron Tate said. “Our players were able to overcome too many turnovers and mental mistakes. We will enjoy our first win in our new stadium tonight and start to dissect our mistakes tomorrow.”
With the victory, the Scots have already matched their win total from the 2019 season, benefitting from three touchdown runs by running back-turned-quarterback Ryan Alvarez, all of which went 20-plus yards.
“Really happy for our kids to get the chance to play and get the win,” Ben Lomond head coach Lyndon Johnson said.
As for the Thunder, they dominated the Spartans from start to finish, holding Murray without a point until just under four minutes remained in the game. Desert Hills quarterback Noah Fuailetolo was a standout performer, throwing three touchdown passes, both of which went for 75-yards or more.
“I am really proud of our team tonight,” Thunder head coach Mark Murdoch said. “Our defense played great and we saw a lot of good things on offense. It was a collective effort. Once we clean some things up I think we will be a really competitive team.”
For all the close games, there were some blowouts in favor of 4A teams as well. Snow Canyon, Ogden, Green Canyon, Canyon View and Bear River all won by at least 18 points.
The Warriors were the most dominant of the bunch, churning out a 42-0 (box score) shutout of Cyprus. Quarterback Landon Frei threw for 210 yards and two touchdowns, while Bretton Stone scored three touchdowns of his own (he finished with 127 receiving yards and a score, as well as 50 rushing yards and two additional touchdowns).
“We are excited we got to play high school football in Utah,” Snow Canyon head coach Mike Esplin said. “Proud of the way our team played. We expected our O-line and D-line to play strong and they anchored our ability to run the ball and gave (Frei) time to throw.
“Our defense as a unit played with passion, like we teach. As with any Game 1, we have areas to clean up, things to learn. We know there’s a lot of work between now and reaching our potential as a team. We look forward to that work.”
Ogden defeated Union 43-25 (box score), led by running back Logan Shobe, who rushed for 316 yards and three touchdowns. The Tigers struggled early and trailed until midway through the third quarter, before Shobe, quarterback Jaice Holt and the rest of the team simply proved too much for the Cougars to handle.
“We broke the game open, led by Shobe,” Thompson said. “Our defense had three interceptions and we blocked a punt. It was great to see our team enjoy being with each other.”
Green Canyon handled Tooele 42-13 (box score), on the back of strong play by quarterback Jake Lundin and an opportunistic defense.
“Our defense scored two touchdowns and forced a safety,” Anhder said, “while Jake threw completed 19 of 24 passes and ran for 53 yards. It was a big win.”
“Defensively, we were able to get stops effectively, which set us up to play more coverage in passing situations and helped us get off the field,” head coach Chris Sawyers said. “Offensively, Gunner Hatch and our interior linemen dominated in the run game, and (quarterback) Jake Garrett was able to spread the ball around to several wide receivers, making us difficult to defend. It was really important for our guys to get off on the right foot.”
As for Bear River, strong play along the offensive line proved key in the 39-20 victory (box score) over Juan Diego.
“Kase Jones and the offensive line imposed their will,” Wise explained.
In other 4A action, the Dixie Flyers fell just short in a 25-22 loss (box score) to Springville, as did Hurricane, Logan, Park City and Uintah, to Richfield, Provo, Wasatch and North Summit, respectively.
Other defeated 4A teams include Cedar Valley, Mountain Crest and Mountain View.