KEARNS — Kearns gifted Olympus a short field and a spark with a muffed punt that quickly transformed into a potential score waiting on the other side of a single yard.
Clinging to a lone touchdown lead in the third quarter — Kearns’ defense swarmed and collapsed with ferocity to close off any space Olympus senior quarterback Tommy Hoggan had on a sneak attempt — turning the ball over on downs and preserving momentum in what would become a 14-7 victory and a 3-0 start to the season.
“It’s all we based our team off of is that we have each other’s back,” Kearns junior running back Naki Leha said. “If one falls down, we all fall down but we just had to keep our head up and that’s what we did.”
Kearns’ defense was relentless all night, bottling up Olympus senior running back Johnny Frank and frustrating Hoggan into short drives and incomplete passes.
To complement the defensive effort, Leha racked up over 200 yards of total offense, carrying the Cougars with a unique combo of patient feet and punishing runs.
Leha influenced both of Kearns’ touchdowns on the night — forcing Olympus defenders to key on him while Kearns junior quarterback Iosefa Toia’ivao pulled the ball on a fake and lobbed a shot-put pass into the open arms of senior fullback Joe Alusa — capping off an 18-play scoring drive to take a 7-0 lead in the second quarter.
In the drive immediately following the huge defensive stop, Kearns again sold the fake on Leha’s reputation, Toia’ivao running an option keeper to complete a 13-play drive with a score.
“He’s a workhorse. The kid is tough as nails,” Kearns coach Matt Rickards said. “Super proud of his effort and the way he played.”
The muffed punt was nearly compounded by a pair of fourth quarter errors that Olympus pounced on. In quick succession, Olympus picked off Toia’ivao, rumbled the other way down the field, scored on a quick 13-yard toss from Hoggan to senior tight end Josh Vandenakker and recovered an onside kick.
But the Kearns defense held tough, turning the ball over on fourth down and finishing the win off with a few more Leha runs.
“The one thing you’re going to see from us is we’re going to have the most outstanding effort you’re going to see on the field,” Rickards said.
After weathering a game like this, Leha said Kearns can carry resilience into region play starting next week against Taylorsville.
“It shows that we got heart. No matter what the scoreboard is, we’re going to keep fighting,” Leha said. “That’s pretty much what Kearns is. When times are rough, we just keep fighting.”