HIGHLAND — In their final game before starting region play in the always vaunted Region 4, the Lone Peak Knights had a stiff challenge on their hands, arguably the stiffest to this point in their season: the defending 5A state champion Orem Tigers.
At 3-1 on the year, the Tigers certainly weren’t slouches, with wins over Mountain View, East and Alta under their belts. Orem also boasted some of the best individual players in the state, headlined by offensive tackle and recent Oregon commit Kingsley Suamataia.
What’d the Knights do in the face of the challenge posed by Orem? What they always seem to do — win.
Powered by an elite defensive performance, the norm in Highland in recent years, Lone Peak soundly defeated Orem 24-7.
While Lone Peak quarterback Luke Romney threw touchdown passes to Crew McChesney and Weston Covey and running back/ linebacker Luke Durfey rushed for a score — placekicker Benjamin Miller drilled a 42-yard field goal for the last of the Knights’ points — it all went back to defense, thanks to a collective performance that head coach Bart Brockbank could only describe as “awesome.”
“The defense was awesome tonight,” Brockbank said. “Their effort was great. Kids now have grown up in the system and that makes a huge difference.”
The only mistake he could find happened on the Tigers’ lone scoring drive in the second quarter, when Orem quarterback Lance Reynolds connected with a receiver for a big gain (Orem running back Aisake Toiaivao capped the drive off with a 2-yard score). That completion, per Brockbank, was due to a safety missing the new defensive play call when the old one was switched out. It was a fix that was easily made at halftime.
“That was the only thing that was disappointing,” Brockbank said. “Our safety got his hips turned. He missed the call on the switch out and we got that fixed in the second half. That was about the only thing I was upset with.”
On the other hand, Brockbank could only be pleased with the Knights’ defensive front, specifically end John Henry Daley, who was pitted against Suamataia all night long.
“John Henry did a great job,” he said. “All night he was the man. John Henry is really hard to guard one-on-one, and I think our defensive line does a really good job playing what they are supposed to play. Coach (Ryan) Denney does a great job with his scheme up front and they buy into it. They are in the spot they are supposed to be, which gives our linebackers a lot of opportunities to make tackles. Our defensive line might not lodge a lot of tackles, but they are making the plays so our linebackers can come free.”
The Lone Peak offense did make plays of its own. On the opening drive, Romney and McChesney connected for a quick 80-yard score. More encouraging, though, was a long drawn out scoring drive late in the first half that put Lone Peak up 21-7.
The Knights shuffled quarterbacks during the drive, with Romney and Jonah Heimuli both taking snaps, and the two-quarterback system worked as envisioned.
“We do pretty good getting long passes, going quick and stuff,” said Brockbank. “We have had a hard time sustaining longer drives this year, though. We’ve talked a lot about using both Jonah and Luke. That was key for us on a long drive like that. That score made it so our kids went into the half really excited.
“Luke is our starter. Luke is our guy. Jonah just adds a different element. There are things that we are working on with him, that later on when we get into region will help mix things up a little bit.”
With the win, Lone Peak improves to 5-0 and enters Region 4 as one of the top-ranked teams in the state and arguably the chief challenger to defending 6A state champion Corner Canyon.
Nothing can prepare you for Region 4, however, said Brockbank.
“Can we ever be (ready)?” he asked, with a smile. “I mean, we have to be, regardless.”