RIVERTON - The Kearns Cougars proved last week how explosive they can be, as they put up 84 points. This week, they showed it’s not just the offense.
Sure, Tanaki Leha had a big game with four touchdowns, but Charles Henderson returned an interception the length of the field for a score and Ke’ondre Polanco had another sure touchdown return until he tripped at the Riverton 21-yard line, and that was plenty to secure a 44-19 non-region victory.
Kearns improved to 5-0 with the win over a former region rival, but even as the team celebrated while fireworks dominated the nighttime sky from a nearby event, coach Matt Rickards wanted them to remain hungry with five region games ahead.
“That’s what is important. That’s what we try to teach them,” Rickards said. “We’re 0-0 again.”
That’s true, but the Cougars have turned some heads along the way. They are the only undefeated school in Region 2 and, while Leha and quarterback Iosefa Toiaivao have had impressive seasons, the Cougars have also only allowed 9.2 points per game.
“This has probably been our worst defensive game so far,” said Rickards. “We are a big-play team and draw off that.”
The Cougars led from the start. After holding Riverton without a first down on its first possession, the Cougars took over and looked like they would follow suit. However, on a 4th-and-2 play, Jack Kelly faked a punt and passed instead to Isaac Luckart for a first down. Three straight runs by Leha led to a Kearns touchdown and the rout was on.
The only thing that held Kearns back was its own mistakes — penalties mostly — but the Cougars worked around them. Toiaivao connected with speedster Jeff Bassa on a short slant pass, and Bassa broke a tackled and turned it into a 26-yard touchdown.
Riverton cut the margin to 14-7 on a touchdown pass from Colby Barton to Garrett Gibbons, but Leha ran the ball four times and turned another short pass into a long gainer that resulted in a touchdown just two minutes later.
Leha broke free again — on a 48-yard run — just before halftime to send Riverton to the locker room looking for solutions.
Coach Jody Morgan had one, and it almost worked. Kicker Dylan Turville executed a fine on-side kick, but Dominic Thornton pounced on the loose ball to keep the momentum from changing.
Riverton stopped the Cougars, and then Barton engineered a nice drive, but his fourth-down pass into the end zone was intercepted by Harrison, who sped past every Riverton defender to put the game away.
Polanco recorded the Cougars’ third interception at the 45-yard line and had no defenders left to get past until he suffered an embarrassing fall 20 yards short of the goal line. On the next play, though, Toiaivao found Leha open over the deflated Riverton defense to make it 41-7.
The Silverwolves put forth a late rally, and ended the game on a high note with a scoring pass from Barton to Jaxson Bennett on the final play. Riverton’s record dropped to 2-3, and it, too, faces an interesting future with its region season approaching.