SALT LAKE CITY — West High and Juan Diego took turns committing their share of penalties and gaffes, but the Panthers' mistakes were more costly and helped put West in a 21-7 fourth-quarter hole.
The Panthers, however, gained momentum with big plays and held their ground on defense to mount a furious comeback in their Friday night home football endowment game.
Eric Takenaka's 90-yard, you-had-to-see-it-to-believe-it kickoff return tied the game with 22.6 seconds left in regulation after Juan Diego had taken the lead on a late clutch drive. Then in overtime, West's Abel Stanley recovered a Juan Diego fumble and the Panthers grinded it out and prevailed as Anetipa Vaisagano rushed it in to paydirt from three yards out for the 34-28 victory over the defending 3A state champs.
Takenaka got the Panthers on the scoreboard in the second quarter with a 99-yard kickoff return to give West a 7-3 lead.
Trailing 7-6 in the third quarter, Juan Diego started to take advantage of West's undisciplined errors. The Panthers jumped offsides on fourth-and-1, giving Juan Diego new life in their own territory. Then the Panthers actually forced the Soaring Eagle to punt, but Takenaka roughed punter Skyler Doran, and that gave Juan Diego the ball in the red zone.
From there, JD running backs Bryson Pitcher, Wyatt Wilson and Cody Berg shared the load in marching to the end zone, capped by Berg's 3-yard TD run. Quarterback Nate Elorreaga hit Oliver Weight for the 2-point conversion to give the Soaring Eagle a 14-7 lead.
West's next misstep came on the ensuing kickoff, when Doran's squib kick ricocheted off a West player and was recovered by Juan Diego's Zac Olson. There was a fracas on the play and a personal foul penalty by West gave the Soaring Eagle the ball at the Panther 19. West star linebacker David Solomon was ejected for his role in the fight, and he may face a suspension.
Juan Diego cashed in when Elorreaga lofted a 21-yard TD pass to tight end Eric Heinz.
West struck quickly early in the fourth. On a third-down play, Chance Abrath hit Takenaka in stride at the JD 20 and Takenaka outraced defenders to the end zone for a 54-yard score.
Several of West's penalties came on Juan Diego fourth-down plays and gave the Soaring Eagle first downs. But on fourth-and-4 at the West 34, West held its ground and stopped Wilson to take over possession with 3:17 to go. West's defense, led by wrecking ball D-end Sione Talakai and Tongalavea Vea, played a stellar game.
Two plays later, Vaisagano took a handoff and scampered 59 yards for a TD to tie the game at 21-21.Comment on this story
Juan Diego responded with a drive in which new starting QB Elorreaga showed he can come through when it counts. Elorreaga hit Oliver Weight for a 36-yard gain and then found Heinz for a 32 yard strike to make it first-and-goal. A few plays later, the quarterback called his own number to give JD a 28-21 lead with 43 seconds to go.
Then Takenaka had one more big, electrifying play. He actually had trouble getting a handle on the kickoff, but he picked it up, hurdled over a Juan Diego player then turned on the jets across the field and didn't stop until he reached the end zone.
"These kids are talented," West coach Justin Spencer said of his team. "They just have to overcome mistakes and adversity and their talent will take over."