SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Westlake Thunder expected more than the usual distractions for the young school's second-ever homecoming game Friday evening. But they didn't expect the governor's motorcade to pull up just before kickoff.
With Gov. Gary Herbert watching from the media box, Westlake quarterback John Ursua passed for 180 yards and a touchdown and ran for 130 and two more scores as Westlake (6-0 overall, 3-0 in league play) defeated Orem (1-5, 0-2), the governor's alma mater, 42-11. The governor was on hand to announce, as part of the homecoming festivities, the naming of Westlake's field after Utah sports icon Lou Andrus, whom Westlake pulled out of retirement to help the budding school's athletics program.
For his part, Ursua took the distractions in stride.
"We didn't know the governor was coming or anything, but we really didn't want to think about all the attention," the quarterback said. "We wanted to focus on the game."
Ursua certainly did his part, leading Westlake to scoring drives on two of its first three possessions. In the first half alone, Ursua connected with six different receivers for 121 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown to Brandon Alstadt with six seconds left in the first half. On that scoring drive, Ursua led the Thunder 80 yards — the lion's share coming on a 50-yard pass to Nate Jensen — with only about 30 seconds left before halftime.
Orem punted on three of its first five possessions, with Danny Balser booting a 31-yard field goal for the Tigers' only points of the first half and missing on a 50-yard try late in the second period. But despite Orem's struggles to move the ball, Westlake's 14-3 halftime cushion could have been much slimmer. The Thunder had to convert on fourth-and-six to sustain their first scoring drive, they turned the ball over on downs midway through the second quarter, and Ursua was intercepted by Orem's Chariton Shumway late in the first half.
Westlake kept Orem on its heels with big pass plays — including completions of 23, 24, 21 and 50 yards — and the constant threat of Ursua leaving the pocket and scrambling for bunches of yards. The Thunder's ground game clicked all night, led by Ursua and the shifty Semi Taeoalli, who darted for 112 yards on just 12 carries and had a nifty 52-yard touchdown run called back on a penalty.
"Our offensive line really prepared well for us," Ursua said. "They really helped us pull together a great running game tonight."
Orem's offense was stagnant for most of the contest, with the Tigers punting or turning the ball over on six of their first eight drives. Orem didn't reach the end zone until sophomore quarterback Taylor Camp — understudy to senior starter Josh Steele — led the Tigers on a 65-yard drive capped by Kaleb Egbert's 10-yard touchdown run. Camp connected with Chase Orwin on the two-point conversion try to set up a 28-11 margin with about six minutes left in the game. Westlake scored on its next two possessions to ensure the team's first-ever homecoming victory.