SANDY — The Les Hamilton era at Alta High School came to a quick end Friday afternoon.
That's OK with Northridge coach Erik Thompson. He doesn't have to answer questions anymore about when his team is going to win a first-round playoff game.
Northridge played outstanding defense yet again, forcing three second-half Alta turnovers and that was just enough as the Knights held on for a 21-14 victory in the first round of the 5A state tournament.
"We felt it would be a game just like Fremont and Davis, with two teams evenly matched, and we had to make less mistakes than them," said Thompson.
The playoff win was Northridge's first since 2004, snapping a skid of five one-and-dones as it improved to 9-2 this year.
For Alta, it was an abrupt end to an era.
In Hamilton's five previous seasons as head coach, the Hawks advanced to at least the semifinals at Rice-Eccles Stadium each season. His last game won't be at the U., however, as he's moving to Chile soon to take a job in the fishing industry.
"It's not about me. It's about them. I would've liked to see these guys make it there, no doubt. It just wasn't meant to be," said Hamilton, who fought back tears talking about his players. "It's not about me right now, it's about the boys and meaningful lasting relationships with them and that's what's the hardest for me."
With the victory Northridge advances to the quarterfinals and will face the winner of today's first-round game between Bingham and Hunter, a game everyone figures Bingham will win.
"Bingham's probably the best high school team that's ever come through here and our kids are excited for that challenge," said Thompson.
With another outstanding defensive effort the Knights might have a chance.
Leading 14-7 at halftime, Northridge picked off Alta's quarterback three times and also forced a turnover on downs in the Hawks' first four possessions of the half.
It made the most of the third interception as two plays later Austin Tate hauled in a 33-yard touchdown pass from Trent Buckley to increase the lead to 21-7 with 10:03 remaining in the game. It was Buckley's second TD of the game as he completed 15-of-26 passes for 233 yards.
"I thought he played great. He's someone who cares more deeply than about any quarterback I've had, and sometimes when he makes mistakes he gets frustrated and down on himself, but tonight he just kept going," said Thompson.
Needing a spark, Alta changed quarterbacks and Boston Handley responded by leading Alta on a six-play scoring drive that Bryan Engstrom capped to cut Northridge's lead to 21-14 with 7:06 left.
An interception by Austin Lee gave Alta great field position with 3:12 remaining, but the drive stalled without a first down. The Hawks got the ball one last time, but with only 35 seconds remaining the game ended on a hail mary incompletion.15 comments on this story
"Our kids played hard all year, I'm very proud of them. They battled, they never once let up this year," said Hamilton.
Northridge's offense set the tone early. After Alta opted to kickoff in hopes of getting good field position with the wind, the Knights marched 80 yards in six plays to take a 7-0 lead on Buckley's 39-yard touchdown pass to Travis Rostal.
Alta's Javon London tied the game on a 9-yard score early in the second quarter, but Northridge regained the lead 14-7 on Jordan Lee's 1-yard plunge with 48 seconds left in the half.