BOUNTIFUL — There was a stretch earlier this decade when Bountiful was a regular playoff participant at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The turf became a second home, according to coach Larry Wall, as his football team won back-to-back state titles in 2002 and 2003.
After an unusually long absence, the Braves are returning home.
Bountiful continued its recent dominance on Friday evening with a 31-12 victory over Spanish Fork, and in the process snapped a six-year semifinal drought.
"I'm proud of our kids, they deserve to be where they're at right now," said Wall.
Bountiful heads into the semifinals on a four-game winning streak, having outscored the opposition during that stretch 170-33. It will face Mountain Crest at Rice-Eccles Stadium next Friday at 2:30 p.m. for a berth in the 4A state championship.
Spanish Fork had a glimmer of hope at upsetting Bountiful early on as it took the opening drive and marched 80 yards for a 6-0 lead after a failed two-point conversion.
It was short-lived momentum. Bountiful responded by scoring on its first three possessions, opening up a 21-6 lead with 2:35 remaining in the first half.
"I was proud of our kids. It would've been easy to get your head down, and complain and feel bad about ourselves, but our offense came right down and scored," said Wall.
The Braves used a perfect blend of rushing and passing to keep Spanish Fork's defense guessing all game as they moved the ball at will.
Bountiful extended the lead to 28-6 midway through the third quarter on Cam Zollinger's fourth touchdown pass of the game, as the junior finished with 173 yards on 11-of-15 passing.
Even though Zollinger was the offensive star, tossing TDs to four different receivers, Bountiful's traditional grind-it-out offense did the real damage in the middle of the field.
The running game served another purpose: It kept Spanish Fork quarterback Hayden Nielsen on the sideline. The junior still had a monster game in the loss as he completed 26-of-41 passes for 373 yards and one rushing touchdown.
Most of his yards came with Bountiful leading, though, and that was just fine with Wall.
"We just didn't want to give up the big play. We had a little bit of a lead and we just wanted to keep everything in front of us. We had a couple of big stops," said Wall.
The biggest stop came with 5:16 remaining in the first half and Bountiful leading 14-6. With Spanish Fork poised to capitalize on a 12-play drive and potentially tie the game, Kyle Pawlowski intercepted Nielsen in the end zone — his sixth pick of the season.