SALT LAKE CITY — All season long, the Juan Diego coaching staff emphasized the importance of a strong defense.
That exaggerated effort paid off for the Soaring Eagle, which earned its third consecutive 3A state championship with a 10-7 victory over Hurricane on Friday.
"We just prepared a lot," said defensive coordinator Joe Colosimo. "We watched a lot of film and we broke them down really minutely so kids knew certain things, and they just bought into the scouting report all week."
The low-scoring affair was led by a very disciplined defensive effort, which held the Tigers to just 105 rushing yards. Of those, 26 yards were recorded on Hurricane's first possession of the game, which culminated in its only score.
The Soaring Eagle were led in the game, as they have been all season, by senior linebackers Taylor Cassita and Eric Heinz, who had 14 and seven tackles, respectively. Jeff Ika and A.J. Barbiero had a sack apiece and Ryan McCauley and Cayden Sanchez combined for a third, totaling a loss of 25 Hurricane yards.
"It's all led by our two linebackers inside, they've been stellar," Colosimo said, referring to Cassita and Heinz. "Taylor Cassita has been stellar for us for two years now. They're just great leaders and they keep the defense focused."
That focus was quite apparent as the Soaring Eagle forced Hurricane to come up empty on six of its seven drives, including two punts, an interception by Konner Kafentzis, and three failed field goal attempts. While the second and third kicks were wide of the uprights, Juan Diego halted a Hurricane drive in the second quarter by blocking the 37-yard three-point attempt.
"All week we worked on a block inside," Colosimo said, "and our big tackle Jalin Ames got in there and got his hand up and blocked it."
Ames, who also had two tackles in the game, including one for a seven-yard loss, has made a habit of impeding his opponents' field goal attempts.
"They (Hurricane) blocked my fellow teammates and I just came free. Same as last week, just closed my eyes and blocked the field goal," Ames said, referring to getting his hand in the way of a Judge Bulldog kick in overtime of last week's semifinal game. "I saw the ball, put my hands up and that was it — the rest is history."
And although it was a play by the offense — a 20-yard field goal by Skylar Doran — that gave Juan Diego the edge as time wound down, Colosimo noted that the team was in the position to win thanks to the effort of the defense.
"We've just been trying to defend teams," Colosimo said. "Our offense has struggled a little bit at times but our defense comes through. And then our offense comes through at the end with that nice drive. It's just a full team effort."