OGDEN — Nate Fakahafua has a knack for making big plays in critical moments.
Just like when the Highland senior took over in the 4A football championship last November to lead the Rams to their first football title in 24 years, the 6-foot-4 forward decided he wasn't ready for the Rams' basketball season to end on Friday night, leading Highland to the 54-52 victory over Lehi in the semifinals at the Dee Events Center.
"Nate took it on his back," Highland coach Keith West said after his team rallied to pull out the narrow victory. "He got a couple quick fouls in the first half and couldn't play, but then when things got real desperate there, he just took over. He started to attack the rim, started to defend, started to rebound."
Fakahafua recorded his first of two three-point plays with 1:25 remaining in the third quarter to pull the Rams within one, 36-35. The second, which came after the Pioneers hit two 3-pointers and had momentum in their favor, was two minutes into the fourth quarter and turned the tide of the game.
Senior Lew Evans followed Fakahafua's play with a long 3 of his own, giving Highland its first lead since the second quarter.
From there, the Rams and Pioneers traded baskets, and leads, over the final five minutes of the game. Lehi got big shots from three different players — Zach Stanley, Colton Colledge, and Ryan Christofferson — while it was sophomore David Divver and Fakahafua who shined for Highland.
"He's a shooter and he has no fear," West said of Divver, who hit a 3, a 2, and then two foul shots to give the Rams a three-point lead, 53-50, with 41.6 seconds remaining. "They put all that attention on Nate and then we got the ball moving and found David for some wide-open looks, and he stepped up with some huge shots."
Stanley hit two foul shots for Lehi to pull within one, and then Highland point guard Sam Orchard hit 1-of-2 with 14.5 second left to regain a two-point advantage.
Colton Colledge had a shot at the buzzer to win it, but it hit off the front of the rim and the Highland crowd exploded.
"One of my assistant coaches had scouted them, had the play, so he drew it up (in the timeout)," West said of how his team defended the last-second attempt. "We did a good job on it. A running one-hander, it wasn't that great of a shot … and we got the win."
After Highland took the lead early, with a 13-5 advantage after the first quarter, and Lehi bounced back, with an 18-point second quarter to take a 23-22 lead at the midpoint, the teams stayed within a handful of points of each other the rest of the game.
The Pioneers found a rhythm from the floor, shooting 62.5 percent in the second half, while the Rams did their damage from the foul line.
"We're a good free throw shooting team," said West, whose team's 20-of-24 performance gave the Rams just enough of an edge to hold on for the win. "We put a lot of emphasis on that because we've told them all along, the teams that hit free throws win games."
Colledge finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and two blocks for the Pioneers while Stanley also reached double digits with 10 points, two rebounds and four assists.
Evans led Highland with 18 points and six rebounds, Orchard had 11 points and Fakahafua and Divver each finished with 10 points.
The Rams will face Bountiful in the 4A championship today at 3:30 p.m. The two are Region 6 foes and have seen each other twice already this season, splitting those matchups.
"It's going to be chippy," West said. "We've played each other twice already and we don't like each other that much as it is, and now we're going after it. It'll be a really tough game. It'll be a fun game to watch."