Tom Smart, Deseret News
Alta students cheer as Timpview High School plays at Alta High School for the opening game of the football season Friday, Aug. 19, 2011, in Sandy, Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)
SANDY — First-year Alta coach Bob Stephens admitted he didn't sleep much Thursday night.
That was deservedly so because the Stephens era that started Friday was a nightmare.
Fortunately, the Hawks rallied from a miserable beginning to beat Timpview 35-14 in front of a near-capacity crowd on their home field in the season opener for both teams.
"First-game jitters," is how Stephens described Alta's two lost fumbles in its first four offensive plays. At one point, the Hawks trailed 14-0 and, if Timpview hadn't had a few jitters of its own, Stephens could have found his team trailing by a lot more.
"That first quarter was awful," said senior running back Bryan Engstrom. "But we never felt like we weren't moving the ball. We just put it on the ground too much. We just needed a chance."?
Timpview gave it to them. The Thunderbirds, who have won the 4A state title in five of the past six years, went from potential giant-killers to a stumbling, bumbling team in just a short time. Quarterback Marshall Nelson had a fine game, but a couple of fumbles, including several errant snaps, resulted in their demise.
"I told the kids they (the Thunderbirds) played one good quarter," said coach Louis Wong. "That's what preseason is all about. Maybe next game we play two good quarters and we go on from there.
"Hopefully, they get better and learn from it," he added. "I was watching our kids late in the game. I was looking at who was sulking and who was asking for more. It's my job to find out what needs to happen for us to get better."?
Alta scored the game's final 35 points and that helped Stephens almost dismiss the Hawks' poor start. Senior quarterback Tyson Blackner completed 20 of 36 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns. He had one interception, off a deflection in the first quarter (of course).
Blackner completed passes to seven different receivers. Jordan Urrutia caught two touchdown throws, Ammon Barker had six catches for 80 yards, Engstrom had five catches, and 6-foot-4 tight end Steven Richards proved to be a big target and caught four passes.
On defense, Alta held Timpview to just two first downs in the second half. Austin Lee and Rhett Sandlin had several good plays that stopped Timpview drives.
"They really stepped it up," said Stephens. "But I was especially proud at how they kept us in the game when we were down early."?
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Timpview never developed a running game and finished with minus-11 yards rushing. Nelson, however, threw touchdown passes to Rickey Shumway and Austin Fullmer in the opening period for the 14-0 lead. The T-Birds seemed ready to add to it shortly afterward but, after reaching the Alta 14-yard line, a bad snap sailed over Nelson's head and Alta recovered.
On Timpview's next drive, Gregson Aspinall fumbled after a long run. Alta didn't let opportunity pass.
"We had our opportunities and didn't take advantage," said Wong. "You can't miss those when you play good teams."