WEST VALLEY CITY – When a football game features friends and family members who have known each other their whole lives facing off against each other, it's bound to be a high-intensity contest.
That's why it probably comes as no surprise that the Hunter vs. West game wasn't decided until 30 seconds remained in regulation. That's when West's Taurus Dickerson stepped in front of a Jairo Tarver pass to intercept it and to seal a 20-13 Panthers victory.
"This was a huge victory for our team," said West coach Justin Spencer.
"This is a smash-mouth rivalry. We were very fortunate to win this game."
Much of the game proved to be a hard-fought defensive battle. The Wolverines took a 6-0 lead with just over three minutes to play in the first when Tarver hit Devonte Maez for a six-yard touchdown.
West quarterback Alex Espinoza answered with a 2-yard keeper with 9:27 to play in the second. His run capped a six-play drive, set up by Adrian Lopez's recovery of a Tarver fumble.
Turnovers and penalties were the story of the game. The game featured six turnovers and West was flagged for an unprecedented seven personal foul penalties.
"That has to stop," Spencer said of the penalties. "That's my fault. I take full responsibility."
Spencer said Hunter's defense stopped his team's game plan virtually the entire game. His scheme, he said, was to run a spread offense and move the ball through the air.
"Hunter stopped us," he said. "They forced us inside the tackles almost all night."
"Almost" proved to be the key word."
Trailing 13-7 in the fourth quarter, Espinoza managed to get outside the tackles and throw to his right. He found Dickerson wide open for an 82-yard touchdown strike that gave the Panthers a 14-13 lead with 4:51 to go.
On Hunter's ensuing drive, Eric Takenaka picked off a Tarver pass attempt and returned it 22 yards for a score. A tipped pass attempt on a fake PAT kick attempt left the score at 20-13.
A block in the back penalty forced Hunter to start at their own 11. West held to a three-and-out, but the Wolverines elected a fake punt and Maez took a reverse and scampered 16 yards on fourth-and-10 to pick up a first down.Comment on this story
During the drive, Tarver hooked up with Maez for passes of 11, 9, and 13 yards to move the ball to the Panthers 35 with 45 seconds to play. Then, rolling to his right and firing for Maez again, Tarver threw the interception to Dickerson to seal the West victory.
"These two teams are really developing an intense rivalry," Spencer said.
"We've only played three times. Last year we won on the last play of the game, and this year it came down to the very end. I'm so impressed with Hunter. They're a very good football team."
Spencer said his team was fortunate to win.
"(Hunter head coach) Les Hamilton is really established in this league," he said. "Everyone knows that the road to the Region (2) championship always goes through Hunter."