4A football playoffs: East tops Skyline in must-see thriller
SALT LAKE CITY — How fortuitous that KJZZ's cameras and crew happened to be at East High on Friday.
Some football games are so exciting, so drama-filled, so fun to watch, they deserve to be seen by a wide audience.
Put East's 20-13 victory over Skyline — a 4A quarterfinal doozy that went down-to the last second and the last foot of the football field — in that must-see-TV category.
"I'm real excited for my boys that they get a chance," East coach Brandon Matich said. "Wow. Unbelievable."
Moments after East quarterback Jason Cook leaped over the goal line for a go-ahead touchdown, the Leopards' defense held off a never-say-quit Skyline squad at the 1-foot line with 19 seconds left to preserve an exhilarating win.
"Oh man, I can't even talk right now," an exuberant East standout running back Liti Molisi said. "Coming into this game, I was telling my boys, 'Man, we all got to stay together, stay strong, believe.'"
Because the Leopards indeed did all of that — while getting a sensational 158-yard rushing game from the speedy senior — East earned a semifinal matchup with Timpview.
"This is not me, man. I give it all (the credit) to my team," the 5-10, 175-pound Molisi said. "They helped me, and we're just ready to take the walk up there."
Up there, of course, is the football field a few blocks east of East: Rice-Eccles Stadium.
While the Leopards wouldn't get to play on Utah's turf without Molisi — after begin eliminated in the quarterfinals last season — he wasn't just being humble.
The 11-1 Leopards received big efforts from multiple key players in escaping this one against Skyline (7-4).
Juniors Merrill Taliauli and P.J. Nu'usa made big defensive plays throughout the game; Cook effectively orchestrated East's offense, throwing for two TDs and running for another; and Zach Swenson came up with one of the most surprising — and most critical — runs when the Leopards needed it most.
Skyline kicker Izic Yapias tied the game at 13-all with his second field goal four minutes into the fourth quarter.
That's when East made what turned out to be a game-winning drive.
Fullback Ula Tolutau busted loose for a 25-yard run on East's first play. For the next few minutes, Molisi and Tolutau traded turns churning and earning small gains.
The Leopards seemed to be in trouble after a holding penalty put them in a third-and-16 situation on Skyline's 35. East assistant Mikey Collins suggested a reverse, and Swenson made the Eagles pay with a game-changing 32-yard run to the 3-yard line.
"They (Skyline players) were really coming and overloading and going with our motions," Matich said. "So we thought we'd get them on a counter. ... It was a great call (by Collins)."
Added Matich: "Let's give Zach Swenson credit. Skyline actually did a nice job of defending it, but Zach found a crease. He broke a tackle and then headed down the sidelines, so he actually made a great run."
Cook then went airborne with 2:13 remaining to put East ahead.
To Skyline's credit, the Eagles didn't give up — not even after starting quarterback Zac Williams left with injured ribs.
Backup Tyler Snyder admirably filled in for the Eagles' playmaker, leading Skyline 66 yards up field in two minutes — thanks especially to terrific receptions by Chris Williams (13 yards) and Dylan Daugherty (34 yards).
Skyline's comeback bid ended, however, when the ball popped out of Snyder's hands and into East's possession on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
"It's a tough one to lose. East is going to do well in the playoffs," a teary-eyed Skyline coach Roger DuPaix said. "We feel bad that we're not there and that the season's over. ... It was a bummer."
Yet at the same time a special moment for Molisi, whose older brother Kalama played for Skyline, and for Matich, who used to be on DuPaix's staff.
"It's special to beat Roger because I look up to him so much," Matich said. "But to me, it's about my guys. It doesn't matter if we're playing Skyline, Bingham, Timpview or Logan. It's just about what we're doing."
Which happened to be winning a made-for-TV thriller on this afternoon.
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