SALT LAKE CITY — It's been a long time since East played on the final weekend of the high school football season.
Well folks, the wait is finally over.
The Leopards (12-1) earned an invitation to the championship party for the first time since 1996 after a come-from-behind 24-10 victory against Timpview at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Thursday afternoon.
"I have great kids — it's a credit to them," said East coach Brandon Matich. "I believe that I have the best young men in the state. They're just wonderful boys and one young lady.
"It feels awesome," he continued. "You know what though? We can't be happy with just playing in the championship. We've got to come out on all cylinders and play a team (Logan) that hasn't been beat and has really flat out been florin' people. So we need to be ready and prepared and can't just be happy to be in the dance."
Early on it looked as if Timpview (10-3) was going to conduct the same playoff remedy that it's so famously known for.
The Thunderbirds, on the opening possession, took an 11-play drive deep into East territory before ultimately stalling and settling for a 34-yard field goal by Tyler Solorzano.
Then on the first East possession, Solorzano pounced on a loose ball after a pitch went array on the opposite side of the 50 yard-line.
It didn't take long for the T-Birds to go back to work from there. One play following a gamble on fourth-and-1, quarterback Jake Lloyd rolled to the strong side of the field and found Ricky Shumway for a 21-yard touchdown to take a 10-0 lead with 2:24 remaining in the first quarter.
"When we went down 10-nothing we looked at each other — you know how you just get that look in your eyes where you believe in each other," said East quarterback Jason Cook. "It doesn't matter what the score is or who we're playing — we're just going to play our game and believe in each other."
From that point on — it was something off the Discovery Channel. The Leopards were on the prowl.
The ensuing drive, Cook took a delayed draw up the gut — and went untouched for a quick 68-yard score to put life back into the veins of the East sideline.
In the first half, East struggled with mental mistakes — coughing the ball up twice and committing numerous penalties. The Leopards finished with 11 setbacks for 75 yards.
"We talked about it at halftime," Matich said. "I said, 'We can't win and beat a good team in the semifinal game doing that stuff.' I didn't feel like they were stopping us or defending us well enough to have the score to be what it was — I just felt like we were really hurting ourselves with stupid penalties and fumbles."
East had just missed a field goal after a delay of game penalty giving Timpview the opportunity to take advantage of a deflated team. It elected to try to score rather than keep the ball on the ground and milk the clock. The decision soon turned into a haunting.
Cook, playing in the secondary, jumped a forced pass two plays into the drive and returned it the 16-yard line.
The following snap, Liti Molisi sprinted past the pylon to give East the 14-10 lead.
"Our coaches prepared us well to know that they like to runs routes to the sticks," said Cook about the interception. "So it was third and 10 — I was ready to bite it. Luckily it wasn't an out-and-up cause I probably would have gotten burned."23 comments on this story
With the lead in the second half the Leopards pounded the ball relentlessly with Cook, Molisi and sophomore Preston Curtis while their defense countered every move that Timpview threw at them.
The three backs combined for 333 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.
"Credit to my O-line — it's the best O-line in the state of Utah. We cannot be stopped, that's not bragging, that's just the confidence level that we're at," said an exuberant Molisi. "We're going to just keep going; gonna celebrate a little bit — walk ahead tomorrow (and) everything is on Logan."