High school football: Leopards' stellar defensive effort goes for naught
SALT LAKE CITY — For 47 minutes and 24 seconds, the East defense was nearly perfect in the 4A state championship game against Logan.
During that stretch the Leopards shut down the high-powered Logan attack. A week after setting a single-game record of 606 yards of total offense, Grizzly star quarterback D.J. Nelson was held to a paltry 168 yards. Logan averaged 45.5 points per game, and had scored only 10 points through three quarters and all but the last 36 seconds of the fourth.
So, although Logan hooked up on a 40-yard TD pass in those closing seconds, much credit still deserves to be heaped on East, its stellar defensive effort and even more specifically the play of the Leopards' defensive line.
"Those big kids, they're fast and they're big. Best D-line I've ever seen," said Logan's Jameson Hartman, who caught the game-winning touchdown.
"We've got pretty good kids," said East coach Brandon Matich. "It's a great D-line. We knew we outmatched them up front."
From the opening snap the big, fast and athletic linemen consistently beat the man in front of them and put pressure on Nelson. Even on plays where he was able to stand in the pocket and deliver a pass, he usually ended up on his back.
"It was part of our game plan to get in and hit him every chance we got," said defensive tackle Fisi Valikoula. "We didn't do anything fancy. We just lined up, beat our man and then tried to get to the quarterback."
"We knew that if you can keep hitting a guy that eventually he can get rattled, so we kept hitting him," said defensive end John Fakahafua.
East had only three official sacks — one by Korey Rush, 1.5 by Merrill Taliauli and a half from Sione Leaaetoa — but two helped result in two points, after back-to-back sacks had Logan punting deep in its own territory and the snap sailed over the punter's head and out of the end zone for a safety.
The East line and the rest of the defense held the Grizzlies to 47 rush yards and only 182 total.
"We just tried to go out and play our game," said Rush. "We have a great group of linemen and we all just did our jobs."
It was little solace for East's players, coaches and fans that were emotional wrecks after the game, but in every stat that counts but the all-important points, the East defense was the best unit on the field.
"They (East defensive line) were fast. I knew it on film. They were big, fast, physical and smart," said Logan coach Mike Favero. "I had a feeling it would be a defensive dogfight and most people expected a lot of points but I didn't. As good as their defense was, I think only two teams have scored 20 points against them all year long, and we won one of them in that crazy short week game which was an aberration."