FILLMORE — It was not the semifinal finish any player worked for or any coach envisioned.
But frustration between fans, coaches and players boiled over in the second half of an eighth-grade little league playoff game between South Sevier and Juab on Saturday, forcing officials to end the contest with six minutes left in the fourth quarter after the Juab quarterbacks were injured multiple times.
"It's an unfortunate series of events," said Juab High head football coach Mike Bowring, who was at the game in Fillmore and who oversees the Wasps' little league program, including training the coaches. "Those kids are the ones who lose out. They practice all of those hours to play. And they didn't get to play that last quarter of football. It's too bad it went that way."
The game was just another hard-fought, small-town football game until just before halftime. That's when Juab coaches called for an onside kick with a 30-6 lead and about 30 seconds left in the second quarter.
The kick went out of bounds and South Sevier got the ball near midfield, but the move upset South Sevier fans and many yelled insults at Juab coaches for what they saw as an unsportsmanlike decision. (Onside kicks are traditionally utilized when a team is trying to make a comeback, not when leading by more than three touchdowns.)
Both teams came out in the third quarter and continued to play without incident, although fans were still upset and continued yelling at Juab coaches.
"It was kind of a dogfight, but nothing was going on," said Travis Ludlow, who is a Juab assistant coach and the parent of a player on the team. It wasn't until a series of plays that Juab coaches saw as "dirty" that the situation spiraled out of control. South Sevier head coach Ryan Tobler adamantly denied he or any of his coaches instructed the players to employ illegal or dirty tactics.
"We never once asked our kids to do anything dirty or unfair," said Tobler, who has coached the team for seven years. "I've never coached my kids that way, and I would never ask my kids to play that way."
He said he instructed his players during the halftime break not to give up.
"I told them, 'We're not out of this,' " said Tobler. " 'I want you to come out and play hard. Don't come out and lay down. This is the semifinals. Play with pride and play hard.' "
The plays in question all involved Juab quarterbacks. The first one happened late in the third quarter when the starting QB was hit hard enough that he had to come out of the game.
Coaches put in the second-string quarterback, and on his first play, he was hit hard enough that he also had to leave the game, and as of Sunday morning continued to complain about a headache from an apparent concussion. On that play, officials called a 15-yard penalty on the hit for helmet-to-helmet contact.
"We called one helmet-to-helmet contact," said head official Skeeter Sterma. It was ruled an illegal hit but "I don't think it was deliberate."
Tobler didn't see it because it happened away from the ball.
"We were starting to see things were getting out of control," Ludlow said.
It was at that point, that officials called the four team captains from each team to midfield to try and regain control of the contest.
After that meeting, the starting quarterback had recovered enough that he wanted to go back in the game and coaches obliged. During his first series back in the game, he was hit, and "this time he was laid flat," Ludlow said.
"At this point, everyone was going crazy," said Ludlow. "Our coaches are yelling at their coaches to take control of their kids."
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