5A football playoffs: Syracuse posts bittersweet win over Alta, lose starting quarterback
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SYRACUSE — It's difficult to imagine the conflicting range of emotions that must have swept over the Syracuse High football team, its fans and community on Friday night.
The Titans had just knocked off Alta, 31-24, in a dandy of a 5A quarterfinal duel, and yet their tremendous elation and excitement were tempered by equal parts of sadness, frustration and despair.
Why? Because their stellar starting quarterback and place-kicker, senior Brock Anderson, tore the Achilles tendon in his right leg with just under four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Thus, he'll be sidelined when unbeaten Syracuse (11-0) squares off with Bingham in a 5A semifinal showdown next Thursday at 11 a.m. at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Bingham (10-2) blasted Syracuse's Region 1 rival Fremont, 38-0, in its own quarterfinal clash Friday.
"Real gritty," Syracuse coach Russ Jones said in summing up his team's performance. "It took everything we had to get it done and it's bittersweet because we lost our quarterback. But the kids just sucked it up and got after it and it was a great performance by everybody on our team."
Before sustaining his devastating season-ending injury, Anderson had thrown for one touchdown and ran for two more, including a 3-yard plunge with 9:50 left to play that broke a 24-all tie and put the Titans back on top.
But on Syracuse's next possession, Anderson — scrambling out of the pocket on 3rd-and-long — stepped forward and suddenly went down without being hit. The postgame prognosis confirmed the Titans' worst fears — a torn Achilles, a cruel injury that will end his high school football career.
"I think they've been good all year with adversity," Jones said. "The kids played their hearts out, they really did.
"It's gonna be tough (without Anderson). It's gonna be a tough week, but we've just gotta prepare. We've just got to have the next guys step up and raise their game and bring their level up. We've got to be ready for the next game. ... We're just gonna lay it on the line and see what we can do."
Syracuse jumped out ahead 17-0 in the first quarter, taking advantage of three Alta fumbles to build a quick double-digit lead. After Koa Mo'o pounced on the Hawks' first turnover at the Alta 39, Anderson soon flipped a 5-yard touchdown pass to Diante Mitchell. Then on the Hawks' next possession, the Titans' Teague Vigil scooped up another Alta fumble and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown that made it 14-0 with 6:27 still showing on the first-quarter clock.
Alta fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Dillon Spencer recovered at the Alta 32 to set the stage for Anderson's 31-yard field goal that made with 17-0 with 4:04 still remaining in the first period.
But the Hawks didn't panic, and Chipper Lucero soon got the Hawks' vaunted passing game in high gear. Lucero, who completed 28-of-43 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns, hooked up with Mack Richards on a 38-yard TD toss to trim the Titans' lead to 17-7.
Syracuse then went on a 14-play, 80-yard drive which ended when Anderson punched it into the end zone from a yard out for a 24-7 lead.
But Alta roared right back, as Lucero lofted a 27-yard touchdown pass to Ammon Barker that made it 24-14 at halftime.
Tanner Valerio nailed a 29-yard field goal late in the third period that cut the Hawks' deficit to 24-17, and when Anderson's pass was picked off by Alex Jolley at the Syracuse 7, Lucero soon zipped a 5-yard touchdown pass to Logan Harrison that tied it at 24 with 2:02 left in the third quarter.
Then Anderson went to work again after a 50-yard kickoff return by Kavika Fonua gave the Titans prime field position. Anderson's running and passing, plus the rushing of Mason Woodward, pushed Syracuse to the Alta 3, and Anderson sliced into the end zone from there for a 31-24 lead.
Alta had three more possessions after that, with the first one ending in a punt. The Hawks were threatening on their next one, though, driving as deep as the Syracuse 20 when Fonua rose up to pick off Lucero's pass in the end zone and snuff that threat.
"I just saw it all the way I had to get one interception this game, and I got it," Fonua said. "We watched tons of film and just getting their plays down, that helped us a lot from watching film. We had to get one stop and someone had to stop it, so I had to do it."
Coach Jones wasn't the least bit surprised he did.
"He's a gamer; Kavika's a gamer," he said. "He gets the job done, he really does, and you can always count on him. He's a good ballplayer."
Then with time running out, Lucero's last-gasp pass was swatted away by the Titans' Dillon Spencer in the end zone to preserve the dramatic victory.
"I thought our kids hung in there and did a good job, as far as the front seven and then the four in the backfield," said Jones, who will thrust senior Spencer Johnson into Anderson's starting QB role. "I thought they did a great job as far as coverage.
"They've got some tremendous athletes, they really do," he said of the Hawks.