Ben Brewer, Deseret News
East (3-7) at Herriman (8-2)
4A state tournament first round
Saturday, 5 p.m.
Parry’s Power Guide: East by 18
All-time series: First meeting
HERRIMAN — For a first-round game, it truly doesn’t get any more intriguing. Between the quality of play from both teams, the relenting controversy, and basically two would-be region champions squaring off simply to earn a berth in the quarterfinals is unprecedented.
After one of the most bizarre, head-scratching, emotional situations in Utah high school athletic history, Herriman will host East, arguably the best team in 4A, Saturday at 5 p.m. at Herriman High.
“Honestly it wasn’t just about a Herriman game, it was about what we thought was an irrational decision,” Mustangs coach Larry Wilson said of the ruling that allowed East to participate in the 4A playoffs subsequent to being found guilty of playing with ineligible players. “Whether the decision would have been no forfeitures or all forfeitures for (East and Timpview) — people may have agreed or disagreed, but it was a punishment that would have been applied across the board to the offending schools.
“I think that’s what frustrated a lot of people, and then when there was no rationale as to why that decision was made and to try and find those answers led more to it than anything else."
However, ironically, the decision ultimately could serve a better interest for the Region 7 No. 1 seeded Mustangs (8-2). If East (3-7) were to retain its No. 1 seed instead of its current No. 4 position, the two programs, assuming both advanced past the first two rounds, would have eventually met on a neutral field at Rice-Eccles Stadium. In this scenario, Herriman gets a crack at the Leopards on its home turf in front of what’s sure to be a record-breaking crowd.
Nonetheless, Wilson still preferred the other route.
“We really haven’t really thought in terms of when we’d rather play them,” he said. “I think that obviously if we play them as the No. 1 seed at Rice-Eccles Stadium in the semifinals that would have only meant that we were fortunate to win the first two games, which would have been significant for a third-year program.
“For a new program that has never won a first-round game (and is) trying to establish (itself) as a legitimate team, those are benchmarks that every team certainly works for,” Wilson continued. “I guess because of what it would have meant to our program we would have rather got them in the third round because that would have been huge to our program.”
The Leopards, who enter as 18-point favorites, were perhaps the most dominate team in the state before the sanctions were levied against them. East, operating from the triple option despite calling off the dogs in many lopsided fourth quarters, rushed for 2,683 yards and 43 touchdowns.
Ula Tulutau carried the bulk of the production with 1,012 yards and nine scores. Quarterback Issac Valles has been incredibly effective directing the passing game with 13 touchdowns and only one interception while completing slightly over 70 percent of his attempts.
Defensively is where East has truly shined, and up until its first “true” loss against Logan in the final week of the season, in the midst of the sanction hearings, it hadn’t given up more than 13 points in a single game.