SALT LAKE CITY — East High’s road to the 4A semifinals at Rice-Eccles Stadium Friday afternoon was far different from any other team in the history of Utah high school football.
The Leopards, who were found guilty of playing ineligible players, were granted leniency by the UHSAA. They were allowed to participate in the playoffs instead of having to forfeit all the games in which they placed ineligible players on the field.
The team banded together and officially qualified for the postseason with a win against Mountain View and followed suit with victories over Herriman and Box Elder to get to the semis. Accordingly, East had been given an opportunity to make perhaps the most improbable run to the state championship ever.
But the Leopards' inability to maintain possession (four fumbles) amidst adverse weather conditions along with Timpview’s efficiency in the passing game prevented East from continuing that unlikely run. Timpview beat the Leopards, 32-14, Thursday at Rice-Eccles Stadium in the 4A semis to end East's roller-coaster season.
“Obviously I’m very proud. It’s very tough to see these seniors go out like this,” East coach Brandon Matich said with his hands resting on his knees while fighting back emotions. “We overcame a lot of adversity to get to where we are and they’re a good bunch of boys and they deserve better than this. We just couldn’t hold onto the football.
“They made it a long way. I’m proud of them,” Matich continued. “I don’t think they should have gone through adversity in the first place. It was unneeded, unwanted adversity.”
John Fakahafua, who has signed a national letter of intent to play for Utah State next season, painted the adversity as an example that can be used at East for years to come.
“It just shows the younger classmen that whatever is thrown at them early in the season, no matter what you do, if you work hard and dedicate yourself to the team — you’ll pull through,” he said.
Fakahafua attributed the ability to fight through hard times to the feeling of family within the program.
“I am just proud of the boys. We pulled through the whole season. It was a well-fought season and it sucks that we ended up short,” he said. “There’s a lot of teams in the state that call themselves a family. East High is the one that family means more than what it said. It means a brotherhood — it carries throughout the offseason. It’s a tight group this year.”