SALT LAKE CITY — Walking off the field at halftime, the Olympus coaching staff was at a loss.
Trailing 14-0 and being thoroughly outplayed, the Titans' coaches resorted to giving the Northridge Knights a heavy dose of playmaker Connor Haller while receiving a lot of luck.
They benefited from both.
Haller grabbed a 22-yard over-the-shoulder catch in the corner of the end zone with 1:43 left, and the Titans took advantage of five turnovers to rally for a 21-17 win Friday night in a nonregion game.
“This was a special night these kids will always remember. They never gave up,” said Olympus coach Aaron Whitehead, who was thrown into the locker room shower after the emotional win and ahead of his 40th birthday on Sunday.
Friday's key play came in the third quarter when quarterback Chase Manning threw a backward pass to Haller, who lofted a 51-yard completion to Taylor Ellis on 3rd-and-long that set up the Titans' first score.
“We were stagnant on offense,” said Whitehead. “I usually don’t like to have to rely on a trick play, but we needed something. The kids just executed and it gave us a big lift.”
Haller, a wide receiver/defensive back, caught five passes for 70 yards, including the touchdown. He also rushed four times for 46 yards, completed his only pass and secured the game-winning interception at the end.
“Colleges are missing out if they don’t go after Connor Haller,” Whitehead said. “I’m going to make it my mission to promote that kid.”
For much of the first half, Northridge quarterback Nate Kasuda was having a magical game. Kasuda completed 13 of his first 14 passes, and the one he missed was dropped.
The Knights scored on their first possession, and their defense consistently stuffed Oly.
But three interceptions, two fumbles and a pair of ineligible receiver downfield penalties doomed them. The two fumbles came in the first half, deep in Oly territory. The penalties also negated big plays that had the Knights set up inside the Titans’ 20-yard line.
Afterward, while the Titan faithful celebrated on their new, luxurious home field, the Knights were clearly frustrated.
“Quite the game,” said Northridge coach Erik Thompson, whose team is 0-2 with 10 turnovers so far this season. “If we can’t play smarter, we’re going to struggle. At least we know what we need to clean up.”
Dayan Lake was a workhorse for Northridge, rushing for 79 yards on 20 carries. For Oly, Manning completed 12 of 20 passes for 124 yards. More importantly, the Titans did not have any turnovers.
Bruce Smith grew up in Boise, Idaho, and is a longtime newspaper sports writer. He writes primarily high-school sports articles for the Deseret News.