PAYSON — Spectacular bursts of lightning lit up the sky above Payson High School Friday night. But it was nothing compared to the aerial assault launched by Salem Hills that lit up the Payson Lions' defense in the much anticipated rivalry game between the two teams.
The Payson Lions roared onto the field with a solid opening drive, putting their reputable running game on display. But in the end it was just no match for the Skyhawks' high-octane offense led by junior quarterback Porter Gustin, who finished the game with 266 passing yards on 18 of 37 attempts with one interception. Gustin also managed to gain 81 yards on 19 carries to lead the Skyhawks to a 21-12 victory.
The game had all the makings of yet another hard fought, down and dirty grudge match between these two teams when the first quarter ended with no score on the board for either side. With 11:17 left in the second quarter, Salem Hills drew first blood with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Gustin to his older brother Gunnar Gustin. The Gustin brothers connected again on a 17-yard bomb with 58 seconds left in the first half putting the Skyhawks up 14-0 at halftime.
The Lions' running game took a big hit in the middle of the first quarter when Kyle Moffat, who had an impressive 15 carries for 183 yards and 3 touchdowns last week against Provo, sustained a game-ending injury. Along with the loss of a key player in Moffat, the Lions were plagued with a flurry of penalties costing them big chunks of yardage and momentum. Despite those setbacks they managed to score in both the third and fourth quarters, but came up short on the point after touchdown both times.
With 11:50 to go in the fourth, Gustin launched another well placed 39-yard strike to senior wide receiver Zac Zobell to give the Skyhawks their final touchdown of the night making the final score 21-12.
The Skyhawk defense came up with several big stops that secured the hard fought victory for Salem Hills. Leading the Skyhawks with 10 tackles for the second week in a row was senior Walker Van Tassell.
“Van Tassell was huge for us tonight,” said Salem Hills head coach Joel Higginson.
“Overall it wasn’t pretty, we didn’t play our best, and made some costly mistakes," Higginson said. "But when it comes to games like these, you are relieved to escape with the victory - as ugly as it was. "Payson did a good job, I was impressed with what they brought tonight.”