I still think Preston Curtis is the best athlete I’ve ever coached,” said Matich. “He may be the best player in the state of Utah athletically. That’s why we call him joystick. He’s a human highlight film. —East head coach Brandon Matich
SALT LAKE CITY — Ula Toluta’u knew that he would eventually become the main focus of opposing defenses.
But after rushing for 321 yards and three touchdowns last week, the senior running back said it felt strange to only rush for 133 yards and one touchdown in East’s 42-6 win over Woods Cross Friday night.
“They were keying on me a lot,” said the fullback. “I knew throughout this region that the defenses will key on me, but I have faith in all my other running backs. ... It was weird. Last week I got so many touches, so many yards.”
And then he added, with a shy smile, that he will eventually find opportunities — just like he did after his team started the second half by recovering an onside kick.
“I had faith in (my teammates), but the second half, that first play, that was fun,” he said. Toluta’u ran 61 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the second half. It was just one of the team’s impressive moments in its Region 6-opening victory.
The team’s opening play of the game was a 65-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Isaac Valles.
“We knew we could run triple on them,” said East head coach Brandon Matich. “We opened up with triple; we blocked the perimeter very well; and that’s a credit to my kids and the way they blocked the play and we got off and running.”
In the second quarter, Curtis turned a screen pass into a 74-yard touchdown play thanks to a great move near the line of scrimmage that allowed him to shake a would-be tackler.
“I still think Preston Curtis is the best athlete I’ve ever coached,” said Matich. “He may be the best player in the state of Utah athletically. That’s why we call him joystick. He’s a human highlight film. That spot pass wasn’t there. He just made it happen.” Curtis said the team has focused on getting off to a quick start offensively each game.
“We were lucky enough to have it open on the first play and capitalize on it,” he said of Valles’ opening touchdown.
The Wildcats' best play came when the team’s defense recovered one of East’s six fumbles at the 25-yard line with eight minutes left in the third quarter. A play later, quarterback Clay Kidman threw a beautiful 25-yard pass to Sean Gallagher for the team’s only score. The extra point attempt was blocked by East.
Matich said he was bothered by the fumbles, but even more so by the penalties for which his team was flagged.
“The penalties bother me more though,” Matich said. “We’ve got to work on those penalties. It just seems to be our Achilles' heel this year. We seem to get penalties, drive-killing penalties, and we’ve got to fix those things.”
Toluta’u almost had a second touchdown when he ran 13 yards into the end zone, but then fumbled. Offensive lineman Sione Tuikolovatu (known by his teammates as Sione Baby) jumped on the ball for the touchdown.
Toluta’u laughed when asked about it.
“We’ll say that was Sione’s,” he said. “As soon as I fumbled it, I hear, ‘I got! I got it! Touchdown me!’”
Matich said Toluta’u’s improved performance in the second half was due, in part, to better blocking by his teammates.
“We just executed better,” he said “I got on them a little bit at halftime about the way they were getting off the football on the edge. And we got off the ball. That particular play that he had that long run to start the second half, I think it was just a matter of execution.”
Curtis finished with 180 yards rushing and three touchdowns, while Valles added 107 yards passing and 140 yards rushing with one touchdown in the air and one on the ground. The 4-0 Leopards finished with 502 yards of total offense.
“It’s huge to start off with a win in region against Woods Cross,” said Matich. "We’ve got some tough games coming up in region with Highland and Bountiful and Cyprus has been doing a lot better. The biggest thing from tonight is that we got a win.”