Ravell Call, Deseret News
OREM — Almost exactly a month ago, Salem Hills beat Orem in a non-region football game.
Neither coach, however, is putting much stock in that result.
While Salem Hills, the fourth seed from Region 8, won that game, it lost starting quarterback Porter Gustin to a broken hand.
“He’s such a special player, so it’s tough, but we’ve battled through it,” said Salem Hills head coach Joel Higginson.
In fact, the team won two games using two different backups, Chad Peterson and Nate Wilson. Both juniors, the quarterbacks have been fighting for the starting job in this weekend’s playoff game at Orem.
“They each have a little different style than the other,” Higginson said. “They’re really working hard and fighting for that spot. We’re not quite sure who we’re going to use yet, maybe a combination.”
The most difficult aspect of losing a quarterback who has the skills and confidence of Gustin is that so many aspects of the offense suffer.
“Timing really becomes an issue, and we’ve had a few interceptions and turnovers because of it,” Higginson said. “It’s just a matter of one of them getting more comfortable, more confident and more experience.”
Even with the team’s losses in the last two games of the season, these players have given the school the best football season in school history. The Skyhawks were on a four-game winning streak when they lost to Maple Mountain (eight turnovers) and Spanish Fork (four turnovers).
“It’s been really good for our community,” Higginson said. “This is the best team we’ve had. We have a really tough team that can compete at a really high level. They’re one of those unique teams that honestly could surprise you — either way.”
Higginson said he knows traveling to Orem’s home field will be tough.
“We have a ton of respect for Orem,” Higginson said. “They’re capable of doing great things.”
Orem finished in a three-way tie for first place in Region 7 with Olympus and Corner Canyon. The Tigers won the coin flip, which means hosting the Thunder Friday at 4 p.m.
“We’re excited to get another shot at (Salem Hills),” said Orem head coach Tyler Anderson. “Being able to play them at home is an advantage for us. It’s always a good thing to be able to get a shot at somebody you lost to earlier in the year. It’s good motivation to play hard.”
The Tigers will rely on quarterback Tucker Camp, who’s thrown for 2,255 yards and 21 touchdowns this season.
The Tigers started the year with three straight losses, followed by two non-region wins. Then they started region play with a loss to Olympus, followed by that five-point loss to Salem Hills.
Anderson said one of the best attributes of this year’s squad is the ability of the players to come together rather than fracture under the pressure of losing.
“Our kids are really resilient in how they stuck together,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to stay together and keep believing when you’re losing three in a row. But they always knew we had some talented kids on our team. We got some things squared away, and I’m happy with the way they stuck together and came out the rest of the season to compete.”
Salem Hills statistical breakdown
(Note: Individual yardage stats don’t include Weeks 9 and 10)
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