High school football: Baron Gajkowski, fierce defense fuel Lone Peak's playoff victory over Syracuse
Ravell Call, Deseret News
SYRACUSE — A dominating defense has been Syracuse High's dynamic calling card all season long.
But in Friday's 5A first-round playoff matchup, Lone Peak turned the tables on the Titans. The Knights came up with a fierce defensive effort of their own that stymied the Syracuse offense, and stellar senior quarterback Baron Gajkowski scored two rushing touchdowns in Lone Peak's impressive 21-13 road victory.
Chase Armstrong had two huge interceptions for the Lone Peak defense. He returned his first one 47 yards for a third-quarter touchdown that gave the Knights a 21-10 lead and turned it into a two-score deficit, while his second interception snuffed a Syracuse scoring threat deep in Lone Peak territory late in the third quarter.
"We watched that (play) on film all week,” Armstrong said of his pick-six. " ... I just watched it all the way, read the quarterback, saw him throw it and I was just happy I could be in the right place at the right time.
"I just saw green grass in front of me. (Isaac) Fotu blocked the (Syracuse) quarterback at the end and helped me get in.
"I think it was really big," he said of his game-changing play. " ... They were in a position where they could come down and score and it would've changed the whole form of the game, and getting that pick we were just able to swing (the momentum) back over, get us on top, and give us a good cushion and lead."
Gajkowski got Lone Peak (7-4) on the scoreboard on the first possession of the game, capping the Knights' drive by going 1 yard for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Syracuse immediately responded, as Kavika Fonua broke off a 71-yard scoring scamper on the Titans' first play from scrimmage to tie it up at 7.
"It was just a miscommunication on (their) first drive," Armstrong said. "We just had to come together. I think it was just first-game jitters, you know. We were able to come over (to the sideline) and Coach (Jared) Harward sat us down and talked to us and said, you know, 'Calm down; keep your head in the game.'
"And we were able to figure it out and just go from there and play as a unit. I mean, you've got 11 guys doing their job at the same time, good things are gonna happen."
Late in the first quarter, Syracuse kicker Romney Harker connected on a 43-yard field goal that gave the Titans a 10-7 lead.
But midway through the second period, the visiting Knights mounted a drive behind the running of Gajkowski and Erik Ostrom. On fourth-and-1, Gajkowski broke loose around the right side and scooted down the sideline for a 24-yard TD burst that made it 14-10 until halftime.
"They covered our guys really well, but with how many studs we have all over the field, it really enables me to just kinda go free," Gajkowski said. "They've got guys they have to worry about — (Dylan) Murdock, (Erik) Ostrom, (Zach) Buhrley — and all these guys running all over the field, so they just kinda forget about me back there.
"So it's so fun playing with these guys because they're watching them and kinda fall asleep and I just kinda get to waltz around sometimes.
"It looks like I'm doing all the work but, to be honest, it's my linemen moving guys around and pushing 'em," the Knights' quarterback said. "They did a great job tonight. It kinda makes me mad; I get most of the credit for so-called moves and stuff, but that's not me. It's my guys up front. Those five guys push guys around and really dominated this game. I think that's the reason why we won tonight."
On the opening drive of the second half, Armstrong came up with his pick-six to make it 21-10, and the Titans were in trouble as Lone Peak's defense kept coming up with big play after big play.