Season in seclusion, Part 2: Sanctions put the East High Leopards in crisis
They’d yawned through the regular season at record-setting pace. This story feels familiar, like a haunting folklore shadowing the program. “We’ve been recognized as a powerful team in regular season,” Tennessee said, “but come to playoffs we can’t finish.”
Rush agreed: “East teams in the past were always going to win games in the regular season and then we get to the playoffs and lose. I feel like we get stagnant and we get comfortable. I want us to keep gaining every day.”
“I do think it’s concerning,” Matich said of the repeating blowouts. “(When I coached) at Park City, we probably played in the worst region in America. We were beating teams 60-0 and we got in the playoffs and we play Hurricane and they pushed us back. You can’t prepare for that.
“I think our kids will be fine. They’re a tough group and they’ve been through a lot of adversity. But it is concerning.”
East draws Roy in the first round. Valles trots out with his newly trimmed cockatoo mohawk. It whips forward with every throw. “I did that by choice — it looks worse than it should,” he giggles before bantering with Tolutau about playing Xbox during warm-ups. He’d lost 6-0 in FIFA. “I’ve been working on my ‘NCAA,’ ‘Madden’ and ‘Assassin’s Creed,’” he excuses. “I’m probably the best on the team and that’s no joke. I’m serious. You’re in for a treat — I’ll play with Rice and I’ll beat you.”
The fourth-seeded Royals prove no different than the 10 before. East cements a 24-0 lead on Curtis’ 67-yard sweep, Isaac Anthony’s 34-yard field goal, Valles’ 2-yard dive and Solovi’s 33-yard run. The Leopards pile up 65 points on their way to the quarterfinals.
Days later the groundskeeper soils dirt to replenish the grass field. Polynesians joke about the comforting Island texture. “Only eight teams in 4A have practice today,” assistant coach Mikey Collins spouts. “You know what Highland is doing today? Basketball tryouts.”
Players absorb the moment knowing spectators will litter Tally Stevens Stadium with sunflower seeds and pistachio shells one last time in witness of first-year program Corner Canyon. They salivate at the mention of returning to Rice-Eccles Stadium. “You are 48 minutes away from walking to your next home game,” Matich preaches. “That stadium you see every day — no one has more right than you to play there. You are 48 minutes away, but so are they. You have to earn the right.”
The message resonates. Solovi single-handily accounts for a 14-point margin on a 60-yard reception and 74-yard rumble in the first quarter. The lead awakens Tolutau from hibernation. East feeds the beast for 211 yards and two scores. Twelve down.
Two to go.
Coming Wednesday: Season in seclusion, part 3: The Leopards make their run at the state title