I'm gonna miss him (when he graduates). That's about all I can say. He’s an excellent player and leads our team. He’s just a beast and he's put together really well. He's a big, strong kid and just does a great job for us. —Jordan coach Eric Kjar, on quarterback Austin Kafentzis
SALT LAKE CITY — To look at the final score of Friday night’s Jordan-East high school football showdown, you’d never imagine that, at one point late in the first quarter, the Beetdiggers trailed 20-7 and were being dominated by the Leopards.
After that, though, Jordan’s stellar senior quarterback, Austin Kafentzis, stepped up and took over the game — just like he has so many times before.
And when it was over, the visiting Beetdiggers were headed home with an impressive 42-26 victory over the stunned Leopards, and Kafentzis had turned it into a one-man wrecking crew — throwing for three touchdowns and running for three more in another superb performance by one of the greatest prep quarterbacks this state has ever seen.
“I’ve run out of stuff,” Jordan coach Eric Kjar said when asked if there was anything he could say about Kafentzis that he hasn’t already said before. “He’s a heckuva player; he’s a great leader, and he’s tough as nails.
"I'm gonna miss him (when he graduates). That's about all I can say. He’s an excellent player and leads our team. He’s just a beast and he's put together really well. He's a big, strong kid and just does a great job for us.”
Indeed, when East (1-1) jumped out to its 20-7 lead with two minutes still remaining in the first quarter, things looked a little bleak for the ’Diggers.
"I think we just had some pregame jitters," Kafentzis said, "especially with East's past and everything and how good they've been and how good they are and all that.
"You just have to slowly start rolling into things. The first half was one of those that you've got to make sure you're alignment-assignment; that's what you've gotta do. And we got out of it the first quarter, the first half actually. And then the second half, we came out there and I think we got all the nerves out and we just started rolling."
The Leopards’ Lorenzo Manu started it with a 3-yard TD run to cap the Leopards' first possession. Then, after Kafentzis answered with a 15-yard scoring scamper to tie it at 7-7, East moved out to a two-touchdown lead when John Mafi brook loose for a 49-yard TD journey, followed by a bullish 8-yard touchdown burst by Hausia Sekona that made it 20-7.
But, led by the big-play capability of Kafentzis, Jordan (2-0) didn't panic.
"I think having him helps that with our team a little bit, because they know they've got a pretty good player on their side as long as they just relax and take care of business," Kjar said of his senior quarterback. "Things will kinda work out, and they did. They got it going.
"The defense played really well. I'm really happy with how well our defense played, especially after the first quarter. They really did a good job."
And after trailing 20-7, Kafentzis and Co. came to life.
On the first play of the second quarter, Kafentzis threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Spencer Curtis to trim the deficit to 20-14 after the second of six PAT kicks by Jeffery Timothy.
Then midway through the second period, Kafentzis found AJ Townsend downfield and hit him in stride for a 64-yard TD bomb that made it 21-20, a score which stood up until halftime.
But Kafentzis was just getting started. Midway through the third quarter, he hooked up with Nate Mower on a 37-yard touchdown pass for a 28-20 lead.
Early in the fourth quarter, Kafentzis capped an 87-yard drive with a 10-yard scoring scamper to make it 35-20.
And after East self-destructed with a high, bobbled snap that gave the Beetdiggers prime field position at the Leopards' 35, Jordan soon capitalized when Kafentzis skittered 17 yards for another score that widened the margin to 42-20 with 6:44 left to play — capping a run of 35 unanswered points.
"I'd like to give it all to the defense, honestly," Kafentzis said of the game's dramatic turnaround. "They kept getting us the ball, and that's what we like. We want to get the ball.
"When we get the ball, we feel like our offense is pretty confident; we can go down and score. We have the past couple years, so we just like it when we get the ball. And when the defense gives it to us and stops 'em, then you just go off of what we learned in practice."
Kafentzis said that having a lot of returning experience on the offensive side of the ball is paying dividends for him and the 'Diggers.
"It's good knowing that everyone's coming back on offense," he said. "You have that expertise, everyone's not new. Last year we kind of had that, we went through all those trials. But this year everyone came back so we feel more comfortable, and that's the one thing we keyed on is just playing with confidence and playing with swagger.
"And when you can do that, you start playing your game and not worrying about who the opponent is and instead you just worry about getting better and doing your own thing."
After Kafentzis's last TD put it out of reach, East didn't quit. Manu broke loose for a 78-yard run all the way down to the Jordan 2, Sekona soon powered into the end zone again, this time from 3 yards out, for a 42-26 score with 5:16 to play.
But Jordan ran much of the remaining time off the clock on its next possession, and the Leopards couldn't light the scoreboard again.