SALT LAKE CITY — Jason Cook had watched his East team dominate their rival for most of the game. But going into the fourth quarter Friday night, the lead was just 7-6.
Instead of giving credit to his teammates (like he usually does), Cook took it upon himself. The Leopards' senior quarterback rushed for 195 yards and scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to lift East past West 21-6 in a non-region game at East's Tally Stevens Field.
The victory was East's ninth straight over its Salt Lake rival and the Leopards improved to 3-0 this season. West fell to 1-2, but coach Justin Spencer wasn't dismayed.
"Our defense did a heckuva job," he said. "They (the Leopards) have put up over 40 points in each of their last two games. Without two big plays, we're right in this ball game."?
Spencer was right. The two big plays only occurred because Cook chose not to feed the ball to his standout running back Liti Molisi, who ran for 99 yards on 24 carries. Molisi was hounded the entire game by West's defense, especially lineman Semisi Afeaki, who had a couple of sacks and several hard hits on the night.
Early in the fourth quarter, Cook started calling his own number. Carrying the ball on four of five plays, he found a hole on the right side and outran West's secondary to the end zone on a 38-yard scamper.
Less than three minutes later, East got the ball again. Molisi started the drive, but was smacked by Afeaki for just a 1-yard gain. On the next play, Cook faked another run inside and kept the ball. His 64-yard touchdown run electrified the home crowd and finally put the game away.
"Liti is a great running back and he was a great decoy," said Cook, who earned the starting nod as the season started and already has five rushing touchdowns. "They (the Panthers) were keeping tabs on him all night and it finally opened things up for me."?
"The real difference was our O-line really stepped it up in the second half," said East coach Brandon Matich. "On those plays, he (Cook) is just reading it. He figures out what would be the most successful play and then just takes off down field."?
In one stretch, Cook carried the ball six times for 134 yards. His success helped make up for a frustrating first half, when East ran 32 plays (compared to West's 16) but led just 7-0.
West, in fact, ran into the locker room with the momentum after East had the ball at the Panthers' 4-yard line with 19 seconds left but didn't score. Questionable clock management allowed East just one attempt at the end zone, even though the Leopards had a timeout remaining.
In the second half, West's Mafi Pulu changed the game when he recovered a fumble on East's first play. Two plays later, Eric Takenaka roared through the Leopards' defense for a 14-yard touchdown run.
The Panthers kept the momentum for a while, but couldn't score. West had four turnovers and Spencer said part of his team's offensive issues was the fact?its star player "" Takenaka "touched the ball just seven times (six runs, one reception) on this night.
"We lost this one, but we'll be OK," Spencer said. "We've got a great time. We'll be just fine."?
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company