SALT LAKE CITY — Liti Molisi is usually the one cracking jokes and making people laugh.
But Thursday night he stood before his teammates and begged them to give him something that he'd never had in four years of high school football — a win against Highland High.
"I had never beaten Highland in my high school career," said the running back after top-ranked East proved they deserve that No. 1 ranking by shutting out defending 4A champion Highland with a 22-0 win that gives East the region title for the first time in more than a decade.
"In team meeting yesterday I asked all my brothers, my teammates, my family, my coaches, I asked them to help me personally. I had two older brothers who played (at East) and they hadn't beaten Highland either. So hats off to my team, my brothers, my family."
After East won the region title with the shutout victory, Molisi sank to his knees on the field and wept.
His teammates eventually surrounded him, talking softly among themselves as the fans celebrated with music and even some fireworks.
It was a moment that some of the players had been anticipating all season.
"It was meant to be that we played Highland for a region title," said head coach Brandon Matich. "We saw the schedule and we had a good feeling. We knew it would come down to this. There is not a better way to win a region title than to beat your biggest rival."
In fact, defeating Highland wasn't good enough for the Leopards. They wanted to end the Ram's streak of scoring in 117 straight games.
"The kids were cognizant of that," said Matich. "The defense is starting to play really, really well."
It's the second shutout in two weeks for the defense as they held Bountiful to zero as well.
"This is huge," said Matich of the win. "It's the first time they've won it outright since 1996, I believe. It means the world to them. This is a big rivalry."
Matich said even he was a little nervous on the eve of the critical game.
"I think they thrive on pressure," he said smiling. "It's a neat group. We had a lot of talent last year, but this year, there is a lot of talent, but they're so close. They thrive off pressure. I was feeling pretty stressed last night, visibly, during walk-throughs, and Liti and Jason Cook and some others pulled me aside and they said, 'Coach, we got you. Relax. Don't worry about it."
Molisi said being able to deliver on that promise to Matich was indescribable.
"We came through with what we said," he said. The players had even more motivation at half time when Vaha Vainuki left the game on the first defensive series of the game with a shoulder injury.
Molisi said he cried as he asked his teammates to win for him.
The game was a battle between two tough defensive teams led by two gritty quarterbacks — East's Jason Cook, who connected with John Fakahafua for a 54-yard passing touchdown and Highland's Justin Weaver, who led the team in rushing.
Neither team could find the end zone in the first quarter, but East managed to do it twice in the second quarter.
The first score was a one-yard run by Cook, while the second score came four plays later when Highland attempted to punt from inside their own 10-yard-line.
Nela Tuuhetaufa and Jewka Patetefa blocked the punt and Korey Rush jumped on the football in the end zone. Gavin Van Minde hit both extra points making the score 14-0 with 8:21 in the second.
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