SALT LAKE CITY — It was a typical Syracuse football win featuring little flash, smash-mouth defense and just enough points to get the job done.
Only this victory sent the Titans back to The Turf.
Syracuse defeated West 10-0 in the 5A quarterfinals on Friday afternoon to advance to the semifinals for the second time in four years. It's quite an accomplishment for a program that's only been around for five years.
"It means a lot," said Syracuse receiver-defensive back Alex Vanderloo. "We've worked hard for this since day one. We've been working so hard for this. It's what we dream of."
Vanderloo played a huge role in making the Titans' dreams come true.
He broke a scoreless tie in the second quarter when he hauled in a 66-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trevor Davis. Lined up in the slot against man coverage, Vanderloo first busted outside on his route before breaking it over the middle and catching the lob in stride.
The score held up because Syracuse's defense was outstanding. The Titans sacked West quarterback Alex Espinosa three times and intercepted one pass. The Panthers got inside Syracuse's 20 just once, and it came after a botched punt snap that put West at the Titans' 17.
The Panthers stalled after Taurus Dickerson recovered the fumbled snap early in the third quarter. They went for it on fourth-and-8 from Syracuse's 15 and nearly converted. A pass from Espinosa was briefly in Dickerson's hands in the end zone before Vanderloo knocked it away.
"I knew they were going to go up top. I played loose on him (Dickerson), he (Espinosa) threw it up and I got my hands on it," Vanderloo said matter-of-factly.
Anchoring Syracuse's defensive effort was lineman Hunter Dimick. The University of Utah recruit was unblockable, as he wreaked havoc on West's passing game, giving Espinosa little time to throw. He also helped keep the Titans stout against the run, although West's Eric Takenaka did rush for 108 yards on 17 carries.
"If you don't get after him with some pretty good people, he'll cause a lot of trouble for you on the offensive side," Syracuse coach Russ Jones said of Dimick.
The Titans put the game out of reach when Brock Anderson kicked a 34-yard field goal with 42.5 seconds left in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, the Panthers had to face a whipping wind — along with a hungry Titan defense — and it was too much to overcome.
Syracuse advances to play Region 1 rival Fremont in the 5A semifinals at Rice-Eccles Stadium at 11 a.m. on Friday. It's a matchup almost no one expected. It was supposed to be favorites Alta and Bingham playing at that time, but the Titans eliminated the Hawks in the first round and the Silver Wolves beat the Miners in the quarters.
"Not a lot of people know about us or give us a lot of respect," Dimick said. "So it's kind of nice to come to places and pull one out, and they get to know about us and (we) earn that respect."
"Love it, love it," Jones said of reaching the semis. "It's great to get there."
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company