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SALT LAKE CITY — It was a storybook ending to one of the greatest seasons in state history and the staple mark to the legacy of one of Utah's most famous high school football families.
With 36 seconds remaining, Logan quarterback D.J. Nelson lobbed a 40-yard touchdown pass to Jameson Hartman to stun East High, 18-11, and complete the Grizzlies' 14-0 season in the 4A state championship at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"I've been dreaming about it since I was a little kid," Hartman said. "I'd rather win the state championship than play the first 13 games. It makes up for everything."
The moment was especially surreal to Hartman, whom underwent extensive surgery to repair a broken tibia and fibula that he sustained in a soccer game, ironically against East last spring.
"An epic moment and what it says is you keep your head in the game and never quit," said Logan coach Mike Favero of Hartman's journey that required metal rods and screws inserted into his fractured leg. "You remain positive and work hard and good things will happen."
The Grizzlies season was one for the record books. In the win, on top of the winning their seventh title in school history, Nelson secured the second most yards in one season in state history (5,096) and it marked only the second time in state history a player surpassed 5,000 yards. Logan also claimed the second most yards in one year (6,032) and became only the fourth team to finish with a perfect 14-0 record.
The win was yet another chapter in the Nelson family high school football saga.
D.J. and his brother Chase, a starting sophomore safety, joined their grandfather, father, uncle and brother, Riley, as state champions from Logan High.
"I've never been more proud of a family member — well both of them. My little brother Chase played great on defense and D.J. came through right when he needed to. It brought tears to my eyes," said Riley, who won the title his senior season in 2005. "I've coached these guys with my dad since (they were) 7 years old. They weren't even 4 feet high and making plays and winning championships.
"So to see them win in that fashion in their last high school game was really special for them but for me also as an older brother and as a fan."
Logan's dream didn't come without a fight. In fact, East (12-2) was 1:33 away from winning its first state title since 1996.
The Leopards came in with a great game-plan and its offense soon became its best defender — keeping Logan's offense sidelined. East finished ahead of the Grizzlies in virtually every statistical category apart from the scoreboard. Nearly doubling-up in time of possession, first downs, third down conversions and total yards. But the Achilles heel proved to be the ill-timed and costly turnovers.
With the score tied 3-3 early in the second quarter — East, in possession after stopping Logan on fourth down on its own three yard line — after two consecutive swatted passes by John Fakahafua — was looking to capitalize on the newfound momentum.
It was a mere two plays after the stop when the Leopards mishandled an option pitch, forfeiting possession back to the Grizzlies. Two plays later, Nelson surged past the pylon on the keeper for the 10-3 lead.
East, led by quarterback Jason Cook, responded. With just under two minutes remaining in the first half, the Leopards marched 53 yards on eight plays and ultimately closed the gap, 10-6, as time expired with a 27-yard field goal by Gavin Van Minde.
In what was supposed to be a high scoring slugfest between two potent offensive teams — it was anything but.
The next score finally came with four minutes left in the third quarter. After back-to-back sacks, Logan was forced to punt deep into its own territory. The ensuing snap soared over punter Jake Thompson's head and through the back of the end zone for the safety to slice the margin to 10-8.
East once again went to work.
Niel Robbins picked off an overthrown ball at the East 46 yard line with 1:35 in the third quarter setting the Leopards up with quality field position..
On an extremely physical drive consisting of 12 running plays, East suffocated the clock for six minutes and eventually recaptured the lead, 11-10, on another Van Minde 22-yard field goal.
The clock was clicking away on the dream season.
After a seven play drive came up short on a missed 51-yard field goal followed by an East three and out — Logan had 2:09 minutes left.
Five plays into the final drive, on third and six, Nelson had another pass deflected — but East was whistled for a personal foul on illegal contact to the face to keep the drive breathing.
Two players later, Nelson noticed Hartman islanded out in single coverage.
"They played single coverage almost all game long — the plan was great you can't criticize that," said Favero. "I was glad they were in single coverage because it gave us a shot but you can't fault that on their behalf, they shut us down for the most part and they stuck with what was working for them."
Hartman made his defender bite 20 yards down field on a post-corner route and Nelson rainbowed a pass perfectly over the outstretched arms of the Leopards defender for the dramatic 40-yard game winning score.
"When he chucked that ball I just lost it," said Chase Nelson of his brother and the final pass. "It was the coolest thing ever. He's such a stud, I love him — he's such a great brother. What way to end his great career, he's worked so hard and he deserves all of it."
It was the fairytale conclusion to Nelson's extraordinary senior season.
"It doesn't get any better than throwing the game winning touchdown pass with 36 seconds to go," said Favero.
"That's a storybook dream."
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