SALT LAKE CITY — If you judge the Leopards by their halftime goal, they failed miserably.
If you judge them by the rock-solid defense and 48 points they scored, then Friday night's 48-9 victory over West was a smashing success.
With a 28-2 lead and an outstanding defensive effort that saw the team sack West quarterback Alex Espinoza eight times heading into halftime, Matich was asked what the team's goals were coming out in the second half.
"We wanted to limit penalties," he said. "Flags were coming out like crazy."
Yes, they were. Let's just say the 112th meeting between these two rivals wasn't pretty for much of Friday's contest. By the end of the game, 40 yellow flags had been thrown on the field penalizing both teams for everything from off-sides to personal fouls.
Both players and coaches were shocked at the number and unsure of the cause.
"I'd like to blame it on the game, the rivalry, but I'm not sure. We'll have to look at film," said Matich. "If they are real penalties, that's not good. We've got to fix that."
Running back Ula Tolutau said there was a bit of emotion associated with the game because the players all grew up together.
"I think it was the rivalry," he said. "But the penalties, we have to clean it up."
The game was one of ESPN's 67 High School Rivalry Games so East was awarded a trophy and hats after the game. Tolutau was the game's MVP, and he proved himself a difficult to stop running back. He gave credit to his teammates, and their blocking.
"Ula has the chance to be special," said Matich of Tolutau, who finished with 149 yards on 16 carries.
Tolutau praised the team's junior quarterback, Isaac Valles, who scored five touchdowns, three running and two throwing, The highlight came at 3:21 in the second quarter when, on first down, Valles launched a 58-yard pass to senior receiver John Fakahafua to put the team up 21-2.
"He's a good runner, but when he throws, he's on the point," Tolutau said of the junior.
Valles struggled in his first start, but admitted he was nervous.
"I think I was a little tense the first varsity game," he said with a grin. "I have some big shoes to fill. But I'm ready for it."
Matich believes he is.
"He rebounded," he said. "He was a little nervous, but Isaac is a gifted runner. But he can throw the ball, as he proved when he threw that (58-yard) pass to John (Fakahafua)."
But as overwhelming as the Leopard offense was, the defense was the real star of the show. The East defensive linemen and linebackers sacked Espinoza 11 times and hit, tackled or pressured him countless others.
"That front six or seven are as good as I've coached," said Matich. "We've got a great front four."
Espinoza, a senior, who is one of the Panthers' only returning varsity offensive starters, carried the team and managed to elude enough tackles to keep a few West drives alive.
Espinoza offered fans a brilliant run in the fourth quarter when he weaved in and out of East's defense for a 51-yard run that set up West's only touchdown. The West defense earned a safety in the first half — thanks in part to a punt from Espinoza that pinned the Leopards on the 1-yard line.
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company