FILLMORE — It was not the semifinal finish any player worked for or any coach envisioned.
But frustration between fans, coaches and players boiled over in the second half of an eighth-grade little league playoff game between South Sevier and Juab on Saturday, forcing officials to end the contest with six minutes left in the fourth quarter after the Juab quarterbacks were injured multiple times.
"It's an unfortunate series of events," said Juab High head football coach Mike Bowring, who was at the game in Fillmore and who oversees the Wasps' little league program, including training the coaches. "Those kids are the ones who lose out. They practice all of those hours to play. And they didn't get to play that last quarter of football. It's too bad it went that way."
The game was just another hard-fought, small-town football game until just before halftime. That's when Juab coaches called for an onside kick with a 30-6 lead and about 30 seconds left in the second quarter.
The kick went out of bounds and South Sevier got the ball near midfield, but the move upset South Sevier fans and many yelled insults at Juab coaches for what they saw as an unsportsmanlike decision. (Onside kicks are traditionally utilized when a team is trying to make a comeback, not when leading by more than three touchdowns.)
Both teams came out in the third quarter and continued to play without incident, although fans were still upset and continued yelling at Juab coaches.
"It was kind of a dogfight, but nothing was going on," said Travis Ludlow, who is a Juab assistant coach and the parent of a player on the team. It wasn't until a series of plays that Juab coaches saw as "dirty" that the situation spiraled out of control. South Sevier head coach Ryan Tobler adamantly denied he or any of his coaches instructed the players to employ illegal or dirty tactics.
"We never once asked our kids to do anything dirty or unfair," said Tobler, who has coached the team for seven years. "I've never coached my kids that way, and I would never ask my kids to play that way."
He said he instructed his players during the halftime break not to give up.
"I told them, 'We're not out of this,' " said Tobler. " 'I want you to come out and play hard. Don't come out and lay down. This is the semifinals. Play with pride and play hard.' "
The plays in question all involved Juab quarterbacks. The first one happened late in the third quarter when the starting QB was hit hard enough that he had to come out of the game.
Coaches put in the second-string quarterback, and on his first play, he was hit hard enough that he also had to leave the game, and as of Sunday morning continued to complain about a headache from an apparent concussion. On that play, officials called a 15-yard penalty on the hit for helmet-to-helmet contact.
"We called one helmet-to-helmet contact," said head official Skeeter Sterma. It was ruled an illegal hit but "I don't think it was deliberate."
Tobler didn't see it because it happened away from the ball.
"We were starting to see things were getting out of control," Ludlow said.
It was at that point, that officials called the four team captains from each team to midfield to try and regain control of the contest.
After that meeting, the starting quarterback had recovered enough that he wanted to go back in the game and coaches obliged. During his first series back in the game, he was hit, and "this time he was laid flat," Ludlow said.
"At this point, everyone was going crazy," said Ludlow. "Our coaches are yelling at their coaches to take control of their kids."
Tobler said he was confused at first because he didn't see the quarterback down.
"I guess one of their kids was hurt," Tobler said. "I thought there was a timeout; I didn't know one of their kids was hurt. I heard the Juab coach yelling at me. I didn't know what for. He started yelling at me, 'You're an (expletive). Your kids are dirty; you are dirty."
Tobler was angered by the insults and walked onto the field with the intention of confronting the coach yelling at him. But officials stopped him and sent him back to his sideline.
Officials then called both head coaches to the center of the field to try and clear the air. It was apparently so contentious that the head official just declared the game over and told the teams to leave.
Sterma said that while the Juab coach wanted to continue playing, the South Sevier coach "had some issues. I said, 'The ballgame’s over, for the safety of the kids.'"
Ludlow agreed with that decision.
"I think it was a smart call," said Ludlow, who said Juab coaches were only trying to protect their players. "Our kids were starting to get mad at this point, wanting to retaliate, and more kids would have been hurt on both sides."
But the problems didn't dissipate when officials ended the game.
As the Juab players were leaving they passed between the South Sevier players, who were still meeting on the field with their coaches and their fans, who were still in the stands.
Juab parents and coaches said the South Sevier crowd spit on and threw water bottles at the Wasps' players as they left to board their bus.
Tobler said the Juab team could have chosen a different route to their bus, but they jogged in front of the fans and chanted "scoreboard."
Ludlow, however, said it wasn't intentional. He said they chose the quickest route to the bus and there was no plan to chant anything. After some fans insulted the players by telling them to get back out and finish the game, some players retorted with "scoreboard."
Everyone involved was disappointed that the situation spiraled so far out of control the players couldn't finish, let alone enjoy, reaching such an important milestone in the playoffs.
"That's no way you want to end the season," Tobler said.
Ludlow said he went over after the team was on the bus and talked with Tobler. The conversation was terse but ended in a handshake.
"Is there responsibility on both sides? I think so," said Ludlow. "It was just a series of unfortunate events."
Bowring said he's already talking to his counterparts at South Sevier and hopes they can learn from Saturday night's events.
"What we do now is try to make sure South Sevier knows it's water under the bridge," Bowring said. "We have some dear friends in that community and we respect them. We'll continue training our coaches to be on their best behavior, to let them know we don't say or do anything that could end up in a situation like that."
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