SALT LAKE CITY — Bingham's bread and butter all season has been its run game, and coming off impressive playoff performances the first two weeks of the playoffs, it had every reason to be confident heading into Thursday's 5A semifinal against Syracuse at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Syracuse's defense, however, was equal to the challenge.
The Titans forced five turnovers and held Bingham to just 115 rushing yards en route to the surprising semifinal victory.
"I gave Syracuse all the credit. They're gritty, tough, well-coached kids. They would sit and read, and the minute they read a guard pulling or a back going a certain way, they were firing up and they made some great plays," said Bingham coach Dave Peck. "Sometimes the other team is the reason you look sloppy."
Scott Nichols led Bingham with 79 yards on 18 carries, while Tonga Manu added 28 yards on 12 carries, but neither could get anything going consistently.
In fact, Bingham's only two touchdowns came on long passes from Jantzen Bowles to Hayden Weichers.
Syracuse defensive end Jace Purser came up big all game with eight tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He said the Titans were ready for whatever the Miners tried.
"Watching film, we always knew what play they were going to run out of what formation, so I feel we had a little bit of an advantage in that sense," said Purser.
Despite the five turnovers and an otherwise sloppy offensive showing, Bingham was still in great position to steal the victory late in the fourth quarter. The run game was the big reason why.
Trailing 21-16 with 3:20 remaining in the game, Bingham fielded a punt at its own 39-yard line and methodically marched down field. Nichols' 31-yard run and several more 4- and 5-yard runs by Manu, Nichols and Bowles set the Miners up with first down at Syracuse's 24-yard line with just over a minute remaining.
Three plays later Bingham faced a fourth-and-two, but Syracuse's defense stuffed Nichols for a 1-yard gain to ice the victory.
Peck said he doesn't regret running the ball on fourth and short.
"Run game was working pretty good right there on that drive. We had a lot of momentum. If we throw the ball and it's incomplete right there on fourth-and-one, I'm kicking myself in the butt way more than lining up and trying to knock them over to get one yard," said Peck.
All game Syracuse seemed to know what play Bingham was going to run, and that was no different on the decisive defensive stand.
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company