SALT LAKE CITY — Austin Petersen extended his hand of congratulations, his shoulder noticeably slouching, with his head hung to the snow-covered turf at midfield. He approached the end of the postgame handshakes, brushing aside tears streaking from beneath his helmet and grimacing in pain.
He had played his final high school game.
“Everything in the world. It’s our family,” Petersen, vividly emotional, said after the 14-6 loss to Mountain Crest in the 4A semifinals at Rice-Eccles Stadium. He added, “24-7, 365. We worked every day as a team in the weight room, on the field (and) off the field. We’re one team and one heart.”
Petersen exited toward the south end zone, comforted by his teammates, with his hands submerged in his warming-pouch, having defied the odds.
He earned the starting spot for the triple-option offense, a scheme that requires quarterbacks to continuously sustain contact throughout the entire game, in the offseason to much surprise. He had never thrown a pass at the varsity level and even as a junior appeared completely off the depth chart.
“He’s been in the program four years and he’s worked his guts out,” Highland coach Brody Benson said of Petersen in August. “Basically, January hit and he decided this is what he wanted to do — he wanted to be the guy — and it was evident.”
Only listed at 5-foot-10, but even that seems generous, he quickly transcended into an integral part of the Rams’ offense and accounted for 1,184 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“All season he kind of just shut his mouth and worked,” Benson said. “That’s kind of what we hang our hat on and ask our guys to do and to be like. I thought that Austin stepped in and represented the Rams well.”
Early in the fourth quarter Friday, Highland had lost the handle 11 times and coughed up possession six times — four on fumbles. Yet it still only trailed by one score. On third-and-11 with 10:53 remaining, Petersen dropped back and fired an incomplete pass.
Although he avoided the potential sack, the outcome was far worse than a loss of five.
Complicated by a separated shoulder suffered in the final week against Box Elder and once again in the quarterfinals at Orem, Petersen’s shoulder popped out of joint. He jogged to the sidelines, his arm hanging limp by his side, and pleaded to stay in.
“The kid's got a lot of fight. You got to take your hat off to him to come out here. I know that it came out today and he was hurtin,” Benson said. “He was out there trying to get it done. He didn’t want to let his team down and he showed a lot of heart and he showed a lot of toughness. That’s all we can ask.”
Knowing the severity of the injury and not wanting to risk potentially injuring his quarterback further, Benson made the difficult decision and removed him under center.
“(I) saw that it started to wear on him a little bit and I didn’t think he could function out there,” Benson said. “Obviously, I don’t want to get him hurt any worse.”
When the Highland coach finally caught up with Petersen following post-game interveiws, Petersen raised his head fully for the first time since the clock hit double-zeros. That resillency to never stay down, to keep fighting, epitomizes the mentality the Highland program predicates itself on.
And that's exactly what Benson envisioned that January day.
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