SALT LAKE CITY — Timpview head football coach Cary Whittingham wasn't trying to make a statement when he chose to wear a golf shirt and shorts during his team's 4A semifinal game against East Friday.
But standing on the sideline soaking wet from falling snow, it turned out to be just that for his players who managed to execute their offense with efficiency and precision despite freezing temperatures and almost-constant snowfall.
"We knew it was going to be snowing," said senior receiver Dax Raymond, who caught two touchdown passes in the T-birds' 32-14 win over East. The victory earns Timpview a spot in next Friday's final where it will face Mountain Crest at 6:30 p.m. "We just had to get that out of our minds, and play like we can."
So how do you play like the weather doesn't matter when you can barely stand up on the slippery turf?
"You take your gloves off and just plant slower because if you trip, you're worthless," said Raymond, who finished with 101 receiving yards.
When asked about Whittingham's shorts, he smiled and suggested it might have been a psychological move.
"If he's in shorts, it's not that cold," he said with a shrug.
But it was that cold. So cold, so wet and so slick that East had six fumbles, four of them turnovers.
"East's turnovers were very costly for them," said Whittingham, who took over the program in June after controversy about how former head coach Louis Wong handled the program's finances led to his dismissal. "That was a big factor in the game, of course. We've been focusing on ball security all week, and the offense did an excellent job with that."
When asked about wearing shorts, he admitted it was a bit of a supersition.
"I don't know how I'm going to do it next week, but that's just something I've done since I've been coaching at Timpview," Whittingham said with a slight smile. "It might be a little bit of, 'If I change things up, it might not be lucky.'"
The T-birds looked like the weather might hinder them when they fumbled the opening kick off and East recovered. That led to the Leopards' first touchdown, a 3-yard run by Ula Tolutau. Timpview answered immediately with a 16-yard pass play from Jake Lloyd to Raymond at 6:14 in the first quarter. The T-birds scored again on a 3-yard run by Lloyd, but the ensuing PAT rolled under a linemens' legs making the score 13-7.
East scored when Niel Robbins managed to run 15 yards for a toucdhdown with just 51 seconds left in the first half. Lloyd then moved the team down the field so fast and efficiently it was a shock even to his teammates. He put the team in field-goal position, but the ball hit the uprights and East led 14-13 headed into the locker room.
"Jake is amazing," said Raymond. "Every college should be looking at him. He makes plays. I’m surprised how poised he can be. Right before half he got us down to the 10-yard line in a matter of seconds. He just knows where to throw the ball."
Lloyd said the team expected the frigid temperatures and wet weather. The players also expected the tough Leopard defense. They also knew, all too well, how painful it was to lose in a semifinal game, having lost to East in last year's 4A semis.
"We did not want to feel that way again," he said.
East quarterback Isaac Valles finished with 51 yards rushing and 46 yards passing. Tolutau ran for just 47 yards and a touchdown, while Preston Curtis added 46 yards rushing. It was Timpview's defense that had as much to do with slowing East as the weather.
"Last year they ran all over us," said Lloyd. "This year our defense was absolutely amazing."
Lloyd creditted Whittingham and the team's assistant coaches with rallying the team through the offseason and off-field troubles, including Wong's firing, the financial investigation and punishments for allowing an ineligible player to compete in four games this fall.
"He's a new head coach," said Lloyd, "but he's not a new coach. Whitt has been absolutely amazing, the way he's rallied us together, and he's told us that we are a brotherhood, and that we love each other. We play for each other. And he tells us constantly how much he loves us, and I think that makes us fight for him more than we've ever fought."
As for his coach's decision to freeze rather than change up his coaching attire, Lloyd said that particular fact did not surprise him.
"He's a warrior, " said Lloyd as the pace of the snowstorm picked up again. "He could live outdoors and he'd be completely fine with it."
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