OREM — In notching its first-ever postseason win, Salem Hills took the old adage “The best defense is a good offense” and turned it on its head, making it read instead: “The best offense is a good defense."
In this case, however, the Skyhawk defense was not merely good, it was phenomenal, and it definitely generated some of the team's best offense in Salem Hills' 35-14 victory over Orem (5-6) Friday night in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs.
“This game meant a lot to our program, especially being the first playoff win in our history. It is a reflection of the time, sweat and hard work that they have put in," Salem Hills coach Joel Higginson said. "They have come together as a team and I could tell they wanted this game for each other. It was all about them. We talk about 'one' all the time. About 'one' play, 'one' quarter, 'one' half, 'one' game, 'one' team, 'one' goal.
"I thought that they showed that 'one' mentality tonight when things got tough and they rallied around each other. I couldn’t be more proud of the way they played. There was zero quit in them," he said.
The two teams squared off for the second time this season, and though the stakes were higher, the outcome was the same.
Not only did Salem Hills (8-3) grab the victory, which snapped a two-game losing streak, but it did so in much the same way they did the first time — with a focused and furious defensive effort.
The Skyhawks hammered Orem quarterback Tucker Camp all night with bone-crushing sacks facilitated by Salem Hills' relentless and brutal blitz, which kept Camp off balance for most of the game.
Add to that two interceptions, one of which was a pick six, and two forced fumbles, and it very quickly became the perfect recipe for a Skyhawk victory.
Because the Skyhawks' smothering defense, Orem didn't cross its own 40-yard line for the first 22 minutes of the game.
With 1:46 left in the first half, Camp, facing fourth-and-very long, connected with his receiver, finally brought the Tigers past midfield. It was to no avail, however. The Skyhawks deftly pinned Orem on their 35 until time expired to maintain their 21-0 lead at the break.
Although the Skyhawks found themselves on the goal line twice early in the game, the contest was scoreless the end of the first quarter.
The Skyhawk offense, which has been more cold than hot in the last two games, was having trouble settling into a rhythm until Cooper Smith too offensive matters into his quick-acting defensive hands.
Three minutes into the second quarter and with nothing going offensively, Smith intercepted a Camp pass and bolted for the end zone for a crowd-pleasing pick six.
Skyhawks went up 7-0 and never trailed again.
The Skyhawks scored again on the heels of another spectacular defensive play. A forced fumble by the Salem Hills defense set up a 15-yard TD pass from quarterback Chad Peterson to Vili Wolfgramm, who slashed and dashed through the Tiger defense and pounced on the pylon to widen the Skyhawk lead to 14-0.
Minutes later, Peterson connected with senior tight end Kyle Mangelson for another Skyhawk strike, upping the score to 21-0.
The Tiger squad that showed up for the second half was decidedly better than the Tiger squad of the first half. A minute into the third quarter, Orem struck back when Camp hit Nolan Gray with a picture-perfect pass for a 60-yard score.
With the momentum firmly on their side, the Tigers kept pushing with a stingy and sturdy defensive effort of their own that recorded four interceptions and one fumble on the night.
One of those picks came at the hands of senior linebacker Jeremiah Smith, whose crucial interception late in the third set up a 27-yard toss from Camp to Gray for his second TD on the night to cut the lead to 21-14.
However, that much-needed momentum boomeranged right back to the Skyhawks just moments later when Peterson began the fourth quarter by launching a pass to senior wide receiver Gunnar Gustin, who sliced and diced through a handful of defenders and found nothing but green grass en route to another score to increase the lead to 28-14. Gustin led the state with 15 regular-season TDs and his 16th Friday tied the school record.
The Tigers had no answer.
Despite grabbing another interception with five minutes left, Orem could not overcome the pounding pressure of the Skyhawk defense and was unable to score the remainder of the night.
With under three minutes left to play, the Skyhawks put the nail in the coffin with a Zac Zobell touchdown, which put the Skyhawks up 35-14.
Leading the Skyhawks’ defensive charge were heavy-hitters Walker Van Tassel, a senior who led the Skyhawks with a game-high 15 tackles, and Porter Gustin, a junior linebacker who had 12 tackles and four sacks.
An overjoyed Skyhawk team gathered around Higginson in the locker room after the game where he congratulated them on being “the greatest team in the history of Salem Hills football.”
“I’m as proud of you guys and what you did tonight as I have ever been of any group in my life,” said Higginson to the team after the game. “You guys stepped it up this week in practice and showed me tonight just how committed you are to winning. I believed we could get this win tonight and you obviously believed it, too.”
Salem Hills will play at Woods Cross (10-1), a 42-14 winner of Box Elder, Friday. The time has yet to be determined.
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