SALT LAKE CITY — Brighton High had a great game plan in place in hopes of knocking off unbeaten Bingham for this year's 5A state championship.
But then the Bengals got beat at their own game.
The Miners built an early 21-0 lead, then used a grinding, ground-gobbling and time-consuming offense to thwart Brighton's comeback bid. And Bingham's ability to come up with the big play on both sides of the ball paved the way for the Miners' eventual 38-13 victory at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"They went in with our game plan," Brighton coach Ryan Bullet said. "They held on to the ball and kept our offense off the field and gave us very limited touches, and their defense swarmed. We were hoping to do that.
"I think we were a little nervous to start the game. We knew we needed to get some first downs to keep their offense off the field. That was the game plan there, but we had a couple drops on third down two series in a row.
"We started off with some bad field position, gave them some momentum, and it kind of snowballed from there a little bit," he said.
To their credit, after falling behind 21-0 after the first quarter, the determined Bengals battled back with two second-quarter touchdowns to pull within 21-13 at halftime.
"We just went in the locker room and just told everyone to believe and just stick with it," Brighton linebacker Isaiah Kaufasi said. "We knew we had momentum, so we just tried to get everyone onboard and just keep fightin' and keep battling so we could finish the game."
Indeed, it momentarily appeared that Brighton had grabbed the momentum away from Bingham. But the Miners opened the second half with an impressive 18-play drive that took nine minutes off the third-quarter clock.
Bingham wound up with a field goal at the end of that drive to widen its lead to 24-13. And the momentum had shifted back in Bingham's favor and the Bengals could never get it back again.
"Our offense came on the field in the third quarter with like two or three minutes left," Kaufusi said, "and it just takes its toll. And it's hard to get a comeback going when your defense is always on the field."
"We felt good at halftime," Bullet said. "That's all we talked about was stopping them that second half. We said, 'We've got to come out and make a stop,' and we couldn't get the stop when we needed it.
"They got a couple of converted third-and-shorts, and they're good. That's why they won. ... They just beat us."
Despite the disappointing defeat, the Bengals had nothing to hang their heads about. They finished the season at 12-2 overall, with both losses coming against region rival and unbeaten Bingham.
"To come so close, it just sucks," Kaufusi said. "The way we worked so hard, we definitely deserve that title, but so does Bingham. Getting right to the finish line and taking this loss is just not a good feeling.
"I mean, much credit to everyone. We just all battled out there and we just gave it our all."
Coach Bullet was mighty proud of his team and all of their accomplishments this season.
"This is the best group of senior kids that I've had. It's been 10 years, I'll betcha, since we've had a senior class like this," he said. "So I'm just proud of 'em, happy for 'em that they got here (to the 5A finals).
"Obviously it's not how they wanted it to end, but — hey, I remember as a kid playing up here on the turf in the semifinals — so it's something they'll remember the rest of their lives still."
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