The Orem-Granger 4A prep football quarterfinal playoff Thursday morning was expected to be a changing of the guard, so to speak - out with the old and in with the new. The top-ranked, undefeated Lancers were highly favored not only to give the defending champion Golden Tigers a taste of their high-scoring medicine but also to avenge last year's semifinal loss to Orem at the same Rice Stadium site.
But once again, Granger finishes its season with an eliminating playoff defeat at the hands of Orem.Thursday's most recent outcome was a 28-14 Lancer loss to a Tiger team that stuggled to a 4-4 regular-season record - a far cry from Granger's unblemished 9-0 mark entering the game.
Leading the Tiger triumph was Bryan Rowley, the only returning starter from the '87 championship squad who himself could claim inexperience in stepping in at quarterback this season.
Add to that the fact the Tiger jayvees managed a mere 1-7 record last year, and there was good reason to wonder if Orem would make it back to the playoffs again in 1988 - let alone win.
"We didn't do too good during the regular season," said Rowley, who threw for one TD and ran an option-keeper 66 yards for another score against Granger. "No one believed in us."
Rowley and Co. made believers out of the Lancers, who ended the season with a 9-1 record.
Granger Head Coach Mike Fraser was quick to offer postgame praises.
"The bottom line was that we couldn't control them," he said, bemoaning the injury of monolithic tackle J.R. Burgidge. "Their skill-position people performed better under pressure than our people did."
Granger faced all sorts of pressure. In a literal, physical sense of pressure, the Tiger defense halted the potent Lancer offense to only 199 yards total offense - including a combined 98 yards rushing by tailback-flanker Ty Wilder and tailback Jeremy Lewis and just 92 yards from a 6-of-17 passing performance from junior QB Craig Van Woerkom.
That same defensive pressure resulted in Orem picking off four Lancer passes and recovering one of three forced fumbles.
Want more gut-grinding pressures? How about being favored - not only in the game but in the polls? How about finding yourselves behind for only the second time in the season? How about underclassmen at key skill position playing their first time on the hallowed artificial turf at Rice Stadium?
Fraser conceded that all those pressures worked against his Lancers, with Granger's first poor outing of the season coming at a time when poor outings mean being ousted.
"We've been here (in the playoffs at Rice Stadium) four years in a row, but we didn't act like we had been here before."
The Tigers served notice on their first possession of the game that they had every right to return to the turf where they had won the 1987 4A trophy.
Orem looked to score on a 34-yard pass from Rowley to David James, but a procedure call negated the points and the play, with the first quarter later ending in a scoreless tie.
Blessed with good field position throughout the first half, Orem broke open for a 21-point second quarter - a 30-yard cut-back-across-the-grain sweep by running back Preston Winn, Rowley's 66-yard sprint down the left sideline on the option, and a 16-yard high-lofted throw to James.
The last score came with 32 second remaining in the half and followed a fumble recovery by Brian Aikken when Van Woerkom coughed up the ball while being sacked.
Granger countered the Tigers' initial score with a 3-yard scoring pass from Van Woerkom to Wilder, but the Lancers found themselves facing a 21-7 halftime margin - their first deficit since trailing Skyline 3-0 earlier in the season.
However, rememberances of last year's Orem-Granger semifinal couldn't be ignored - a game when Granger fell behind 28-0 at halftime and later 35-7 before rallying to a 35-29 score, with the Lancers looking for a game-tying TD as the playoff ended.
"In the locker room, we reminded each other that we had a bigger lead than 21-7 last year and they came back and almost beat us," recalled Rowley.
Granger opened the second half scoring on a 30-yard toss from Van Woerkom to Dave Ryan.
But Orem matched it later in the period on a 1-yard dive by Matt Harding, who finished with 130 yards rushing.
Neither team threatened in the fourth.
Now with a 6-4 overall record, Orem advances to meet Brighton in next week's semifinals.