Trailing 6-0 at halftime in the 4A championship game in Rice Stadium on Friday, the Orem Tigers looked like they were in prime position to defend the 4A title. All they needed was one more upset of a favored team, and a second straight championship would be theirs. Then the second half came and Orem's bubble finally burst.
Alta scored 22 third-quarter points, the Tigers totaled 18 yards of total offense in the second half and the magic Orem had displayed in upset wins over Roy, Granger and Brighton suddenly eluded the Tig-ers."We just made too many mistakes with fumbles and bad field position. We just couldn't get out of those situations," Orem Head Coach Tom Rabb said. "We kind of killed ourselves at times."
In the first half, Orem looked every bit the team that had defeated Brighton, 28-7, just a week ago. In the final two periods Friday, the Tigers looked like the team that had fallen 36-0 to Alta during the regular season.
Only this time around, the score was 40-0.
"I don't know what went wrong, we just didn't play good," Orem quarterback Bryan Rowley said. "We just fell apart today."
One problem the Tigers didn't plan on was the loss of starting tailback Preston Winn, who went down in the first quarter with what was diagnosed as a tear of the medial colateral ligament in his left knee. In last week's victory, Winn scored two touchdowns, one a 56-yard run and the other a 28-yard pass. This week he never had a chance to make an impact.
"Preston's a good ball carrier. He's got good outside speed, so I'm sure losing him hurt us a little bit on both offense and defense," Rabb said.
But if you want to put a finger on what went wrong for the Tigers and right for the Hawks, you only have to look as far as the field position. The only time Orem crossed the 50-yard-line in the second half was on a Rowley option keeper late in the fourth quarter. And that was called back because of a penalty.
Which brings us to Orem's other downfall - penalties. Orem was flagged eight times for 110 yards. "We just didn't play as well today as we have in the past," Rabb said.
Rabb learned for the second time this season that against a team like Alta, it's tough enough to just win. Throw in a bunch of mistakes and you might as well forget about it.
In the first quarter, Orem missed a chance to put some points on the board when a 25-yard Cade Schaerrer field goal attempt never got off because of a bobbled snap. Later in the first half, the Tigers got to the Hawks' 15-yard-line and needed one yard for a first down. Instead, fullback Matt Harding fumbled and Alta linebacker Lee Knappenberger recovered killing yet another drive.
Every time Orem threatened, something seemed to go wrong in that first half. In the second, the Tigers never threatened and things still went wrong.
"I thought we'd play better in the third quarter. I'm kind of surprised about it," Rabb added. "But (Alta) came out and took it to us. They're pretty physical up front and they've got a great offensive and defensive line.
"We're proud of what we've done," he continued, "and being second in the state is nothing to feel shabby about."
It's just that being first for the second straight year would have felt better.