American Fork will appear in its first semifinal football game in more than 20 years without four of its starters.
Three of the team's starters, two of whom play both offense and defense for the Cavemen, were suspended for one game by the Utah High School Activities Association for their involvement in a fight that broke out during the team's quarterfinal win over Hunter on Saturday. A fourth starter will miss Friday's game against Layton due to an injury.
"I don't even know what to compare it to," said American Fork coach Davis Knight when asked how the suspensions would affect the squad. "These three young men are an integral part of our program ... They really haven't missed anything. Two of them are seniors, and the only way they'll get to play another game is if we win."
The UHSAA will release the official information regarding the suspensions and discipline taken against both teams this morning. Hunter coach Wes Wilcken said he hadn't been notified of any action taken against his players as of Tuesday evening. Knight said that action taken against one of the Cavemen coaches is being appealed today as well.
The brawl broke out in the final two minutes of the game, which was played at American Fork. Officials called the game with less than two minutes to go.
This Friday's berth into the semifinals is American Fork's first since 1984. Knight said the suspensions mean playing without four starters as senior captain Justin Jensen was injured in the game with an ACL tear. He said he was notified just before practice ended.
"I spoke to all of my kids," said Knight, who couldn't recall the last time the program had any kind of suspension. "This is one where you don't find silver linings. I'm not naive enough to think we can cover this. We will have young men step up, we'll practice and we'll make adjustments. But we're 9-3, and those boys started every game."
Knight said he regretted the situation ever escalated to the point it did.
"I feel badly for the situation that happened," he said. "I feel badly for the boys who will miss the game ... But we're members of the association and supportive of the rules. We can't condone this kind of thing, and it shouldn't have happened."
Knight is aware that the American Fork Police Department is investigating the melee as well, but said he's sure his players were not involved in those situations. Police are still reviewing video from private citizens, both schools and television stations. Wilcken said he'd turned his tapes over to police.
"We've had some people call up and express some editorial comment that we're wasting our time, and this is just part of football," said American Fork Police Chief Lance Call. "What they don't understand is the dynamics of what happened there were adults assaulting kids. Anytime you have an adult that's assaulting a juvenile, that's very serious, and we obviously need to do something about that."