SALT LAKE CITY — It was the biggest play Mountain Crest running back Nate Rigby has ever made, but it certainly didn't start out that way.
With a little more than a minute left in the Mustangs' 4A semifinal battle with Bountiful and the game tied on Friday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Rigby was supposed to stay in and block on a pass play. Quarterback Alex Kuresa's first read wasn't open, so after blocking for a couple of seconds, Rigby peeled off into the flat and caught a short pass.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Rigby turned that short catch into a 39-yard touchdown reception by breaking tackles and outrunning would-be Bountiful tacklers. The score came with 1:07 left in the game and was the game-winner in Mountain Crest's 42-35 win over the Braves. The Mustangs advance to play Highland in the 4A championship game on Friday.
"It wasn't supposed to go to me," a smiling Rigby said of his game-winning reception. "It was just a mixed-up play. I got open. He (Kuresa) saw me and I had an open field. It was a good play, a good team effort."
Rigby did pick up a couple of key blocks on his score, and obviously needed Kuresa to get him the ball. But he can go ahead and pat himself on the back for making the spectacular play.
"He broke about three, four, five tackles," said Mountain Crest coach Mark Wootton. "He made a great catch and a great run to get into the end zone."
Rigby's touchdown catch came after the Braves tied the game at 35-35 with 4:38 left in the game. Bountiful's Spencer Schmidt returned a kickoff 70 yards, and Cam Zollinger threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Teau Satuala.
But as they had to do so many other times in the game, the Mustangs responded. Mountain Crest put together a 10-play drive, completing three third-down conversions before Rigby's touchdown. Schofield Smith intercepted a tipped pass to end Bountiful's final drive.
The Braves put the Mustangs on their heels early, jumping out to a 14-0 lead before Mountain Crest made much of a threat to score.
"It was concerning when they scored so quick and got up," Wootton said. "I was just proud of the way the kids kept fighting back. Our backs were against the wall and we kept working and working and things fell in place."
Kuresa, as he's been doing for the past four years, made things fall into place for the Mustangs. He directed three straight scoring drives — which were interrupted by a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Bountiful's Luke Larsen — to tie the game at 14-14 and again at 21-21.
"We didn't buckle, and that was a big reason why we came out with a win," Kuresa said. "We just hopped back on our horse and were ready to go."
Kuresa completed 34-of-55 passes for 444 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed for 95 yards and a couple of scores. His completions, attempts and passing yards were all state semifinal records.
Kuresa's 21-yard touchdown pass to Dax Fackrell gave Mountain Crest its first lead at 28-21, and his 48-yard pass to Troy Pickett — placed perfectly over Pickett's right shoulder — was a thing of beauty and set up the Mustangs' next score.
"He'll find a way to win," Wootton said of his record-setting quarterback. "He'll fight you. Alex leads our team. It's been a blessing to be able to coach a kid like that."
Pickett had seven receptions for 155 yards, and Rigby had seven catches for 97 yards. Bountiful was led by Zollinger, who threw for 202 yards and three touchdowns. Dillon Salazar had five catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns for the Braves.
The Mustangs are back in the 4A championship game for the first time since winning the state title in 2005. They were eliminated in the semifinals the past three seasons.
"All the hard work has paid off," Rigby said. "I'm glad we're finally here. We finally made it."