SALT LAKE CITY — Some players disappear when faced with the bright lights of a championship game, allowing the pressure of a big moment to overshadow what they accomplished to get there.
Highland's Nate Fakahafua isn't one of them.
The senior receiver and defensive end had as close to a perfect game as a player can have on the football field, hauling in 10 catches for 200 yards and three scores to lead the Rams to their first state title since 1986.
Fakahafua's 200 receiving yards was a state record for a championship game.
"Nate's awesome; you can't replace him," Highland coach Brody Benson gushed. "As a player and as a leader he's absolutely awesome. And the thing is, he's as unselfish as they come. I'm so happy for him for what he's done the last year — not only on the field but in his personal growth as well."
After being limited to only 15 yards on two catches in a quiet first half, Fakahafua put his team on his shoulders the rest of the way. Midway through the third quarter he out-jumped his defender to haul in a bomb from quarterback Anthony Smithson, then sprinted to the end zone for a 74-yard score.
His final two touchdowns were even better.
He got behind his defender and scored on a 43-yard strike with less than a minute left to force overtime, then beat three Mountain Crest players to a jump ball in the corner of the end zone in overtime to keep his team in the game.
That final touchdown came on a desperation fourth-and-10 play from the 25-yard line, and even before the snap there was no doubt where the ball was going.
"We know Nate Fakahafua's a big-time playmaker," Smithson said. "We know that he can get it — even with one man, two men, three men on him, he's going to go up and get it from them."
When it comes to do-or-die situations, Fakahafua wanted the pressure squarely on his shoulders.
"I wanted them to throw me the ball, and I wanted to make a big play," he said. "And that's what I did."
Despite his offensive heroics, Fakahafua's influence wasn't limited to that side of the ball. He added two sacks on two consecutive plays in the fourth quarter that knocked Mountain Crest out of field goal position and kept the Rams within one score of the Mustangs.
Lost in the rush of unrestrained emotion as his team celebrated on the field after the win, Fakahafua wasn't sure how to describe the fact that he willed his team to a state title.
"It's just I'm speechless," he said. "I'm just really happy right now."
No matter. His play had already said it all.
e-mail: [email protected]