COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS Moments after Kearns canceled out a defensive stop with an untimely penalty, Dominick Cagle knew something had to change. Brighton was in prime position to mount a late game rally inside the red zone and driving for a go-ahead touchdown.
The senior defensive back thought if he could put himself in the right position, he could get back a little of that lost momentum.
"I was just thinking we got to make a play," Cagle said. "We can't do anything except play how we play (best)."
Cagle delivered just the kind of big play his team needed. He stepped in front of Derek Newellis pass and raced 91 yards the other way to put the finishing touches on Kearns' 20-14 victory at Brighton High on Friday night.
It was Cagle's first touchdown off an interception and was the first of three picks in the final quarter that helped the Cougars stave off the Bengals' attempted comeback.
"Defense is everything," Cagle said. "If we wouldn't have made a stop, they could have easily (come) back. As long as we make that stop like we know we can, we just got to let our offense do the rest."
Kearns saw little from its offense early on. The Cougars managed a paltry 11 yards in the first quarter and had only 82 total yards by halftime.
Even so, they took a 6-0 lead midway through the second quarter on Fatu Moala's 31-yard catch from J.R. Finai. Kearns could have held onto the lead, too, if not for a fumble on the next drive that gave Brighton the ball at the Cougar 25.
The Bengals took advantage of the field position, going up 7-6 when Moses Lotulelei converted a fourth-and-goal situation by eluding a tackler and backpedaling into the end zone.
Kearns struggled to put Brighton away when it had the chance. The Cougars killed their own drives with penalties and kept the Bengals in it through similar fashion.
"The thing you worry about early in games is mistakes, and we made a ton of them," Kearns coach Bill Cosper said. "We corrected a few things at halftime that allowed us to get over a few things."
The turning point for the Cougars came in the third quarter. Though the team did not score any points, it held the ball for all but three minutes. That ball control finally paid off when senior back Alamoti Vaenuku punched in an 8-yard touchdown run to make it 13-7.
From there, the Cougars went up 20-7 on Cagle's interception return and seemed to be on their way to an easy victory when Tyson Adamson intercepted Newell on the first play of Brighton's next drive.
But Kearns nearly gave the game away when a series of penalties forced it to punt. Newell shook off his struggles and completed 5 of 8 passes for 53 yards capped off by an 18 yard toss to Jace Felix to push the Bengals to within six.
Brighton recovered a subsequent onside kick. Another successful drive did not come to fruition, however. Naki Angilau intercepted Newell on the first play of the drive and returned it to the Bengal 30 before fumbling the ball away to Aaron Phillips.
Cosper felt disgusted with the Cougars' series of undisciplined penalties and said ridding them would be a point of emphasis in practice next week."We just got to get smarter and eliminate our mistakes and weill be OK," Cosper said.