SYRACUSE — A year later, and the play still haunts Syracuse High's Diante Mitchell every day.
The Titans football team — trailing Region 1 rival Fremont 21-14 in overtime of the 5A state semifinals on Nov. 11, 2011 — faced a fourth-and-goal, do-or-die situation at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
One last play, and one last chance to score a touchdown and tie the game again, or possibly even go for a game-winning two-point conversion, which would've vaulted Syracuse into the state finals for the first time in the school's short history.
Mitchell caught a short pass and tried to fight his way into the end zone, but as he strained to cross the goal line, a Fremont defender dragged him down just inches away from his desired destination.
The Silver Wolves went to the state championship game — and the Titans went home.
“The fact that we did come up inches short, that motivated us to work that much harder this year," Mitchell said of the undefeated Titans (12-0), who will face Jordan (11-1) for the 5A title on Friday at 2:30 p.m. "And I made a promise to the team this summer that I wouldn’t come up short again.
“I always wish that if I was just a couple inches taller or my arms were just a little bit longer, I would’ve crossed the plane (of the goal line) that day."
Mitchell, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound senior wide receiver and defensive back, says he has replayed that play over and over in his head a gazillion times.
"I still have that recording on my DVR, and my grandpa has that newspaper article framed at his house. And every time I go over there, it’s motivation for me now," he said.
“After our win against Alta (in the quarterfinals), it was pretty emotional that I got a second shot to go back into the state semifinals and redeem myself. And seeing Bingham come up just inches short (in last week's semifinals against Syracuse), I was glad it came out to our advantage this year. And now we get a chance to play for the state championship,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell realizes what a great opportunity this is for he and his teammates, and it's one they knew they might get if they worked hard all year and things fell into place for the sixth-year school in western Davis County.
“It’s a pretty big game, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. Every senior wants to be playing in this game, and we’re fortunate enough to be able to play in it.
“We knew from the beginning of the season that, as long as we put in the time and we worked hard, there was no doubt in our mind that we could get to the state championship this year.
“It’s gonna come down to all three parts of the game — special teams, offense and defense," Mitchell said of Friday's matchup with a high-powered Jordan team that averages nearly 47 points per game.
"Our defense is gonna have to play solid; we’re gonna have to shut down their run game. On offense, we’re just gonna have to keep putting up points like we have been. And on special teams this year, we’ve got some turnovers on special teams that have been huge for us, and I think all three parts are gonna help us, hopefully, get the win on Friday."
One of the Titans' mantras is "hustle to the ball and do your job."
And even when they lost starting quarterback Brock Anderson with a torn Achilles tendon in their quarterfinal victory over Alta, the Titans didn't panic. Instead, they turned the job over to sophomore Kole Tracy in last week's semifinal showdown with Bingham, and he came through for them big time.
Now, they're just a step away from turning their championship dreams into a glorious reality.
"It feels good," said senior offensive tackle and defensive end Cardon Malan. "We've earned it, I'd say. We've worked too hard not to be here.
"That was our goal, ultimately, that's what we wanted and that's what we all wanted to go out and win — a state championship. I believed that we would get this far. I always knew that we had the athletes for it and the team and the coaches, but I think a lot of people are kind of surprised that we made it this far. But I'm not."
Russ Jones, the only head coach the Titans' program has ever had, says his squad has been strong at overcoming any adversity that comes its way and at always staying focused on the task at hand.
"Being there in the semis last year helps us, I think," Jones said. "If you haven't been there before, I think you go down there and you lose focus, gawking around at the stands and everything's new, the territory's new, and it's a big stadium. So I'm sure just going down there once or twice before has helped us keep focused on what we're there for."
Coach Jones has confidence that his sophomore QB, with the help of playmakers like Mitchell and a stellar defensive unit that's allowed little more than 9 points per game, can get the job done.
"He's a tough kid," Jones said of Tracy, who took over in the second half of last week's game against Bingham, "and that'd be tough to do because he didn't take every rep in the first half.
"I think he's pretty relaxed and pretty confident right now with what's going on. Just the reps that we give him here in the next couple of days I think should help, too, get him up to the speed of the game.
"Our goal this season was to just try and win each week, and the ultimate goal is to win the region and state championship," Jones said. "But at the beginning of the year, that's kinda off in the distance quite a bit. ... Now, if we can just get 'er done."
And as far as Mitchell and the Titans are concerned, coming up short is simply not an option.
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