OGDEN — Brighton coach Jeff Gardner explained it perfectly.
“Sometimes you’re the pigeon and sometimes you’re the statue. Tonight, I was the statue.”
With an unprecedented and questionable method, the Bengals stalled for 11 minutes — including the entire second quarter — amidst boos and whistles from fans wanting to watch the nation’s No. 1 ranked team and potential national champion — Lone Peak.
After a scoreless second quarter, the Bengals trailed 14-7 at the break.
“That’s his call — I think what he was thinking is, ‘Lone Peak has had maybe one or two close games all year, let’s see how they react and see if they push the panic button,’ ” Lone Peak coach Quincy Lewis said. “I’ll tell you what, we’ve put a lot of time in practice working against these types of things. We know that we’re going to see this kind of thing.”
The Knights — up seven or up 20 — did exactly what they’ve done all year in the third quarter. With contributions across the board, Lone Peak lit the match and torched Brighton, 53-27.
“I thought we were pretty well prepared for it, but I didn’t think Brighton would do it because they like to get up and down and they’ve got some guys that can really go,” Lewis said. “I don’t blame Jeff Gardner at all. He’s done a great job at Brighton. I think what this lends itself to is — hey let’s get a shot clock.”
The Knights will face Alta on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in the 5A championship with the opportunity to cap a heralded season.
“It’s hard work — it’s not easy to get here,” Lone Peak’s Nick Emery said. “We’ve put hours and hours of work into everything that we do. It’s even more awesome to do it with my teammates because we’ve been doing it since we were young. It’s been a lot of fun.”
With one game remaining, Lewis was left with a bittersweet feeling knowing it will be the last time the incredible class will play together in high school.
"What a fun group," Lewis said. "You don’t really think about that, but boy when they’re gone they’ll be good memories for sure.”
Brighton figured its best shot against the Knights, who had won the last two meetings by a combined margin of 50 points, was to limit possessions.
“We’ve played them twice and we’ve gotten handled twice. I think coming in we knew that we were going to need something to turn the tide,” Gardner said. “We had talked all week and we had practiced the offense for quite a while. (The players) knew it was coming.”
Brighton appeared formidable in the opening minutes. Shortly into the first quarter, tied 2-2, Brandon Miller put the Bengals up 5-2 after he twined a 3-pointer at 6:19.
Lone Peak quickly responded with a 12-3 run that featured treys from Connor Toolson and T.J. Haws, a two-handed flush by Eric Mika and a breakaway layup from Talon Shumway.
With the strategy in mind, the question of why the Bengals elected not to stall with the lead arose.
“It was a delicate balance — the plan wasn’t to stall,” Gardner explained. “The plan was to draw them out, and we felt that at 14-7 we needed to give them a different look because they had us on the ropes. We felt that was our best chance offensively — to space the floor and give our guards more room."
Realizing the game was on the brink of collapse, Gardner motioned for Bryce Callahan to stand at half-court, tuck the ball under his wing, and wait.
But with the seven-point lead — the Knights were content.
“We’re up seven. We’ll do that,” Lewis said. “The goal of the game is to win.”
“We were up 14-7, so coach just told us to back off,” Lone Peak’s Eric Mika added. “We’re not going out to chase them.”
Gardner thought the Knights would eventually budge.
“I didn’t think (Lewis) would let us hold it, but you know what? He’s a lot better coach than I am,” Gardner said. “He made that decision, and it was it is.”
In the third quarter, the Bengals pulled within five, 21-16. Unhindered, completely in rhythm, the Knights patiently waited the ensuing possession and eventually found Emery. In one full swoop, he tied the state record for most career 3-pointers and sparked a 12-0 run that crushed any lingering hope.
“We were up seven. We didn’t want to push the panic button like Brighton did — I feel like,” Emery said. “I was actually really surprised, I thought that they were going to stall it again. We started playing our game and really pushed it to them.”