This was one of those games where we executed so well on both offense and defense and it is going to help us tremendously as we head into the second half of our season. We had guys step up and make big plays tonight when we needed them. —Joel Higginson, Salem Hills head coach
A cold front moved into the region this week. With it came pelting rain and plunging temperatures, but the red-hot Skyhawks of Salem Hills showed no signs of cooling off Friday night as they claimed their latest victim — the Bulldogs of Provo High. With the final score reading 43-21, it was a lopsided victory for the Skyhawks who continue to blow through conference opponents like a twister through Texas, only dropping one game so far to perennial powerhouse Timpview.
The Skyhawks took flight early in the contest when Cooper Smith grabbed an interception and streaked 30 yards downfield after just four minutes of play. That set up a long bomb from quarterback Porter Gustin to Zac Zobell, who snagged the ball in traffic and then sliced and diced his way to the end zone for an electrifying 75-yard TD and the Skyhawks' first score.
Less than two minutes later Hayden Albrecht recovered a fumble, putting the Skyhawks back in the red zone. Facing second and goal, quarterback Porter Gustin plunged into the end zone on a quarterback keeper to give the Skyhawks another six points, putting them up 15-0 after a successful two-point conversion.
After completing his first four passes of the game, including the 75-yard TD strike to Zobell on his very first snap, Porter Gustin was halted on his way to a stellar performance when he suffered a game-ending injury to his right thumb. It came after he sacked Provo’s quarterback for an 8-yard loss at the end of the first quarter, causing him to spend the rest of the game on the sideline cheering on his fellow Skyhawks.
He was taken for X-rays immediately after the game. With Gustin out, backup quarterback Chad Peterson stepped up and took over the helm for Salem Hills. His tenacious play kept the momentum rolling for the Skyhawks, who scored right before halftime when he hit Gunnar Gustin on a 9-yard pass, making it 22-7 at the break.
Coming out after halftime, the Bulldog offense tried to gain some momentum but the Skyhawk defense proved too formidable a foe again. Led by senior Walker Van Tassel, who racked up 11 tackles on the night, Salem Hills kept the Bulldogs on a tight leash, making it difficult for Provo’s quarterback Viliami Iongi to get much of anything going.
The Skyhawk offense, on the other hand, was relentless in pushing the ball downfield. With 7:10 to go in the third quarter, they managed to put seven more points on the board when Max Robinson punched it in on a short run. The Skyhawks' lead was extended to 29-7.
Just over a minute later, a lightning-quick Cooper Smith picked off yet another Iongi pass for a 45-yard TD run, and the Skyhawks went up 36-7. As the quarter was winding down, Provo forced a fumble on the Skyhawks' goal line and easily converted that into a Bulldog TD, making the score 36-14.
The Skyhawks went on to score once more as time expired in the third quarter in what was clearly the most creative play of the night. It involved several handoffs in the backfield until the ball ended up in wide receiver Zac Zobell’s hands. Best known for his prowess at catching balls, Zobell launched a beautiful 45-yard spiral to a streaking Gunnar Gustin, who caught it on the run with nothing but green grass between him and the goalpost. Provo’s final TD came as the last 12 seconds melted off the clock, producing a final score of 43 -21 for the Skyhawks.
Skyhawk defensive phenom Cooper Smith, a sophomore, won the Skyhawks' “Player of the Game” award last week for snagging two interceptions against Wasatch. After notching two big ones again this week, he was asked about his knack for knowing where the ball is going to be. He said that he spends a lot of time preparing for the games on Thursday nights by studying film with his older brother, a coach at BYU. As for that knack?
“Yep, I’ve always had it, I guess,” shrugged Smith.
Skyhawks head coach Joel Higginson was pleased after the game and praised the efforts of his whole team.
“This was one of those games where we executed so well on both offense and defense and it is going to help us tremendously as we head into the second half of our season. We had guys step up and make big plays tonight when we needed them. Unfortunately we had some big injuries that could have hurt us, but guys stepped in and kept the momentum going. It was a solid team win for us.”