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Monica G. Gibb
As Salem Hills plays Maple Mountain @ Maple Mountain Friday night.
It came down to turnovers and mistakes for us. We simply had way too many and Maple Mountain took advantage of those opportunities. It cost us the game. —Joel Higginson, Salam Hills coach

Three fumbles and five interceptions — including two picks six — spelled disaster with a capital “D” for Salem Hills as the team was routed by the Eagles of Maple Mountain, 26-7.

The Skyhawks sailed into the game at 7-1 on the season, still soaring from last week’s stunner over Springville. However, they were quickly yanked back to earth when the Eagles’ first drive of the game ended in a field goal by kicker Tanner Dayton. This was just the first of many drives for which the Skyhawks had no answer.

Dayton, who proved to be a formidable kicking force all night long for the tenacious Eagles, was just one of several weapons used by Maple Mountain to inflict damage on the Skyhawks. There was also junior defensive back Jake Mafi, who smothered the Skyhawks normally high-octane offense with intense, in-your-face defense that resulted in a pick for him with 19 seconds left in the first half, one of five on the night for the Eagles.

Then there was senior running back Jake Daybell, who put the “senior” in “senior night” for the Golden Eagles, as he churned out yards by the dozens on multiple carries. Rounding out the group was sophomore quarterback Jaren Hall who commandeered a sharp, methodical Eagle offense and made big plays when he had to, showcasing his talents on the ground as well as in the air.

All of that proved too much for Salem Hills, which played on their heels from the get-go and had no rebuttal for the Eagles' multi-pronged, balanced attack. That was especially true for the Skyhawk offense. They spent the entire first half trying to get out of neutral and gain some momentum but the magic wasn’t there. It was two quarters of fits and starts, punctuated by turnovers that Maple Mountain capitalized on. In fact, it was a pick six by senior defensive end Wyatt Bastian that gave the Eagles their second score of the game with 9:43 left in the second quarter to put them up 10-0. The Skyhawks, again, had no answer and were held scoreless the rest of the half.

The third quarter brought another field goal by Dayton Tanner, stretching the lead to 13-0 for the Eagles. With just over a minute left to play in the third quarter, the Skyhawks sent in backup quarterback Nate Wilson to replace a struggling Chad Peterson. (Peterson had stepped in for the Skyhawks mid-season after starting quarterback Porter Gustin was sidelined with a broken right thumb).

Wilson, who hasn’t taken a varsity snap since August, suddenly found himself in a precarious position, looking at fourth and long in his first series. He dropped back, spotted senior wide receiver Gunnar Gustin and let it fly. Gustin, who has been money all season and is leading the state in receiving TDs, made a great catch and turned it into a 40-yard TD, bringing the Skyhawks within reach at 13-7. That would be one of a very few offensive highlights on the night for Salem Hills.

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Defensively, the Skyhawks continued to contain the Eagles offense until quarterback Jaren Hall punched one in from 5 yards on a quarterback keeper, making the score 19-7 with four minutes left to play in the fourth. Hall’s TD came right after the Skyhawks made a crucial fumble in the red zone just minutes earlier that would have potentially given them a 14-13 lead. Instead they found themselves down by 12 with time running out. With just over two minutes left, the Eagles’ Jake Dixon grabbed yet another pick six, putting the game out of reach and making the final score read 26-7 for Maple Mountain.

A very disappointed Joel Higginson, head coach for Salem Hills, lamented the costly turnovers after the game, “It came down to turnovers and mistakes for us. We simply had way too many and Maple Mountain took advantage of those opportunities. It cost us the game.”