SANDY — Expectations were high for Friday night’s season opener featuring second-ranked Alta and fifth-ranked Lehi, but nothing prepared coaches and players for the thrill-ride, gut-punch, double-overtime battle the Pioneers survived with a 72-66 win.
“I don’t even,” said Lehi quarterback Cammon Cooper, who finished the night with 10 touchdowns and 599 yards in the double-overtime win. “It’s indescribable. It feels great to get the win.”
Alta scored first when an impressive defensive stand gave them the ball on the 45-yard line. Zack Engstrom had the first of five touchdowns (six if one hadn’t been called back for holding in the fourth quarter) with a 13-yard run.
The senior running back had some impressive moments, but none was more spectacular than his 52-yard rushing touchdown at the end of the first quarter, in which he eluded defenders with a spin move allowed him to change direction without slowing down at all.
Lehi answered with Cooper’s first passing touchdown — an 11-yard connection with Jaxon Moody (who finished with two touchdowns). Lehi recovered a fumble at 3:03 in the first quarter, and by 2:21, Cooper had found the end zone again, this time connecting to Dallin Holker with an 18-yard pass play. Holker finished with five touchdown receptions, but his most impressive moment came when Kade Moore caught a pass and then tossed it to Holker who was trailing him.
“Wow,” Larson said. “I’ve got cotton mouth I expected the high-scoring part of it, but credit their kids for the way they played in the third and fourth quarters.”
The second quarter it looked like Lehi might pull away from the Hawks with Cooper connecting with Carsen Manookin and Moody for a 27-14 lead. Alta answered when, after losing 13 yards on a holding call, Hawks quarterback Will Dana connected with London Rockwood on a 66-yard passing touchdown.
Lehi converted on a fourth and seven, but then MJ Tafisi intercepted one of Cooper’s passes in the end zone. The Hawks didn’t capitalize with a score, but Lehi managed one more touchdown — Cooper to Manookin — with 11.5 seconds left in the second quarter.
Alta fumbled on their first series of the third quarter, but then the Pioneers fumbled with Alta captain London Rockwood recovering. The Hawks capitalized on their recovery when Dana connected with Engstrom.
The game then became an impressive exchange of big plays. Two touchdowns from Dana to Donovan Spillers for Alta, the second of which came after Cooper fumbled and the Hawks recovered. That tied the game at 42 with 2:48 to play in the third quarter.
Alta took the lead with 1:35 left in the third when Dana connected with Engstrom again, and then a 42-yard field goal by Jett Sollis gave the Hawks their largest lead of the game, 52-42.
The show continued with one of the absolute highlights coming when Tu’u Afu scored on a jaw-dropping 70-yard run that included two changes of direction, him knocking down defenders with one arm and then diving into the end zone to elude a final attempt by a defender.
Lehi had to run a hook and ladder to set up the field goal from Wyatt Mosher that tied the game and sent it into overtime. Both teams scored, including Lehi’s fourth-and-9 conversion that ended with another Cooper to Holker touchdown in the first overtime.
Engstrom tied the game at 66 after Afu rumbled to the 1-yard line, again knocking defenders to the ground as he ran.
Lehi ended it with a 9-yard pass play to Holker after Alta’s field goal attempt fell short. The final score 72-66 seemed more like a basketball score than a football result.
“If anybody saw this, they’d say, ‘We gotta come watch this’,” he said of how entertaining the game was. “This is amazing. You can’t put any label on it other than ‘Come see for yourself what the state of Utah has to offer.’”
He praised his players, including his quarterback, but noted there is a lot of room for the Pioneers to improve.
“We’ve got some things to clean up,” he said. “But overall, what a great, terrific game.”