We got down, but we never thought we couldn't compete, and I'm just so proud of how they battled and then came out on top. —Ridgeline coach Chris Howell
SPANISH FORK — Ridgeline's Junior Damuni had a good idea where the ball was going, and then made the play to secure a thrilling 25-22 win over Spanish Fork on Friday in the first round of the 4A state playoffs.
With just 1:25 remaining on the game clock, the Dons looked to be in prime position, although trailing. A couple of runs set up third-and-goal from the Ridgeline 4-yard line, with a game-tying field goal appearing to be the worst-case scenario for the home team.
It was then when Spanish Fork quarterback Carson Chappell looked to his favorite target, Wei Stanton, in the end zone and threw a pass in the star receiver's direction. Turns out Chappell wasn't the only one looking for Stanton, as Damuni bolted over from his safety position, jumped up and then picked off the would-be game-winning touchdown pass.
"He's a great receiver and the whole game they were going to him," Damuni said. "So me and our corner(back), Hayden Williams — we just talked and he told me to get ready for it because it was coming. He was right and I was able to make the play."
Ridgeline was then able to run the clock before Spanish Fork's final gasp on a punt return came up short.
"They battled and they fought like crazy," said Ridgeline coach Chris Howell of his players' effort on Friday. "We got down, but we never thought we couldn't compete, and I'm just so proud of how they battled and then came out on top."
Things were a bit different for Ridgeline on Aug. 18, when it traveled to take on the Dons in the first game of the 2017 season. The team drove back to Cache Valley after being handed a 22-8 loss and with a lot of questions yet to be sorted out.
"We've changed a lot since that loss and the kids have really grown and improved throughout the year," Howell said. "They've worked hard and kept with it and this is a big win for us here today."
The Riverhawks kept with it on Friday, despite incurring an early 9-0 deficit during the first quarter. The Dons were poised to build on that lead until Hayden Bowen intercepted a pass and returned it into Spanish Fork territory. A few plays later saw quarterback Brady Stuart hit Micah White with a 21-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 9-7 with 1:20 left in the half. A field goal added on late had Ridgeline leading 10-9 into the half.
"That interception was absolutely humongous," Howell said. "It switched all the momentum and we really got things going after that."
The Riverhawks started the second half scoring via a trick play, which had receiver Sam Weda throw a 16-yard touchdown pass to White to extend the lead to 18-7 after a successful two-point conversion.
The Dons came storming back, however, and scored two straight touchdowns to take the lead back at 22-18 with 8:19 remaining. Chappell accounted for both scores, with touchdown tosses of 30 yards and 1 yard to Stanton and Noah Conway, respectively.
It was then Ridgeline's turn to respond yet again, and it did just that. Stuart helped guide an 82-yard scoring drive that culminated with him throwing a 10-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Dahle.
"I think a lot of people counted us out this year, but we battled. We just battled and this win is huge for us," Howell said. "We never counted ourselves out and we worked to get a win against a very good Spanish Fork team today."
With the win, Ridgeline advances to the quarterfinal round where it will take on Stansbury.