I’m very proud of our kids. We played in a really tough region, we had a tough schedule, and I think that prepared us for a great Kearns team. —Pleasant Grove coach Mark Wooton
Trailing 14-7 at halftime of their first-round 6A playoff game at Kearns, Pleasant Grove coach Mark Wooton sent in backup quarterback Easton Casper for one play, a quick run. After picking up 17 yards, the Vikings went quick again, with Casper gaining 8 yards. Wooton, who initially planned to bring starting quarterback Jake Jensen back, went with his gut and kept Casper in the game.
The backup quarterback, who had completed 11-18 passes for 243 yards with one touchdown for the season, rose to the occasion, rushing for 109 yards, a touchdown and completing 6-of-6 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns to help lead Pleasant Grove past heavily favored Kearns 35-31.
“Easton has been a kid that has been in our program, you know, he’s always ran at quarterback, and this year he came out and he just pretty much wanted to play anywhere he could play, so we moved him to receiver,” Wooton said. “We were only going to run him on that initial play, we came up quick, he got a big gain. We went quick again, and he ran for 8 more. All of sudden you’ve got a momentum thing and by then you can’t make the change.”
Pleasant Grove received the ball to start the second half and Casper promptly led the Vikings on a 65-yard drive capped by a 1-yard plunge from Kaino Maldonado. Tied at 14-14, Kearns answered with a 50-yard drive capped by an 11-yard touchdown run from Sese Felila to lead 21-14.
Casper, looking like a seasoned veteran, led the Vikings on a 50-yard drive where he scored on a quarterback keeper from 14 yards to tie the game. Kearns jumped back on top 28-21 after a 13-yard touchdown run from Felila.
Having done most of his damage with his legs, Casper turned to the air and hit Maldonado on a quick slant on the Vikings' first play from scrimmage. The slant turned into an 80-yard strike that tied game at 28-28.
Kearns took a 31-28 lead with 6:44 remaining on an Eric Hickenlooper 29-yard field goal.
On the first play from scrimmage on the Vikings' next possession, Casper hit Maldonado in the right flat. With no Kearns defender in sight, Maldonado hit the jets and scored on a 65-yard touchdown reception.
“He has an arm but he really started killing Kearns with the run,” Maldonado said. “They would be looking for him and I was just wide open.”
The game though belonged to the backup. Wooton brought Casper off the bench in a 34-24 loss to Lone Peak on Oct. 13. That spark continued Friday as the Vikings quarterback delivered Pleasant Grove to the quarterfinals of the 6A championships.
“That’s a great example of a young man,” Wooton said. “Too many kids will quit in that situation because they can’t be the guy, and he’s become a great leader and a champion, and he led us tonight.”
For Kearns, 9-2, the loss was a devastating one. Despite 228 rushing yards and three touchdowns from workhorse Felila for the third consecutive year, the Cougars won’t advance from the first round of the playoffs. Moments after the win, an emotional Wooton couldn’t help but be moved by the magnitude of the Cougars' loss as Kearns players and coaches gathered after a tough loss.
They battled,” Wooton said. “I just feel bad for those kids and how much they’ve done.”
With the win, 4-7 Pleasant Grove advances to the 6A quarterfinals where it will play the winner of the Herriman and Fremont game.
“I’m very proud of our kids,” Wooton said. “We played in a really tough region, we had a tough schedule, and I think that prepared us for a great Kearns team.”