SALT LAKE CITY — Prior to their quarterfinal contest against the Jordan Beetdiggers, Skyridge head coach John Lehman touted the balance of his Falcons, noting “our greatest strength is our balance. Teams that are versatile can win a lot of different type of games. Those are the teams that survive a long season. We believe we are one of those teams.”
Lehman’s words held true in that contest, a 45-43 offense-heavy victory for the Falcons.
They held true again Thursday afternoon at the University of Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium, as Skyridge defeated the No. 3 ranked Corner Canyon Chargers 34-33.
The plaudits and credit for the victory will go to the Falcons offense, and rightfully so, thanks to incredible clutch plays by quarterback Jayden Clemons and wide receiver Nathan Upham.
And yet, it was the Falcons defense that came through time and again against the dynamic Chargers.
Skyridge held the Chargers to a measly 2.2 yards per carry on the afternoon, for a total of 94 rushing yards. Chargers quarterback Zach Wilson, one of the best quarterbacks in 5A this season, rushed the ball 23 times for only 35 yards. He was also sacked three times, not to mention the quarterback hurries.
The Falcons secondary gave up its share of passing yards — Wilson threw for 341 — but allowed only one touchdown reception.
Skyridge even stopped the Chargers on multiple fourth-down tries, including one in the red zone.
“We were confident in our defense,” said Lehman. “We just told everyone to do their job.”
Taufa’s pick was particularly impressive, coming at the outset of the third quarter. With his team trailing 26-13 and Corner Canyon driving, Taufa made a one-handed grab of a Wilson toss. The pick helped propel the Falcons to a touchdown, thanks to the gift of excellent field position.
“My coaches were telling me I needed to make a play, 'cause big players make big plays in big games,” said Taufa. “I dropped back, saw the ball and caught it. I was just proud of my football family that I made that play for all of them.”
When Wilson and the Chargers seemed primed to take control of the game, during the game-deciding fourth quarter, it was the Skyridge defense that came up huge once again.
The Falcons held the Chargers to just seven points in the fourth, despite Corner Canyon holding a decisive five-minute edge in time of possession.
“We kind of mixed it up a little. We sent more pressure,” said Lehman. “At some point our guys just won the one-on-one matchups. That’s what it takes.”
The increased pressure was readily apparent on the Chargers final drive, as Ridge Harrell and Taufa each found their way into the Chargers backfield (Harrell recorded a sack, while Taufa had a quarterback hurry).
Of course the biggest defensive play came on the final snap of the game when the continued pressure of the Falcons front seven contributed to a botched Corner Canyon snap on what was a probable game-winning field goal attempt.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Taufa said of the final play. “I couldn’t think straight. I was just excited. I’m excited to play another week of football.”