Coming out of my hand, it felt great. And then seeing him catch it was the greatest feeling ever. —Jayden Clemons
SALT LAKE CITY — There was a whole lot going in during Skyridge's thrilling 34-33 victory in its 5A state semifinal round on Thursday, but ultimately it came down to two plays and 23 seconds.
Down 33-27 with just 1:25 remaining, the Falcons set up shop at their own 31-yard line with an improbable comeback bid well within grasp. At least that was the mentality of Skyridge quarterback Jayden Clemons and evidently the entire Skyridge sideline.
“I knew we were going to score. I didn’t know how long it would take, but I was ready,” Clemons said.
Turns out it didn't take long at all.
Clemons dropped back on the first play of the series, trusted his pre-snap read and delivered a strike to streaking receiver Nathan Upham for a 46-yard pass over the top of Corner Canyon's defense.
“Coming out of my hand, it felt great,” Clemons said. “And then seeing him catch it was the greatest feeling ever.”
One play later Clemons looked Upham's way again, this time delivering a similar pass to the left corner of the end zone. Upham reached out one hand on the play, which is something the Skyridge receivers practice every day, and hauled in what proved to be the 23-yard game-winning touchdown.
“He put it in the perfect spot for me to make a big-time play,” Upham said. “It’s just amazing how we all have trust in each other and work hard together every day. We know if it’s there that we’re going to come down with it, no matter what.”
The good news for Skyridge was it regained a 34-33 lead after Connor Harris kicked through the extra point. The bad news was a full 1:02 left on the clock and the Chargers with all three timeouts.
But while many may have been anxious regarding Corner Canyon's comeback chances, Skyridge players and coaches weren't harboring any doubts.
“No, not at all. I trust my defense,” Clemons said when asked if he feared his team scored too quickly. “Defense always tells me that defense wins championships and they showed that today.”
Sure enough the Skyridge defense showed big, although it did allow for one last gasp, in the form of a 50-yard field goal attempt as time was about to expire. But a bad snap preempted the field-goal try as Skyridge players stormed the field in celebration.
“These guys just dug deep and fought for each other. And when you do that, the emotion is pretty strong,” Skyridge coach Jon Lehman said.
Digging deep is necessary when incurring an early 26-7 deficit, particularly considering how stingy the Chargers' defense proved throughout the year. Corner Canyon built its big 19-point lead after two defensive touchdowns, grabbing a lot of momentum in the process.
Skyridge was able to snatch back some of that momentum, however, with Colby Samuels receiving a 54-yard touchdown pass from Clemons, cutting the Chargers' lead to 26-13 at the break.
“Those (two defensive touchdowns) can really make you crumble as a team. But we kept on fighting as a team," Lehman said. "You just got to get points on the board and so that big play was huge for our mindset going into the half.”
In the second half there was a lot of back-and-forth and four turnovers before the Chargers seemingly regained control after a 14-yard touchdown run by Tai Gonzales to make it 33-27 with 10:30 remaining.
Skyridge failed to cash in on a couple of opportunities, leading up to a ball-control drive by Corner Canyon well into the Falcons' territory. A big sack made in a third-and-long situation pushed the Chargers out of field goal range and kept the game to a one-score deficit with 1:25 remaining.
With the win Skyridge became only the fifth school to reach the championship round in its second year as a program. When asked about the accomplishment, Lehman was low-key.
“For me, my emotions will really kick in once the season’s over,” Lehman said. “I’m really happy that we won, but I’m going to watch this second (semifinal) game here and see what we can pick up.”