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That was crazy, back and forth, back and forth, we didn’t get a break. I was dying —Dallin Holker

SALT LAKE CITY — Over the second half of the season Lehi’s defense has been every bit as good as its offense, and was a big reason the school was playing at Rice-Eccles Stadium in the 5A semifinals on Thursday.

For whatever reason though, Lehi’s defense wasn’t sharp early against Springville as it conceded three big-play touchdowns in the first quarter in a game that looked like it might evolve into a shootout.

However, the next three quarters played out just how Lehi envisioned them. It shut out Springville the rest of the way en route to a comfortable 41-21 victory as it advanced to next Friday’s championship against Skyridge.

“You win games because your defense can stop people, and it’s so much easier to call an offense when you have some relief there. Their ability to make those adjustments to be able to stop them and shut them out was tremendous,” said Lehi coach Ed Larson, whose team lost to Springville 18-15 back in Week 4 of the preseason.

Lehi’s explosive offense made sure the defense’s early shortcomings weren’t an issue, and quarterback Cammon Cooper was again a big reason why.

The senior completed 27 of 39 passes for 330 yards and five touchdowns, with most of that damage coming in the first half as he tossed for 276 yards and four TDs.

Neither offense could do wrong in the first quarter as they combined for seven touchdowns in a freaky fast pace that had many wondering if Lehi might score more than it did in Week 1 against Alta.

Lincoln Bunker opened the scoring for Lehi on a 2-yard run, and Lehi’s next score was a Holker 13-yard TD pass from Cooper.

Springville matched Lehi on each score. The first was a Sean Holloway 75-yard pass from Ty Eriksson, and the second was a Cole Bowers 80 yard run tying the game at 14-14 with 5:47 remaining in the quarter.

“They did a great job. They hit the big plays. Obviously we didn’t want that to happen and didn’t see that coming. That’s an easier fix than a team driving on you, 10-12 (plays), and you have no answers,” said Larson.

The Pioneers regained the lead, 21-14, on a Carsen Manookin 15-yard TD reception, and after a Springville turnover they pushed the lead to 27-14 on another Holker TD reception.

Springville responded with a big kickoff return from Griffin Slavens to set itself up with great field position, and Bowers scored one play later on a 30-yard run to cut make it a 27-21 game.

The Red Devils didn’t score again.

After 48 points in the first quarter, the offenses stalled in the second quarter with Holker accounting for the lone score on a 6-yard pass from Cooper to give Lehi a 34-21 halftime lead.

Leading by 13 at the half, Lehi came out with an aggressive mindset in the third quarter by successfully recovering an onside kick — and it scored four plays later on Holker’s third TD reception of the game to increase the lead to 41-21.

The onside kick was executed to perfection, even though it wasn’t supposed to be that good.

“That ball was supposed to go another 15 yards. … He mishit it and fortunately it bounced our way. We felt we could take advantage of it because of what we had seen off their kickoff return,” said Larson.

Neither team could get much going offensively the rest of the game, but that was just fine with Lehi as it was in complete control after the wild start to the game.

“That was crazy, back and forth, back and forth, we didn’t get a break. I was dying,” said Holker, who finished with nine catches for 85 yards and three touchdowns.

Lehi advanced to its first state championship game since 2000, which it won that year.