I loved watching everyone get those picks. I was so pumped. —Bingham defensive back Tanner Merril
SALT LAKE CITY — According to Bingham Miners head coach John Lambourne his team isn’t "an interception-happy team. We don’t actually try to get interceptions all the time."
Statistically he’s right. During the regular season, the top-ranked Miners recorded just 23 turnovers (fumbles included), with 10 of said thefts coming in just two games.
The playoffs have continued that trend, as the Miners hadn’t caused an excessive amount of turnovers in early round games against Cyprus or Syracuse.
That all changed Friday afternoon against the Herriman Mustangs.
The Miners picked off Herriman quarterback Blake Freeland six times during the 6A semifinal contest, held at Rice-Eccles Stadium, setting the tone for their 31-7 victory.
"They are critical," Lambourne said of the interceptions. "Often times you aren’t only getting an extra possession, you are also gaining field position a lot of the time."
"I feel like we were really good as a defensive unit," defensive back Tanner Merril added. "Coach kind of knew what (the Mustangs) were gonna do before they did it. He just kept setting us up and we got picks off of them."
Lambourne considered Friday’s outing an anomaly, a happy accident for his team, and yet the Miners have shown a predilection for causing turnovers in big games this season.
In three of their four games against the other three 6A semifinalists this season, the Miners racked up a jaw-dropping 16 turnovers.
Against the East Leopards, on Aug. 25, the Miners caused five turnovers, including four fumbles and an interception by Brayden Crosper.
Against the Lone Peak Knights, on Sept. 29, the Miners caused an additional five turnovers, picking off Knights quarterback Brock Jones four times (Merril was responsible for two of those picks, while Junior Tafuna and Kobi Matagi each added another).
And then of course in their latest game against the Mustangs, the Miners recorded six picks.
"The team is definitely a lot more teed in and focused before big games," said Merril. "The locker room, before the game, was dead silent. Nobody was talking; everybody was focused and ready to play."
Merril perhaps more so than the others. The senior defensive back was responsible for two of Freeland interceptions, the first of which he returned 36 yards for a touchdown.
"Tanner is just a little stud. He is as good of a defensive back as there is in the state," said Lambourne. "Some of the things we were doing strategically helped put him in position, but you can put guys in position, it’s up to them to execute. Their timing has to be good, their instincts have got to be good. I love that kid."
"I loved watching everyone get those picks," said Merril. "I was so pumped. Kobi dropped like three and then he finally got one and we were all like ‘Ya Kobi!" You got one!’."
"It’s a race to the ball in some situations," added Lambourne. "We dropped a few potential ones and we teased each other about it, but I love to see all of our guys be successful and feel like they are part of the show."
The scary thing for the Leopards, the Miners opponent in the upcoming 6A state title game, is things are likely only to get better for Bingham on the turnover front.
"I feel like we still can improve, definitely," said Merril. "We made some mistakes (today) and I feel like we can clean those up and be even better next week."