We knew all year we were going to make it. We’ve been looking forward to this moment our whole lives. —Orem quarterback Cooper Legas
SALT LAKE CITY — Things haven’t been easy this season for the Orem Tigers. In the offseason they replaced all but three of their coaches. Not only that, they lost upwards of 10 players, including seven starters, to transfer or family relocation. Adding insult to injury was the fact that the Tigers remained in the 4A classification, rather than following their traditional rivals up to 5A.
Through it all, head coach Jeremy Hill and his Tigers had one goal, win a state title.
They kept that dream alive Friday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium, defeating the undefeated Sky View Bobcats 28-12 in the 4A semifinals.
“I couldn’t be prouder of my kids,” said Hill. “These kids are loyal and they bought in. That’s been the difference for us. We’re not as talented as we were last year but we are here, playing for a state championship, because they bought in.”
“We knew all year we were going to make it,” star quarterback Cooper Legas added. “We’ve been looking forward to this moment our whole lives.”
Legas led the way for the Region 10 champs, throwing for 189 yards and a touchdown and rushing for an additional 28 yards and two scores.
Elite receiver Puka Nacua made his mark as well, per the usual, hauling in seven passes for 55 yards and a touchdown.
It wasn’t all Legas and Nacua, however. It was a complete performance by the Tigers.
Tight end Enoch Fiso caught six passes for a team-high 75 yards and running backs Peter Kenese, Raphael Cooper and Trevor Rockey combined to rush for 55 yards and a score (Rockey also racked up 34 receiving yards).
Defensively, the Tigers were led by defensive end Billy Tenney, who racked up 12 tackles and two sacks. Safety Ethan Slade led a dynamic group of defensive backs with 10 tackles, while fellow safety Shawn Anderson, as well as Nacua, hauled in an interception.
Even special teams got involved, blocking two Sky View point-after attempts, not to mention Ben Daley’s monster 71-yard kickoff return.
“Our balance separates us a little bit,” said Hill. “Most teams in 4A are offense or defense heavy.”
“(Sky View) was 11-0 and ranked No. 1 (in 4A) for a reason,” added Hill. “We didn’t expect to come out here and win by 50. We expected a dogfight. I think that is what we got and I think it is reflected in the score.”
Orem got the scoring started early in the second quarter when Legas, after leading the Tigers on a seven-play 41-yard drive, scampered untouched into the end zone.
“We all prepared well,” said Legas. “Our O-line read all their blitzes, called it all out and it made scrambling easier.”
The Tigers added another score five minutes later when Rockey punched in a three-yard run to cap off a 10-play 62-yard drive.
Sky View finally got on the board, in the waning minutes of the first half, when quarterback Jackson Siddoway threw a desperation heave into the end zone which receiver Mason Falslev somehow came down with.
Orem kicked off the second-half with yet another touchdown drive, this one capped off by a four-yard reception by Nacua.
“Puka is the man. That is what it is,” said Hill.
Orem added their final score just two minutes after Sky View had cut the lead to 21-12, when Legas miraculously escaped multiple Bobcats defenders, including a near sure-fire sack, before strolling into the end zone.
“I was supposed to boot to the right, but we had done that earlier in the game so they saw it coming,” said Legas. “I dunno what happened, I just tried to make a play and it worked.”
“I’ve been coaching Cooper for five years now and that's what he does,” said Hill. “That is what makes him special.”
On this occasion, it was clear that the Tigers are simply that, special. Special enough to have secured their place in the 4A state title game.
“It’s been 23 years since we’ve been here,” said Hill. “I’m happy for these boys and I’m so excited for them to have the opportunity to win a ring next week.”