SALT LAKE CITY — After months and months of taking a back seat to its own prolific offense, Orem’s no-name defense is finally getting the respect it deserves.
Orem forced four turnovers and held Mountain Crest to less than 150 yards of total offense to run away with the 4A championship 26-0 on a chilly Friday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“We’ve kind of got a no-name defense as I call them, a bunch of young, tough kids that fly around,” said Orem coach Jeremy Hill. “Not a lot of college offers on that side of the ball, they’re just tough scrappy kids and I love it.”
Mountain Crest had no answer for that scrappy bunch as Orem captured the school’s first state championship since 1994, when Hill was a player that Orem squad. The shutout was the first in a 4A championship game since Timpview beat Lone Peak 42-0 in 2004.
Orem held Timpview to just 137 yards of offense, while its own offense piled up 434 yards as it started to open things up offensively a bit more in the second half.
The Tigers led just 6-0 at the half on a couple of Canyon Esplin field goals, but then scored early in the third quarter on 13-yard TD run by freshman Klaysen Christiansen, which was kind of a backbreaker.
“I felt like if we could get up by two scores in this bad weather it was really going to benefit us,” said Hill.
The key for Orem’s defense was containing Mountain Crest quarterback Brady Hall, a dangerous dual-threat quarterback who’s had a big season. On the windy, wet day at the U., he wasn’t effective doing either as Orem’s defensive line controlled the trenches.
“We had to make sure we kept the quarterback in the pocket, didn’t let him run. He got free a couple times. We all got to the ball and took him,” said Orem safety Remington Hill, who had one of Orem’s three interceptions.
His interception help set the tone early. His interception on Mountain Crest’s second drive set Orem up with great field position and it turned it into points on an Esplin 20-yard field with 3:18 left in the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter Chris Daley picked off Hall's overthrown pass.
“They’re backbreakers. I’ve been on the opposite sides when you throw interceptions it really hurts you,” said Hill.
Orem again turned that interception into a field goal, which it had to settle for after another first and goal situation.
For Mountain Crest, despite getting shut out in the first half, its defense played well allowing only 114 yards in the first half and was realistically just one play away from getting back in the game.
Instead it was Orem that seized momentum with Christianson scoring on a 13-yard run less than 90 seconds into the half for the 12-0 lead.
Mountain Crest responded with a promising drive, but it ended with back-to-back sacks by Cayne Sauao-To’a and Austin Kirkby.
“Those were huge," said Orem safety Ethan Slade. "Our D-lineman and linebackers came up big right there. It helped us big time.”
Kirkby ended the season leading the state with 17 sacks.
Early in the fourth quarter Orem stretched its lead to 19-0 as Puka Nacua — who was hobbled with a foot injury — hauled in a 13-yard touchdown pass from Cooper Legas. Nacua tied the single-season state record with his 24th touchdown.
He finished with 1,691 receiving yards, which ranks second all time in state history.
Legas wrapped up the scoring midway through the fourth quarter on a five-yard touchdown run that came one play after a Slade interception.
“I’ve been telling these guys since the spring, this is a championship team. I’ve been saying every single practice, every single time we get done, all through the summer. I knew the talent we had, and the boys we had were going to buy into the system,” said Hill.
Hill called upon some of his former teammates from that 1994 championship team to come talk to his team throughout the week, and Remington Hill said the message sank in.
“We just showed up and weren’t afraid of anyone. We made it our game,” he said.
Controlling the line of scrimmage and allowing only 62 rushing yards, while piling up 245 yards of its own, was the key to ending a two-plus decade drought.