SALT LAKE CITY — On Monday, at Mountain Crest's practice prior to the 4A state championship game against Orem, Mustangs head coach Jason Lee noted that “the team that holds onto the ball the longest usually wins. It is crucial (to hold onto the ball). If you can get a lot of turnovers from the other team, you can turn that into momentum and points, things that'll catapult you into a win.”
His words proved accurate Friday morning at Rice-Eccles stadium, much to the dismay of the Mountain Crest faithful.
The Mustangs lost the turnover battle 4-0 in their title bout with the Tigers and subsequently lost the championship game 26-0.
“We turned the ball over too many times,” said Lee following the heartbreaking loss. “I told you that the other day. If you turn the ball over you don’t win football games.”
The miscues came early and often for the Mustangs as quarterback Brady Hall threw two first-half interceptions, both of which led to Orem field goals, courtesy of kicker Canyon Esplin. Mountain Crest also fumbled to close out the half, on a run by running back Beau Robinson, but that turnover proved harmless.
On the flipside, the Mustang defense was within inches of recovering two Orem fumbles, but each time the Tigers emerged from the pileup without the ball.
The second half, save for a few brief moments of success, was more of the same. Hall threw another pick, cutting another Mustang drive short and on the occasions where turnovers didn’t doom the Cache Valley team, it was sacks by the relentless linemen on the Tigers' defensive line.
Case in point: After falling behind 12-0, Orem scored a touchdown to kick off the second half, Hall connected with receiver Nick Nethercott for a 44-yard reception. For the first time, the Mustangs appeared to have much-needed momentum. That is until Hall was sacked on back-to-back plays, pushing Mountain Crest out of any kind of scoring position.
“We didn’t protect the quarterback like we needed to. We got sacked,” said Lee. “And then turnovers. If you turn the ball over you lose football games and we didn’t get a turnover today. That’s what gets you.”
The loss, while a disappointing end to the season, does not tarnish what was an excellent bounce-back year by the Mustangs. Their seven-win improvement, from three wins in 2016 to 10 wins this year, was the most in state history.
Hall had one of the best seasons by a Mustangs quarterback in recent memory, throwing for almost 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. Nethercott was one of the elite 4A receivers as well, hauling in almost 50 catches for over 1,000 yards, and linebacker Joshua Powell had a breakout senior year on defense, racking up over 130 tackles.
“It was a great year,” said Lee. “This (loss) is not the defining moment of what happened this year. We just knew this was our last game and that is what sucks, losing your last game.”