SPANISH FORK — It started out pretty for the Wasps.
In its third Region 8 contest of the season, Wasatch, as it had done in every game so far this season, put up the first score on a precision drive, taking a 7-0 lead.
Then, as the pink and purple skies over the stadium turned to darkness, things got pretty for the home team as the Golden Eagles answered with a touchdown and extra point to tie it up 7-7.
After that, however, any resemblance of a beautiful offensive performance — from either team — went by the wayside.
“It wasn’t the prettiest of wins,” said Wasatch head coach Steve Coburn. “It was the kind of dogfight that we’re accustomed to playing against a good team like Maple Mountain. Traditionally we have really good games with them. As it went on, we knew we were going to have to win this one on guts and determination.”
Wasatch took the opening kickoff and found pay dirt in less than two minutes on a Brock Cloward 35-yard TD pass to receiver Brydger Purdy. Matthias Dunn made the extra point, and the Wasps were up early.
The Golden Eagles had a first drive plan of their own and marched up the field, mostly on the legs of running back Jesse Harness, who dodged a flat-footed Wasp defense and darted 22 yards for a touchdown. Hayden Nielsen hit the extra point and the game was tied with over half of the first quarter remaining.
That would be the only time either offense would find the end zone — especially uncharacteristic of Wasatch, which had been averaging over 31 points per game in 2018.
Wasatch appeared to be on its regular offensive pace on its second drive, but a third-down pass attempt fell incomplete from the Golden Eagles' 7-yard line, forcing a field goal attempt. That 25-yard offering was good by Dunn, and the visitors were up 10-7 with 3:16 left in the quarter.
Both teams had opportunities in the second quarter, but things turned sloppy as the officials began tossing yellow flags.
Multiple holding calls reversed positive gains on the ground by the Golden Eagles. Personal fouls were handed to both squads, killing drives and turning back apparent first downs.
As the first half was coming to a close, a tightened, conservative feel seemed to come over both offenses.
Wasatch, with a solid drive in the final minutes of the second period, on the legs of running back Zak Thacker, could not score from inside the red zone and again settled for a Dunn field goal. The 31-yarder gave the Wasps a 13-7 lead at the half.
The second half produced more defense and more penalties. The pace of the game slowed, and the Golden Eagles and Wasps exchanged punts after promising drives fizzled out at midfield.
Following a stout defensive stand by the Wasps, led by Purdy, who produced 14 tackles, Nielsen booted a solid 38-yard field goal with 2:29 left in the third to bring the score to 13-10.
The fourth quarter was a tense one for the visiting Wasps, having to repeatedly count on their defense to hold off any score by the home team. Following an interception of Maple Mountain quarterback Cameron Dorny by linebacker Parker Quinton, the Wasps seemed rejuvenated.
With its passing arsenal basically grounded by a hard-rushing Golden Eagles front, Wasatch continued to ride on the shoulders of Thacker, who churned out north and south yardage for his team. The change in the usual Wasatch attack was successful in eating up time off the clock. It was a strategy Coburn admitted his team should have relied on more often down the stretch.
“We sort of gave up on the run last week,” he said. “Zak has been very solid at picking up yards in small chunks. That wears on a defense and shortens the game, and we wanted to go with that as the game was winding down.”
As runs by Thacker and Cloward, who gained 83 and 68 yards on the ground respectively, put Wasatch in scoring position, the visitors still could not find the end zone and called on Matthias for a 27-yard field goal attempt.
Maple Mountain got the break it needed with a smothering block of Dunn’s attempt. The home crowd went into a frenzy at the thought of an upset on a last-minute scoring drive.
That was not meant to be, however, as the Wasps' defense held on to stop the Golden Eagles near midfield and secure the win.
Coburn, who had watched his team lose a preseason game in Colorado earlier this fall on a last drive of the game, was relieved with the win, but confident in his young Wasps.
“With the penalties that were being called in this game — and not just on us, but on them, it's good to get away with a tough road win,” he said. “Our kids fight hard. They have every game. You never want to see the game taken out of their hands by officiating, but it was a little too close for comfort at the end there.”Comment on this story
The victory was not only big for Wasatch, but necessary. With Skyridge knocking Springville down a notch, and Provo thwarting a Timpanogos shot at a share of the third seed, the Wasps are, for now, sitting in a second-place tie-breaker situation.
“We’d love to get that second seed and a home playoff game,” Coburn added. “But this is very tough region with all good football teams. We cannot take anything for granted and will have to play to the end to secure that.”
The Wasps host Provo this coming Thursday night for their home finale before finishing up on the road against the undefeated Skyridge Falcons.