SALT LAKE CITY — Immediately following Corner Canyon’s 20-15 victory over Olympus in the 5A state semifinals Friday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Chargers head coach Eric Kjar was surrounded by a mess of media.
There were inquiries about Skyridge, the team the Chargers will face in the 5A state championship game. There were questions about his defense, a group Kjar called “the strength” of the Corner Canyon team.
He was also asked about senior running back/linebacker Caden Johnson.
Affectionately known by teammates and coaches as Cojo (pronounced Cooj), Johnson received nothing but praise from Kjar.
“He has been big all year. He was our region MVP for us last year and he’s just been great for us all the time. He is a senior, great leader, great in the classroom. He is huge to this team.”
He was Friday as it was Johnson who scored the game-winning touchdown, capping off a 12 play 80-yard drive for by the Chargers late in the fourth quarter.
Johnson finished the game with 83 yards rushing as well as 16 receiving yards. As a linebacker, he also recorded an interception and a fumble recovery.
“Cojo has been huge for us all year,” Kjar said. “He made big plays today. He was huge.”
Making Johnson’s outing all more impressive was the fact that much of it followed a pair of significant and near game-changing mistakes, mistakes that would have demoralized a player or two.
The first miscue came with just over eight minutes remaining in the second quarter. The Chargers were in trouble, pinned on their own 1-yard line to start an offensive possession.
Despite the poor field position, they managed to escape the shadow of their own end zone, thanks to a first down run by quarterback Cole Hagen. On the ensuing first down, Kjar elected to have Johnson take the snap as a Wildcat quarterback.
It didn’t end well.
The ball sailed right through Johnson’s hands and into the end zone, where Johnson barely managed to land on it. With that, he gifted Olympus two points on the safety.
“The snap going through his hands, I felt really really bad,” Kjar said. “I couldn’t even say anything to him.”
Later in the contest, with just over eight minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Chargers, who at that time trailed the Titans, drove down the field deep into the red zone.
It was there that the Olympus defense held firm, forcing Corner Canyon to make a decision on fourth-and-1.
The decision was made to go for it and Johnson once again lined up in the Wildcat formation.
He was stuffed short of the first down marker this time and the Chargers were forced to walk away without points.
Despite the pair of failures, key shortcomings in a close contest, Johnson never lost confidence.Comment on this story
“It’s a full four quarter game,” he said. “Mistakes happen, especially in a game like this. You just have to come back and keep fighting. That is all you can do. You just have to keep fighting, keep pushing through it. We came out on top in the end.”
For Kjar, that attitude, not to mention the way Johnson responded to his failings, simply served as more evidence of the type of player the Chargers have.
“He is that type of kid,” Kjar said. “I knew he would respond; he is just that way. He is that way and it’s awesome.”